The Devils played one of their worst games of the post-season in dropping the series opener 2-1 in overtime Wednesday night in New Jersey, and they cannot afford another sub-par effort.
Lose two games at home to a team that has posted a 9-0 record on the road this post-season, and the guys who lug around hockey's biggest prize might start shining it in earnest after Saturday night's contest at the Prudential Center.
The situation is that desperate for coach Peter DeBoer's team. While they missed chances to win the opener, they also made a slew of mistakes that ranged from bad dump-ins of pucks, being tentative on the ice, failing to shoot when the shot was there, and leaving the Kings open. The most glaring error came in the overtime when Anze Kopitar scored on a breakaway.
The problems can be fixed. The bad news is that the Kings were not exactly at their best either ... and still won.
Here is a scary fact: The Kings have played some of their best hockey in Game 2s of their three previous series, beating Vancouver, St Louis and Phoenix by a combined 13-4 margin to take commanding 2-0 series lead back to Los Angeles each time.
"The comforting thing for me is when I listen to the comments of our players last night, they were dead-on," DeBoer said.
"We weren't good enough. We have to be better. We got over the early-game jitters. We started to play a little bit better. But, you know, as a group, we've got to bring more to win this time of year."
The Devils carried the play in the third period and had two great chances to take the lead.
Captain Zach Parise failed to put a bouncing puck in the net four minutes into the period and defenseman Mark Fayne missed a wide open net with roughly 10 minutes left in regulation.
"We didn't play at our best, I think," said Travis Zajac, the Devils centre.
"We were a little nervous in the first period, a little tentative. You could see that. We weren't making plays. We were throwing the puck away a little too much. We weren't moving our feet and getting on the forecheck like we usually do. For us, we felt that, yeah, we missed an opportunity because we were able to hang around against this team, you know, not playing our best game. Still having a chance to win, that makes us feel pretty good that we can play better, be a little bit more successful."
Kings captain Dustin Brown said that the Darryl Sutter-coached team has done a good job of not being satisfied after winning Game 1.
"In Game 2, it's been our starts," Brown said.
"We've jumped on teams early. Most noticeably against St Louis, we had a 4-0 lead after the first and that goes a long way. Some teams get a win and they are satisfied. This group hasn't been and it goes a long way when you come out in Game 2 and really put it to them. It's demoralising."
If there has been a key to the Kings' record success on the road in the post-season, it might be scoring the first goal.
They have only trailed for 58 minutes in nine road games.
"We have been focused in on starts and our starts have been pretty good," Kopitar said.
"It always helps when you are not playing catch-up hockey. Everybody knows it is easier to play with the lead."
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