NEWARK, N.J. - The Los Angeles Kings balanced attack was one of several reasons why the upstart eighth-seeded club skated through 14 games of the first three rounds in such a tidy manner.
In the Kings' 15th playoff outing, a 2-1 overtime victory against the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup curtain raiser on Wednesday, that depth was on display once again.
Before the Kings best player, Anze Kopitar, provided the heroics with a breakaway goal eight minutes and 13 seconds into the extra period, it was the diligent fourth line that picked up their more talented teammates. In around 11 minutes of ice time, Colin Fraser, Jordan Nolan and Brad Richardson played a determined game and gave the Kings energy.
Fraser, a Stanley Cup champion from his days with the Chicago Blackhawks, scored the game's first goal midway through the opening 20 minutes. It was the first goal from the native of Sicamous, B.C. in 18 career playoff games and of the 12 Kings forwards who have played in a dozen or more games in this playoff run, Fraser was the final one to score.
"It was a long-time coming," Fraser said. "It's not my job to score goals, but it was nice to chip in with one."
Fraser was the player the Edmonton Oilers sent in their trade last summer for Ryan Smyth. There was controversy over the deal because of a broken foot that the Kings believed wasn't healing. The troublesome foot was healing and now Fraser helped the Kings extend their consecutive road win string to start a playoffs to nine games.
Fraser was set up for his goal by the rookie Nolan, the son of former Buffalo Sabres and New York Islanders coach Ted Nolan. The younger Nolan had a few chances of his own and provided a huge hit on New Jersey defenceman Marek Zidlicky in the third period.
"They probably had one of the best games in the playoffs so far, and they had some really good ones before," Kopitar said. "Tonight they capped it off with a nice goal. They definitely got us going in the first period.
"Seems like we came out a little slower than we wanted to. The way [the fourth line] came out and established the forecheck, had some cycles in their zone, gave us a huge boost."
This series will be a challenge for the Kings' fourth line because their New Jersey counterparts has been so successful in the Devils run. Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier combined for nine goals in 18 games in the first three rounds.
The Kings fourth line, meanwhile, checked in for only two goals prior to the first game of the Stanley Cup final. This stat didn't escape Los Angeles head coach Darryl Sutter. So he gathered his fourth line at centre ice near the end of the morning skate to make sure his fourth line knew the score
Neither team appeared interested in scoring early on. The first two periods were rather dull. The ice was terrible. The puck bounced around like a tennis ball. But New Jersey managed to escape the opening two periods tied at 1-1 when defenceman Anton Volchenkov bounced a shot from the sideboards off Los Angeles defender Slava Voynov for his first goal in 19 playoff games.
The Devils didn't help their cause with a jittery start and when they settled down early in the third period captain Zach Parise and defenceman Mark Fayne whiffed with open nets staring at them.
Fayne said afterwards that he felt terrible about his missed opportunity, but he didn't feel any worse than veteran New Jersey defenceman Bryce Salvador who got caught being too aggressive on Kopitar's winning goal.
On the play that led to the game-winner, the puck squirted to Los Angeles forward Justin Williams along the boards in between the benches. With Devils forward Dainius Zubrus already there, Salvador skated to Williams and that left Kopitar alone in the middle.
Williams made a brilliant backhand pass to his linemate and then Kopitar beat Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who made his 200th career playoff start, by slipping a forehand under the 40-year-old's right pad.
"We made a little bit of a bad read," New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer said. "There were a couple decisions there. But we're playing to win the game. I don't make any apologies for that. We made a mistake, they capitalized."
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?