It was the lamentation of a man who was forced to admit a hard truth to himself.
“It would have been nice to get a bounce but I don’t believe we deserved to win tonight,” coach Pete DeBoer said a few minutes after his New Jersey Devils dropped Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Los Angeles Kings, 2-1, in overtime at The Prudential Center.
Anze Kopitar’s seventh goal of the playoffs was the game-winner 8:13 into the overtime session. The Kings lead the best-of-seven series one game to none. Game 2 is Saturday night at the Prudential Center.
What will linger with the Devils until Saturday night is that they could have won the Stanley Cup Final opener. Even though the Kings finished with more shots on goal (25-18) and took more total shots (54-35), it was the Devils who were the stronger team in the third period and overtime.
But despite progressively growing stronger as the game evolved, they were simply unable to pierce Jonathan Quick (17 saves) other than Anton Volchenkov’s shot from the half wall that bounced off of Slava Voynov’s chest and into the cage for the Devils’ lone goal.
Volchenkov’s goal, his first of these playoffs and his first playoff goal since April 2007, was scored at 18:48 of the second period.
“We got better as the game went on. That’s a team you have to play 60 minutes against,” DeBoer said. “I thought we were a little tentative early. Once we got comfortable, I thought we started to play better.”
New Jersey began to possess the puck for extended segments during the third period Wednesday night as they did for the majority of the Eastern Conference Final series against the Rangers. Like the Rangers series, offensive zone time was born from their control of the puck.
“We pushed in some spurts tonight. That was one of them,” DeBoer said. “There were a few of those, but not enough to have success against that team.”
Having a goal disallowed and a shot shanked from the top of the crease with a half-empty net in a nine-minute span did not help matters, either.
Zach Parise had a goal disallowed 3:58 into the third when it was ruled that he swatted the puck in with his hand. Video replays confirmed the on-ice ruling. The league explained its rationale for waving off the goal in an email:
“At 3:58 of the third period in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, video review confirmed the referee's call on the ice that New Jersey's Zach Parise directed the puck into the Los Angeles net with his glove. No goal New Jersey,” read the league’s statement. “According to NHL Rule 67.6, ‘A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who bats or directs the puck with his hand into the net. A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who bats or directs the puck and it is deflected into the net off any player, goalkeeper or official. When the puck enters the net on a clear deflection off a glove, the goal shall be allowed.’ "
The 17,625 red-clad Devils fans were outraged. Six minutes later, they collectively gasped in disbelief when Mark Fayne slammed a rebound of a Peter Harrold slapshot a foot wide of a half-empty net while standing at the top of the crease.
What should have a been a putt from the lip of the cup ended up in the rough for a bogey.
“It just kind of hopped up at the last second,” Fayne explained. “If one of those go in, it would have a been a huge win for us.”
Instead, the Devils dropped their fourth opener in four playoff series.
You can follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman