High in the rafters at the Prudential Center in Newark hangs the retired No. 27 jersey of Scott Niedermayer, among the most slick-skating defensemen in the history of the National Hockey League.
As if it was in homage to several end-to-end rushes that punctuated the soon-to-be Hall of Famer’s career, Drew Doughty won a puck battle deep in his own end, outskated several indifferent New Jersey Devils before gaining entry to the zone and unleashed a crisp wristshot that banked off the inside of the far post and past Martin Brodeur to put the Los Angeles Kings up 1-0 in the first period Saturday night. The Kings eventually prevailed 2-1 on Jeff Carter’s creative overtime wristshot.
“I actually remember Niedermayer, when he played in New Jersey, having a couple of end-to-enders,” Doughty recalled. “He was an unbelievable player here and everywhere he played, and I always wanted to emulate him, and he scored some highlight-reel goals I’ll always remember.”
Credit Doughty for scoring a worldly goal that will long be recorded in the archives of Kings history, one about as memorable as any scored by players in black, silver, white, gold, or Forum Blue.
During a scoreless tie midway through the first period, David Clarkson had ventured too deep on the forecheck as Doughty gained leverage on him and sped past him towards the neutral zone. Clarkson offered a leaning one-handed poke towards Doughty’s stick but little else, choosing unwisely to head back to the bench as the play entered his own defensive zone.
Unaware of the developing action behind him, Patrick Elias had his back turned as he glided back to his bench for a line change.
Flat-footed, Ryan Carter might as well have yelled “Ole!” as Doughty steamrolled past him, covering roughly eight or 10 feet in the time it took Doughty to cover 50. To his credit, it had appeared that he had just jumped onto the ice, replacing Elias and Clarkson during the ill-advised change.
Doughty then used Bryce Salvador as a screen from the top of the right circle and unloaded. He now has three goals and 10 points in his last nine games, while Los Angeles is a perfect 10-0 in the postseason.
“I just saw some ice in front of me and decided to skate with the puck,” Doughty said. “I don’t know who the D-man was, but I tried to use him as a screen, and Marty’s got that quick glove, so I decided to put it blocker-side and didn’t even know it went in, actually, but luckily it did.”
It is getting difficult to pick an adjective every single game to reference how locked in this Kings team is. At this point, “transcendent” may be the most accurate, considering they’re now in uncharted NHL waters.
No other team in League history has won 12 straight playoff road games, as the Kings have, dating back to last year’s San Jose series. They’re the first team to win 10 consecutive road games in one playoff year, and the fourth team to win 10 overall games in one postseason.
Though the Devils won 10 nonconsecutive road games in 1995 and 2000, the last team to win 10 games in one postseason was the 2004 Calgary Flames, coached by none other than Darryl Sutter.
Though he didn’t break out the “awesome” tag used to describe Doughty in the past, he offered his own pithy take on the memorable snipe.
“Great play,” Sutter said. “Coast to coast. 200 foot goal. Win or lose, highlight play, right?”
In a second half that has emphasized the strides he has made defensively, the complete, 200-foot package offered by the 22-year old phenom was once again on display again in Game 2.
10 seconds into the second period, his shoulder-to-chest mashing of New Jersey captain Zach Parise represented the seamless ability to assert his dynamic skill set into virtually every situation, offensively and defensively.
In outscoring their opponents 45-24 this postseason – that’s Presidents’ Trophy-winning Vancouver, Central Division-winning St. Louis, divisional rival Phoenix and Eastern Conference Champion New Jersey, mind you – their exalted road play has been more impressive than their effective but more down-to-earth play at home. They’re 4-2 at Staples Center, where they’ve outscored their opponents by a more modest 11-9 count.
Considering the Stanley Cup Finals will return to Los Angeles for the first time in 19 years – and for the first time with a series lead – the emotion and energy coursing through the home crowd on Monday will be a frenetic, fevered wail.
“It’s going to be nuts,” Doughty said. “Every series, the rink is getting louder and louder. People around the city have been enjoying the fan crew. We can’t wait to get in front of those home fans and hopefully get them a few wins.”
If they’re able to replicate their extraordinary road efforts, a banner much more meaningful to Doughty than Niedermayer’s No. 27 will be hanging from his own arena next season.