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Kopitar's consistency boosts Kings' confidence

NEWARK, N.J. -- Jesenice, Slovenia, was a pretty hopping place around 5 a.m. local time on Thursday.

In the town plaza, about 200 people stood around a big-screen television and watched the live broadcast of Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals, which ended with native son Anze Kopitar scoring the overtime breakaway winner for the Kings in their 2-1 victory over the Devils.

"I think everybody was pretty excited," Kopitar said during an off-day at Prudential Center. "I don't think anybody was excited more than me."

Kopitar and the rest of the Kings return to work tonight, when they play the Devils in Game Two of the Stanley Cup finals (8 p.m., Ch. 2 and Ch. 5).

Much was made after Kopitar's winner that he went to the forehand because he remembered going to the backhand on a shootout goal against the Devils' Martin Brodeur on Nov. 27, 2006 during his rookie season.

But more impressive to his Kings teammates and coach Darryl Sutter is the consistency the 24-year-old Kopitar, the 11th overall pick in the 2005 draft, is showing in this postseason. It's something that has occasionally eluded him during his six seasons with the Kings.

"I think he's recognized as a top centerman in the league, one of those young top centermen, that's what I knew about him," said Sutter, who took over as the Kings coach on Dec. 20 for Terry Murray. "I think the big thing I tried to impress upon him was just being consistent. It's no different than any other young player. Obviously, he's getting to play in the playoffs, which is something he'd only done six games before in his career."

"I've had some ups and downs, sometimes you get out of that comfort zone if you are going through a slump," Kopitar added. "But everybody in the locker room is playing with a lot of confidence and that's what we need."

Part of that confidence has come from Sutter setting his lines and trying to keep them together.

So Kopitar has played on a consistent trio with captain Dustin Brown and right wing Justin Williams. They combined for 10 of the Kings' 25 shots against Brodeur in Game One.

But while Kopitar's reputation was built off his offensive skills, Sutter is also asking Kopitar's line to be better defensively. In Game One, they had plenty of ice time against the Devils' top trio of Travis Zajac with Zach Parise and Dainius Zubrus.

"The way we've played with Darryl is it's the top line against the top line," Kopitar said. "So you have to be good in the offensive zone and the defensive zone. When you play against the top line, for myself, I want to play with the puck and frustrate them because then they don't have it." Kopitar has seven goals and nine assists as the Kings have gone 13-2 to start the playoffs. That puts him in the discussion of potential Conn Smythe winners as the postseason MVP.

"I was on the ice when he got that breakaway and I was pretty positive it was going to go in," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "He's been a leader up front and he has been all year. He's not only great offensively but he's out there on the five-on-three against, he's blocking shots, he's crushing the body."

Which is just how Kopitar -- not to mention his hometown fans in Slovenia -- want it.

"You want to be that guy," Kopitar said. "You want that challenge and you want to welcome the challenge."