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A pretty end to an ugly start

Rob Scuderi was screaming at the top of his lungs along with everyone else on the visitors' bench. Anze Kopitar had drifted toward center ice. Justin Williams was scrambling for a loose puck. If only they could communicate amid the noise that accompanies overtime in the Stanley Cup final.

Williams acknowledged afterward that he didn't know Kopitar was wide open near center ice. He was simply trying to win a battle and figured he would toss the puck into an area and pray. Bryce Salvador committed to the scrum. Dainius Zubrus was caught out of position.

"I just wanted to make sure I stayed near the middle," Kopitar said.

Finally, the Devils had a breakdown.

Finally, the Kings had a breakaway.

Finally, a breakthrough.

Kopitar has scored 20 or more goals in each of his six NHL seasons, so he knew what to do when Williams somehow slipped the puck onto his stick and sent him loose. Kopitar faked Martin Brodeur to the ice and lifted a shot past the fallen goaltender and future Hall of Famer to give the Kings a 2-1 overtime victory in Game One.

"Perfect," Kopitar said. "Right on my tape."

How strange it seemed that such a perfect pass and such a pretty play could finish off what was, for the most part, a sloppy game that will not be remembered for its beauty. Both teams admitted as much afterward. Nerves and rust likely played a role. The important part was the Kings earned yet another victory on the road.

Four times they have started the postseason on foreign ice and four times they have come away with a victory. The Kings have won nine straight road games in the postseason, a major reason they effectively trampled their opponents in the first three rounds. The Devils, well, let's just say they had their chances.

David Clarkson is going to have nightmares after missing two open nets in the first period. Defenseman Mark Fayne had nothing between him and the winner in the third period but somehow missed the net, which is precisely why he's a defenseman. And, as usual, Jonathan Quick was nearly unbeatable.

Neither the Kings nor Devils looked overly spectacular before Los Angeles skated triumphantly into the dressing room. The first two periods were slightly more compelling than a game of backgammon. It couldn't have helped TV ratings -- except in Buffalo, of course.

If you didn't have a rooting interest, the game Wednesday could have been mistaken for a Wednesday night game in November. OK, so there were a few big hits and scoring chances, but little would have told you they were playing for the Cup other than the clutching and grabbing allowed by the officials.

"They played us really tough," Scuderi said. "It was certainly the toughest test that we've had in these playoffs. They've made it the most difficult of anyone."

The Devils for a while couldn't find the net if they had a GPS. Clarkson missed two open nets. And Fayne blew his opportunity in the third period. For the first time in a long time, overtime in the Stanley Cup final didn't feel like bonus action. It felt like 25 to life.

Shots on goal in regulation: Kings 22, Devils 16.


"There wasn't much going on offensively for either team," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "It's tight quarters out there. I think both teams would say that."

You couldn't help but wonder Wednesday how the Sabres would have fared had they not spent two months in hibernation and made the playoffs. Could they have gone this deep? Would they have stood a chance? It's difficult to say, actually. They wouldn't have survived this long, but they could have beaten either team in Game One.

The Kings were likely shaking off some rust after sitting around for eight days after winning the conference title. They rolled over the top three seeds -- Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix -- en route to their first appearance in the finals since 1994. They scored the first goal for the ninth time in 15 playoff games.

Jordan Nolan, who spent one year of his childhood riding the escalators at Memorial Auditorium and another rummaging around the building formerly known as Marine Midland Arena while his father coached the Sabres, set up the critical first goal of the series. Clearly, he learned a thing or 20 from Ted.

Nolan worked and banged and kept his feet moving and finally bounced Andy Greene off the puck behind the net before finding Colin Fraser in the slot. Fraser slipped a wrist shot along the ice that beat Martin Brodeur and quieted the crowd in the Prudential Center. The Kings scored enough, gave up little and took the opener.

"It was a little choppy," Fraser said. "Our execution could be better. We were fortunate to get the win, but we think we can get better and we will get better. With that being said, so will they."