NEWARK, N.J. -- The Devils were far better in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final than they were in Game 1, but there was still one problem with their performance Saturday night.
The Los Angeles Kings were again better by a goal.
By any measure, the Devils exceeded their dismal Game 1 showing -- they had more shots, an improved forecheck, stronger play in the neutral zone, were better on faceoffs and were calmer and stronger on the puck along the boards and with their passing.
It didn't translate into victory, though, as the Kings once again emerged with a 2-1 overtime victory at Prudential Center to grab a 2-0 grip on the best-of-seven series that shifts to Los Angeles for Game 3 on Monday night at Staples Center.
"It [stinks]. There's no way around it," Devils center Adam Henrique. "There's nothing we can do about it. It's obviously a position we don't want to be in, but we're here so we have to correct our mistakes, be better where we need to be better. I think we played well. We had chances throughout the game. We just have to move forward from here."
In Game 1, the Devils mustered a mere six shots on net through the first 38 minutes and 17 for the game. In Game 2, they attacked from the get-go and had 33 shots in 73:42. They had only three shots in overtime, but Dainius Zubrus failed to redirect a pass from the point with Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick down and out.
"We came out stronger and had some chances right off the bat," forward Alexei Ponikarovsky said. "We forechecked pretty hard and turned some pucks over and got some odd-man rushes as well. It just their goalie made some good saves. We battled till the end."
Despite the better start offensively, the Devils exited the second period down 1-0. That led to coach Peter DeBoer shuffling his top three lines while leaving the fourth line of Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier intact. DeBoer put Ilya Kovalchuk on a line with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, but it was the fourth line that tied the game early in the third period.
Defenseman Marek Zidlicky took a shot from the point that Carter deflected high in the slot and past Quick to even the score. While it was the only line DeBoer left alone that produced the Devils' lone goal, he felt the line juggling was a big reason why his team was at its best in the final 20 minutes of regulation.
DeBoer said putting Kovalchuk, Parise and Zajac together wasn't the sole reason for the mixing and matching of lines -- but it was a factor.
"We decided the end of two periods to shuffle some lines," DeBoer said. "It wasn't necessarily to put those three together. That was part of it. But we mixed up and got [Patrik] Elias, Zubrus and Henrique together. I like how they played. It was just a shot in the arm to try to find a goal. We haven't scored enough, obviously."
In the dying seconds of regulation, Kovalchuk had a chance to win it for the Devils. Kings captain Dustin Brown turned the puck over behind the net and put it right onto the stick of Kovalchuk, whose shot was deflected by L.A. center Anze Kopitar and went off the crossbar.
It was the second straight game in which the Devils couldn't get a bounce to go their way. In a series where the margin for error has been razor-thin, those missed opportunities are why the Devils need to win four of five to bring home the Stanley Cup.
"What are you going to do?" Kovalchuk said about his close call. "I thought we worked really hard, forechecked better than the first game. We have to just keep working. Every game we had a chance to win. I liked the way we worked, tonight especially. I think our lines were really good. But it bounced their way tonight."
For the fourth time in as many rounds, the Kings find themselves heading home with a 2-0 series lead. As the playoffs have progressed and the Kings' road record has swelled to 10-0, their opponents have talked about how one victory could help damage their confidence, make them question themselves.
As the Devils have shown through two games in this series, that's easier said than done.
"I really think a win would accomplish that," said goaltender Martin Brodeur, who made 30 saves, including 10 in overtime. "They are feeling very good about themselves. I thought we pushed really hard today. I thought we played a lot better than in Game 1. But it's the same result. It's unfortunate, but with a little luck on our side, we could be up 2-0. I think we have to find that positive and go into the L.A. and sneak one game as early as we can and go from there. It makes it a little harder, but we're here now."
"How do you recover? You just have to stay positive," Ponikarovsky said. "It's not the end of the world. We're down two games, so we have to win another two and get back in the series. It's just one of those things you have to deal with emotionally and physically."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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