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Final set to begin as Devils, Kings seek Cup

by Dan Rosen


Season Series:
The Devils and Kings played twice in October with New Jersey winning both games. The Devils beat the Kings 2-1 in a shootout at Prudential Center on Oct. 13 and then won 3-0 at Staples Center on Oct. 25. Devils backup goalie Johan Hedberg got the win in both games. Martin Brodeur injured himself in the first period of the game at Prudential Center and was out of the lineup until Nov. 2.

Big Story: It's Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Devils have been off for four days since beating the Rangers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference last Friday. The Kings have been off for seven days since beat the Coyotes in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.

Team Scope:

Kings: The Kings hope their road success continues in New Jersey. They have won an NHL-record eight straight road games to start the playoffs, including back-to-back games in Phoenix after they had a week off following their four-game series sweep of the Blues. So, the long layoff is not anything new to this team.

It's the reward you get for winning quickly in the playoffs.

Despite not playing for a while, the Kings have been practicing at their facility in El Segundo, Calif. They arrived in New Jersey on Monday and hit the ice at Prudential Center on Tuesday. They will also have a pregame skate Wednesday morning.

"You do so much video and all that stuff the last few days, not trying to kill (the players) or overload (them) on it, but we have to stay in it and on it," coach Darryl Sutter said. "The next step is (Tuesday night) and (Wednesday), the individual preparations. It's to get back into the compete part of it."

While the Kings have mostly been led by a strong group of top-six forwards, a balanced group of six defensemen, and the incredible play of Jonathan Quick in net, it was a rookie who led them in goals against the Coyotes. Dwight King scored four times in that five-game series and now has five goals in the playoffs.

Quick had a 1.52 goals-against average in the Western Conference Finals and leads the NHL with a 1.54 GAA and .946 save percentage in the playoffs.

Devils: They're going for their fourth Stanley Cup championship since 1995 and first since 2003. They even erased some old demons by beating the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals, getting the better of their cross-river rival on the 18th anniversary of the day Mark Messier guaranteed a victory in Game 6 of the conference finals and came through with a hat trick in the third period.

The Devils beat the Panthers in seven games, winning the series on Adam Henrique's double-OT winner. They then beat the Flyers in five and the Rangers in six, clinching the series again on a Henrique OT winner.

Ilya Kovalchuk leads the NHL with 18 points in the playoffs. Martin Brodeur, at 40 years old, is still going strong with a 2.04 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. The Devils fourth line of Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier have contributed 19 points on nine goals and 10 assists in the playoffs. Defenseman Bryce Salvador has a surprising 11 points and plus-10 rating.

Unlike in previous years, when the Devils won with a stifling defense, they are winning now with an aggressive forecheck that is leading to sustained offense. They are averaging 2.83 goals per game, but still only allowing 2.33 per game.

"It was the perfect time for our organization to maybe make a little change with the type of forwards we have, with Parise, Kovalchuk, (Travis) Zajac, (Patrik) Elias, (Jacob) Josefson," general manager Lou Lamoriello said. "It was time to loosen up a bit, but never at the expense of defense. You have to have defense no matter what to win."

Who's Hot: Kovalchuk closed out the Rangers series with a goal and four assists in the last three games. The Devils won them all. Henrique had a point in each of the last three games, including the OT winner in Game 6. The fourth line combined for seven points in the last two games, including two goals for Carter.

For the Kings, Drew Doughty and Dustin Penner each had a goal and an assist in Game 5 against Phoenix. Penner scored the OT winner. Jeff Carter had two assists in Game 5 and a hat trick in Game 2. Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar each had five points in the five-game series.

Injury Report: Both teams have gotten healthier with the time off. Devils defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who hasn't played since Jan. 17 due to a blood clot, is cleared to play. He is not expected to play in Game 1. Similarly, Kings forward Simon Gagne, who hasn't played since Dec. 26 due to a concussion, is cleared and could play in this series. He is not expected to play in Game 1.

Stat Pack:
The Kings are the seventh team to need only 14 games to reach the Stanley Cup Final; the last four did not win the Stanley Cup. … In four previous trips to the Cup Final, the Devils have opened at home twice and won Game 1 both times (2000 and 2003). … The Kings have outscored their opponents 30-13 in eight road games/wins this postseason. … The Kings are two road wins shy of tying the NHL record for most in one postseason.

Puck Drop:
"We played against [Henrik] Lundqvist and [Ilya] Bryzgalov to get to the Final," Kovalchuk told "We found a way to beat them. I'm sure we'll do a good job with Quick."

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