NEWARK, N.J. -- The coach had just lost the opener of his playoff series against the Kings and was trying to figure out what had happened.
“We have to play a better game if we have any chance in this series,” he said.
That was Dave Tippett of the Phoenix Coyotes, who would lose to the Kings in a five-game Western Conference final.
Another coach also looked for answers within his own room after a playoff loss to the Kings.
“I think the frustration is we’re getting done to us what we’ve done to teams all year,” he said. “We were frustrating the opposition, discouraging them. Now we’re getting it done to us and we didn’t react very well.
“We have to learn to fight through this stuff. I think we’ve gotten discouraged at times and got off the plan at times because of it.”
That coach was Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues, speaking after the Kings had won the third game of what would be a sweep in the second round.
With those quotes in mind, there was a ring of familiarity to the New Jersey Devils’ comments on Thursday, the morning after their 2-1 overtime loss to the Kings in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
“We didn’t play our best, I think,” center Travis Zajac said Thursday during an interview session at the Prudential Center.
“We were a little nervous in the first period, a little tentative. You could see that. We weren’t making plays. We were throwing the puck away a little too much. We weren’t moving our feet and getting on the forecheck like we usually do.
“For us we felt that yeah, we missed an opportunity because we were able to hang around against this team, not playing our best game. Still having a chance to win, that makes us feel pretty good that we can play better, be a little bit more successful….We can execute in more areas and we’ll have more success.”
Teammate Adam Henrique agreed. “I think there’s a lot of room for improvement on our side,” he said.
Zajac suggested that the Devils must get pucks behind the Kings’ defensemen “and go to work.”
All fine and reasonable, but that’s what the Vancouver Canucks and Blues and Coyotes all said in the first three rounds. The question now becomes whether they can find that next level that the Canucks, Blues and Coyotes all said they had within them but never reached because the Kings didn’t let them elevate their games. The Devils will get to try again Saturday, when the series resumes at the Prudential Center.
“I think you ask both teams they probably could play better,” Kings captain Dustin Brown said Wednesday night. “Both teams had layoffs, both teams had good chances, both teams gave up good chances. We found a way to get a win. That’s the bottom line.”
The other bottom-line item is that the Kings are now three victories from winning the first Stanley Cup championship in team history. As difficult as fans might find it to believe this is happening, it can be equally difficult for players to digest.
“When you’re on the ice and at the rink, it’s more away from the rink where you start thinking about where we’re at,” Brown said.
“When you get to the rink it’s all business for this team and each individual player. You approach it like any other game. I know that sounds funny but that’s what you have to do. It’s pretty easy once you get to the rink and get ready to go. It becomes that, just another game.”
Just another game that put them on a path toward the ultimate triumph.