The Stanley Cup Finals got off to a memorable start Wednesday in Newark when Los Angeles stunned New Jersey in overtime to take Game 1. Many NHL observers are calling the Kings’ unlikely 2012 playoff run one of the best stories of the decade, to which New Jersey hockey fans are saying, “Hey! Wait a minute!”
The Devils began the playoffs as a sixth seed, while the Kings were a No. 8 seed. The Devils have made the playoffs 20 out of the past 22 seasons and have won the Stanley Cup three times. Yet, they’re being called underdogs.
“I think it’s a lot of people reacting to just how dominant the Kings have been,” Mike Vorkunov of the Newark Star-Ledger told Bill Littlefield on this week’s Only A Game. “They lost two games in their entire run, and the Devils went to six games with the Rangers last round and to seven games in the first round. They got lost in the fray, like the Devils sometimes do in the hockey landscape.”
Vorkunov said Devils fans are used to being under the radar. “Martin Brodeur said it very well after they beat the Rangers. He said it was a victory for Devils fans because they get ‘second child syndrome’ with the Rangers, and I think that extends a little bit into everything else.”
Perhaps contributing to the Devils’ low luster is their relative lack of overall star power, despite the net presence of Martin Brodeur, who may be the greatest goalie in league history. But New Jersey has a lot of talent on its roster, as Vorkunov explained.
“Well, you have Ilya Kovalchuk, who was very good in Atlanta before he came here,” he said. “This year, he’s really become an overall team player, and he’s still a great goal scorer. They have Zach Parise, a grinding, little energy ball who’s their team captain, and he also does a lot for them.”
The Kings have made the Stanley Cup Finals just once before, back when some guy named Gretzky played for them. But they lost in 1993 to Montreal. If the Kings go on to win the Cup this year, will New Jersey fans be able to appreciate that feel-good story?
“I think they can,” Vorkunov said. “I think they’ll be appreciating how much this came out of nowhere for the Kings. I think they won’t be as disappointed for the Devils because this has been a great run for them.”
The Devils beat the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals, and there are more than a few Rangers fans who think their team should be playing now. “I don’t think you want to get Devils fans started on Rangers fans,” Vorkunov said. “That’s a dangerous line to walk.”
When asked for his thoughts on the rest of the series, Vorkunov said he believed it would go the full seven games. “It’s going to be exciting to see that seventh game and see how it all plays out.”