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Devils, Kings both see room for improvement

New Jersey Devils' Dainius Zubrus, left, and Los Angeles Kings' Matt Greene struggle to reach the puck during the first period of Game 1 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup finals Wednesday, May 30, 2012, in Newark, N.J.

Associated Press

Maybe it's the time of season, or the accountability that the two teams share, but neither the New Jersey Devils nor the Los Angeles Kings thought highly of the aesthetics of the Stanley Cup final opener, a 2-1 Kings overtime win on Wednesday.

Kings coach Darryl Sutter thought his team was sluggish, largely from their long cross-country travel on Monday to get here.

"Our guys felt they could play better," Sutter said. "That's a good thing. I'm sure the other team is saying the same thing, too."

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Yes, it was.

"We didn't play at our best," Devils centre Travis Zajac said. "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 fore-check like we usually do.

"For us, we felt that 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."

Sutter and Devils coach Peter DeBoer agreed on something else, too: If they'd had their druthers, they'd be getting back into action on Friday night. Instead, they'll need to wait until Saturday – partly because of television demands, partly because Radiohead is playing back-to-back shows at the Prudential Centre here Thursday and Friday nights.

"I think it's a funny setup again, between Game 1 and Game 2," Sutter said.

"I think we'd like to jump right back in and play," DeBoer added. "For me, you want to play, every other day this time of year, that's the perfect scenario. But we'll take the time to fix what we have to fix."

Kings redraw L.A. sports map

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For the Kings, a team used to operating on the fringes of the Los Angeles sports scene, one of the biggest changes is the coverage they're now getting, which a lot of the players this side of goaltender Jonathan Quick seem to be enjoying. Normally a sporting afterthought in the land of the Lakers, Clipper and Dodgers, they are the top attraction in town – for the moment anyway. In some ways, it's 1993 all over again, or a transformation defenceman Drew Doughty calls a "complete 180."

"I played in L.A. for four years now. My first three years, there wasn't a time when I was out for dinner, out anywhere, when anyone said anything.

"This past week, down where we all live, there's a big festival by the beach. There's tons of Kings gear, tons of Kings hats. When we were leaving dinner one night, the whole restaurant gave us a clap and started chanting our names. We're getting recognized everywhere we go. We're the talk of the city. It's great to see."

Internally, the Kings tend to fall somewhere between bemused and annoyed at the number of times their logo and that of the NBA's Sacramento Kings has been confused on local sportscasts. But, according to Doughty, anonymity isn't always a bad thing, either.

"We kind of were in the shadow, but I think one thing that … we all kind of liked about playing in L.A. is that you could be a normal person, not have to walk around being recognized everywhere, having to talk about hockey all the time.

"No one knows anything about hockey. It's a great thing that people are finally coming to games. There's so many times when I hear people telling me it's their first hockey game and they had so much fun. It's great that we can kind of put L.A. on the map as a hockey city."

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About the Author

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More

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