NEWARK -- The Devils have been here before, even though they haven't been here before.
"Here" is down after Game 1 of a series, and this is the third straight series in which the Devils have dropped the opener. The fact that they're still playing shows that losing Game 1 hasn't hurt them too badly.
But the other "here" is the Stanley Cup Finals, which can make even the most experienced, confident teams look nervous -- which is how the Devils characterized their own play in Wednesday's 2-1 overtime loss to the Kings. Game 2 is Saturday night at the Prudential Center.
"We were a little nervous in the first period, a little tentative. You could see that," Travis Zajac said. "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."
That the Devils still managed to get to overtime with the Kings is heartening for a team that has prided itself on jumping on teams early in games. Los Angeles controlled territory and possession for a great portion of the first 40 minutes of Game 1, but it was still tied after two periods.
And in the third and OT, the Devils had the far better chances to grab a lead or a win. That might have been due to some Kings nerves as well.
"Our guys said today they felt sluggish [in Game 1]. If that was nervous, then so it was," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "Our guys felt they could play better. That's a good thing."
Devils coach Peter DeBoer was asked Thursday about what threw his team off its game: Just a Kings team that's been the best in the entire postseason so far? The puck-handling skills of Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, who defused the Devils' forecheck in the same way Marty Brodeur does to the Devils' opponents? Kings defensemen able to find seams in the Devils' forecheck for passes?
"What are the words of [Rangers coach] John Tortorella: 'Don't coach,' " DeBoer said, drawing a laugh from reporters. "You want a nice boxed answer on how to fix it, but it's not that easy. There's no clean answer to it. We've got to be a little sharper in all our areas."
After Game 1 of the Eastern semifinals, a 4-3 overtime win for the Flyers, the talk around the Devils was about whether they'd be able to keep up with such an overwhelming offensive force. Four straight wins later, the Devils had completely dismantled the Flyers' attack by getting to pucks quicker and hemming the Flyers in their own zone.
Game 1 of the Eastern finals was a virtuoso shutout performance by Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who duplicated the feat in Game 3. After both games, the Devils got pucks and bodies to the net and won the subsequent games in pretty commanding fashion before closing the series out.
"One of the areas that's cropped up in every round is we've been a little tentative in our first game, kind of felt our way, and then jumped in with both feet in Game 2," DeBoer said. "That's hopefully what we'll do here again."