This is what it all comes down to. The reason for the endless workouts, daily practices, self sacrifice and blood, sweat and tears for the last 9 months.
The next 4 to 7 games will determine which group of players will get the ultimate high and which group will be just like the other 28 teams – watching with envy.
The New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings face off in first ever Stanley Cup Final featuring the 2 largest markets in the U.S. But throw that aside, because for the next two weeks the only thing that matters is the 20 guys that suit up on each side and who wants it more.
So, who will raise the silver chalice when the dust settles?
This is truly a battle of two of the top netminders in the NHL. Jonathan Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy two seasons ago in the Kngs’ dominant run to the Cup. Although his numbers haven’t been spectacular this spring, he has faced a murderer’s row of offensive talent and has been clutch when needed. Facing him is Henrik Lundqvist, probably the best goalie in the league without a Stanley Cup, who is making his first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.
Either one can steal a game, or two, at any point in the series.
The Kings are led by all-world blueliner Drew Doughty, who leads all defensemen in scoring in the playoffs, and plays a stellar 2 way game. He is supported by a veteran group, most of whom remain from the Cup win. Jake Muzzin has emerged this time around as a key component on the Kings blue line.
For the Rangers, the team goes as the pair of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi go. When they struggled early in the playoffs, the Rangers were nearly eliminated, but they got back on track and have been a dominant pair since.
The Kings have the advantage in terms of their depth and experience.
There probably isn’t a group of centres in the league as talented and diverse as the Kings, with Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll all bringing key elements to the table. The Rangers can’t match that depth up the middle and will rely on great performances from the wings and the likes of Rick Nash, Martin St. Louis and one of the breakout performers of the playoffs, Mats Zuccarello.
The Kings have a huge advantage on the power play, and it has been a big reason why they have got this far. They are clicking at over 25% while the Rangers are less than 14% success with the extra man.
The Rangers’ penalty kill has been slightly better, and also less busy, than that of the Kings. New York has killed just under 86% compared to 81.2% for the Kings.
THE REST OF THE STORY
- Darryl Sutter is making his 3rd finals appearance behind an NHL bench (2004 with the Flames, 2012 with the Kings) and is 1-1 in the Finals.
- Alain Vigneault is in his first year with the Rangers, but took the Canucks to the Finals in 2011, where he lost to the Boston Bruins.
- Fatigue could be a factor for both teams. So far they have combined to play 41 playoff games (LA-21, NYR-20) and if the series goes 5 games or more they will set a record for the most combined games by Stanley Cup Finalist. The current record is 50 in 2011, when the Bruins and Canucks each played 25 games.
- Streaky – Both teams have had their share of good and bad streaks. The Kings have twice had 3 game losing streaks, and the Rangers once. The Kings also put together a 6 game winning streak, and the Rangers 5. Both enter the series on a 1 game winning streak, and it all gets reset now.
On paper, the Kings appear to be on the bigger roll. They beat 3 of the top 7 teams in the NHL regular season standings, and showed incredibly resiliency in doing so. They are 7-0 when facing elimination this year. While the Rangers haven’t exactly had an easy road, their strength of schedule doesn’t match what the Kings have gone through. Lundqvist will be under the gun to probably steal 2 games that the Rangers don’t deserve to win, and I am not sure he can do it.
KINGS in 6
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