Stanley Cup Finals Preview
Los Angeles vs. New York, the two cities have competed over rap music, baseball and now, over Lord Stanley. A dream match up for the NHL in terms of big market teams, who are deserving of being here, battle it out for hockey’s grand prize.
The Los Angeles Kings, the western conference representative, started the playoffs as a team that looked like it would be sent home just as fast it got there. Down three to zero in the best of seven series to the Sharks and getting seemingly dismantled every game. Even the most optimistic Kings fan didn’t think they would escape the first round. But much like the team that won the cup two years ago, the Kings picked themselves up and began a historic run of four straight wins including a game seven victory on the road in San Jose in convincing fashion (5-1). This proved to be a theme for this team. The game was dominated by Anze Kopitar and a line that has come to be known as “that’s 70 line” featuring three players that sport numbers in the 70’s (Tanner Pearson, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli). The Anaheim Ducks were the next team up for the Kings and it, once again, seemed like the Kings were going to be eliminated. Down three to two to the number one team in the west, even after winning a game six at home, having to play another game seven on the road in Anaheim, they once again found a way to win as the offense once again exploded this time for six goals. Acquired at the trade deadline, Marian Gaborik really stepped up against the Ducks wearing the goal scoring hat for the Kings. The Western Conference Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, it seemed once again like the Kings were heading home – down four to three with eight minutes left in the third period of game seven on the road against the reigning Stanley Cup champions. The Kings found a way to tie it up and win it in OT. Justin Williams and Marian Gaborik were the heroes of the series as both were able to score throughout the series and in game 7.
The New York Rangers, the eastern conference representative, started the playoffs as no expert’s pick to reach the cup. Given new coach Alain Vigneault was implementing his new system and the team’s struggles through stretches of the regular season, it appeared to be a fair call. But this run started with a bitter rival in the Philadelphia Flyers, which was thought to be a series that could go either way. The series went seven games and the Rangers squeaked out a two to one defensive battle. Brad Richards was the key in this series as his timely scoring lead the way for the Rangers. The next round it looked as if the experts were going to be right, the Rangers had to play the Pittsburgh Penguins and two of the best players in the NHL Sidney Crosby and Evegni Malkin. Down three games to one many had begun to look at next season. Then when forward Martin St. Louis heard about the news of his mom passing on, everything turned away from hockey. The Rangers went and attended the funeral in Canada which showed the character of the team as St. Louis had just recently been traded over from Tampa Bay for Ranger captain at the time Ryan Callahan. Many wondered if he would play and when he suited up it sparked this family feeling among the Rangers and they came all the way back and won the series in seven games. At this point the Rangers had started to pick up believers that thought they could reach the Cup. However, many still thought it would be the Montreal Canadians that would get there. So while most of Canada was looking into Stanley Cup tickets, the Rangers did what they had done all playoffs: surprise everyone and defy the experts as they jumped all over and dominated the Canadians throughout the series. Winning the series in six games the Rangers have now proven that they are for real and are the Eastern Conference Champions. Throughout the playoff run Henrik Lundqvist played how the world’s best goalie should, as he was a brick wall in the net.
Key Players: Los Angeles Kings:
Jonathon Quick- He has been shaky at different parts of the playoffs and will have to be much better in this series.
Anze Kopitar- The top offensive player for the Kings, leads the NHL in points throughout these playoffs.
Jeff Carter- Tremendous offensive skill, second in the league in playoffs, should use bigger frame in front of Lundqvist as a screener and someone who can get to the net.
Drew Doughty- The top defense man for the Kings and best two defense man in the league. He should be on the ice most of this series and needs to make an impact on this series on both ends of the ice.
Marian Gaborik- Leading the NHL playoffs in goals and playing the team that traded him away; expect him to have a big series against his former team.
Key Players: New York Rangers:
Henrik Lundqvist- The top player for the Rangers needs to be the top player in this series for the Rangers to win it
Martin St. Louis- Tied for the team lead in points, needs to keep up timely scoring in this series.
Ryan McDonagh- The Rangers top defender is going to have his hands full most of the series with the Kings offense but must also contribute offensively as he has in these playoffs.
Derek Stepan- Nobody will question his toughness playing through a broken jaw. However, the Rangers do need him to be competitive in the face off dot and be an offensive threat this series.
Rick Nash- Hasn’t been able to get going throughout the playoffs, but needs to and will have a great chance against a weaker Kings defense. Nash should be able to use his size on the smaller Kings defenders and be able to make plays in the dirty areas.
How the Kings win the cup:
- Dominate the face off circle. The Kings have the decided advantage in faceoffs; it is key to take advantage of this
- Get top Kopitar, Carter and Gaborik into space. Get the top players into space to show off their play making ability
- Get to Lundqvist earlier. If they allow Lundqvist to feel comfortable and not keep him on edge all series, it will be next impossible for the Kings to score
- Get physical. Captain Dustin Brown knows all about this and LA should come out the gates ready to hit
- Power play efficiency: The Kings have 17 power play goals this playoffs at an outstanding 25% this will need to continue
How the Rangers win the Cup:
- Lundqvist dominates. King Henrik needs to be the man and have the Kings get frustrated offensively early on in this series.
- Be the underdog. Let everyone pick against you, just have the us against the world view in the locker room like it’s been much of the playoffs.
- Roll out all four lines. Keep the depth, while it seems the Kings have more depth, the Rangers fourth line isn’t afraid to get physical and could get in Kings’ star players heads.
- Speed, speed and more speed. The Rangers are clearly the faster team and must get the puck deep, use speed to get behind the Kings defense and allow play makers to get into space.
- Vice grip defense. Don’t allow the Kings to possess the puck and get Drew Doughty up playing offense allow no space for the Kings star players and force far shots that allow Hank to see the puck easily.
X Factor, Kings:
Justin Williams: A key piece for the Kings on offense. He could be the guy who is able to find space on the ice with the Rangers focused on the other top scorers. He steps up when it matters most in game sevens, and he has a record of seven and zero with seven goals and seven assists.
X Factor, Rangers:
Chris Krieder: The key to the Ranger game plan is to use speed to get behind the Kings defense and nobody has been better at that this playoffs than Krieder, who will look to do the same to the Kings all series.
Rangers in six. The Rangers are the team of destiny and have looked the part of Cinderella all playoffs now its time to come to the ball and crown King Henrik.