Stanley Cup Finals
Kings in 7
What a long strange trip it has been for the NHL on the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, as the teams that were expected to be in the Finals will instead be on the golf course as the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings meet in what should be a long classic battle of East Coast and West Coast with record break television ratings likely to be the reward for NBC for another great postseason. Both the Kings and Rangers arrive here after historic comebacks, as Los Angeles looked to be postseason no shows after being dominated by the San Jose Sharks in the first three games of the first round. The Kings would rally to become the fourth team to win a series after trailing 3-0. The Rangers rally would come in the second round as they overcame a 3-1 hole against the Pittsburgh Penguins, with the players rallying around Martin St. Louis after the death of his mother. The Kings meanwhile have won three seventh games on the road, including a win over the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks in overtime.
Both teams have solid goalies, as it can be argued that Jonathan Quick of the Kings and Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers are the two best net minders currently in the NHL. Quick has already won a Stanley Cup, having led Los Angeles to a Cinderella run two years ago. Lundqvist won the Vezina in 2012 and over the last decade has helped make the Rangers perennial contenders. Henrik Lundqvist has also been one of the most successful goalies in the Olympics, leading Sweden to Gold in 2006 and Silver in February. This playoff Lundqvist has played better than Quick, posting a 2.03 GAA in the previous three rounds, while Quick was shaky in the Kings goal filled series against the Blackhawks. If Quick cannot improve and regain his usual form it will be tougher for them to survive this series, as the Rangers play a much tighter style than the Blackhawks and will be better at holding leads.
Defense is also fairly even, though the Kings may have a slight edge with their blue liners being capable of making a big play of offense. The player the Rangers need to be weary of is Drew Doughty who has been one of the Kings most valuable players in the postseason, with 16 points, while being their most effective player on the penalty kill. The Rangers defense meanwhile is anchored by Ryan McDonough who after a slow start in the playoffs has been playing better in each round, and managed to keep P.K. Subban of the Montreal Canadiens in check during the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Rangers have an emotional edge on offense, with the surging Martin St. Louis, scoring several big goals in the last two rounds, but if the Rangers are to win the cup they will need their forwards to have their best series of the postseason, as Derek Stepan the team’s co-leading scorer will be not be at 100% with a broken jaw suffered on an illegal hit by Brandon Prust. The Kings have had a plethora of big scorers in the postseason, as Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams and former Ranger Marian Gaborik have been red hot in the playoffs. If the Rangers are to win they will need big series from Brad Richards and Rick Nash, who both are coming off strong performances in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Rangers x-factor on offense is Chris Krieder a two way player who has given them a boost since returning from injury in the second round against the Penguins. In just ten games, Krieder has four goals and six assists, while the Kings x-factor is Tyler Toffoli who has had a knack of scoring big goals, as he scored several big goals against the Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals.
The two teams met twice early in the season, with the Rangers scoring a 3-1 win at Staples Center in the second game of the season, while the Kings blanked the Blueshirts a month later at the Garden. This series has seven games written all over it as both teams have been involved in many long series over the last few seasons. The Kings are the first team to need to win three game sevens on the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, while the Rangers needed seven games in their first two series, before edging the Canadiens in six games. Rangers Goalie Henrik Lundvist has won five straight Game 7s, since 2012, allowing just four goals in those five games. However, Justin Williams of the Kings is even better, a perfect 7-0, scoring a record 14 goals. Game 7 will be in Los Angeles, and while Lundqvist has twice won Game 7 on the road, the Kings battled tested nature extra scoring touch and Justin Williams magical Game 7 touch will be the difference as the Kings win the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years, as Anze Kopitar takes the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP.