With the NHL's Stanley Cup final set to begin Wednesday night (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7:30 p.m. ET), here's a look at the matchup between the Western Conference champion Los Angeles Kings and the Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers.
CBC Sports hockey writers Tim Wharnsby (Rangers) and Mike Brophy (Kings) each present three scenarios in which their team can win the Cup, and give their predictions for the series.
Los Angeles Kings vs. New York Rangers
Kings' road to the final: 46-28-8 regular-season record, 100 points, 3rd in Pacific Division, defeated San Jose 4-3 in 1st playoff round, Anaheim 4-3 in 2nd round, Chicago 4-3 in Western final.
Rangers' road to the final: 45-31-6 regular-season record, 96 points, 2nd in Metropolitan Division, defeated Philadelphia 4-3 in 1st playoff round, Pittsburgh 4-3 in 2nd round, Montreal 4-2 in Eastern final.
Wharnsby: The Rangers will win if...
1. They can carry the emotion that has been evident in their game since the mother of Martin St. Louis passed away on May 8. When France St. Louis died unexpectedly at age 63, the Rangers were down three games to one in their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. They appeared down and out and exhausted after a stretch in which the Blueshirts played eight games in 12 days. They weren’t even sure St. Louis would play in Game 5 because he was in Montreal mourning with his family. But he showed up the next night in Pittsburgh. The Rangers since have reeled off seven wins in nine outings by a combined score of 30-18. The remarkable comeback of Dominic Moore, who sat out a season after his wife, Katie, passed away after a battle with a rare form of liver cancer, also has given the Rangers an inspirational lift. The 33-year-old Moore has played an important checking role, and supplied penalty killing and a pair of game-winning goals. The Rangers have developed into a good story with St. Louis, Moore, the 10th anniversary of St. Louis and Brad Richards winning the Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning, as well as this being the 20th anniversary of the Rangers' last Stanley Cup crown.
2. All-world goalie Henrik Lundqvist can steal a game or two at the Staples Center in Los Angeles this week. When Lundqvist played so well in the first two games of the East final in Montreal – he stopped 55 of 58 shots – to give the Rangers a 2-0 series lead going home, his strong performance changed the complexion of the series against the Canadiens. I realize it may not make a difference against the Kings because they have overcome a 3-0 deficit in the first round against the San Jose Sharks and they trailed the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in the second round. But the Rangers have a better chance to upset the 2012 Stanley Cup champions if they can steal a game or two early in the series. Lundqvist certainly has been the Rangers' best player in their run to the final with a playoff-leading .928 save percentage, and he needs to continue to be on his game.
3. They continue to receive production in the balanced manner they enjoyed in the first three rounds and the penalty-killing unit continues to snuff out the opposition’s man-advantage situations. The Rangers have the most efficient penalty killing of the teams that advanced past the first round at 55-for-64 for a 85.9 success rate and a shorthanded goal. The Kings, meanwhile, have the second-best power-play group of teams that have played more than a round at 17-for-67 (25.4 perc ent), just below Boston’s 26.5 per cent. Another strength for the Kings is their depth. The Rangers must match that with goals from all four lines. So far, so good in the first 20 games. The No. 1 trio of Carl Hagelin, Richards and St. Louis has checked in with 17 goals. The second and third lines have scored 12 goals apiece. Moore’s fourth line has scored seven times, while the Rangers blue-line has contributed six goals.
Prediction: Rangers in 7.
Brophy: The Kings will win if...
1. They continue to score with reckless abandon. In 21 post-season games the Kings have scored a league-high 73 goals – an average of 3.5 per game. That is one goal per game better than they scored during the regular season, when they managed 2.5 goals per game with 206 in 82 contests. It has been said defence wins championships in the NHL, and for the most part that is true. The Kings, however, are doing things differently this year. They fall behind in games and in series and then they turn up the heat on offence. Not surprisingly, then, the Kings have the top two scorers in the playoffs (Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter) and four of the top five. Also, Marian Gaborik of the Kings leads all snipers with 12 playoff goals. Kopitar, Gaborik and Dustin Brown are the team’s top line, but Carter has been invigorated playing the majority of his shifts with a couple of kids, Tyler Tofolli and Tanner Pearson. The Kings have also gotten a huge contribution from their blue-line. Jake Muzzin has five goals while Drew Doughty and Alec Martinez have four each and Slava Voynov has two.
2. If they continue to play a "heavy" game, which means punishing opponents by wearing them down and bombarding them with body checks. In 21 games the Kings lead the playoffs with 898 hits – an average of 43 per game. The smaller Rangers, by comparison, average just slightly more than 29 hits per game. A quick scan of the most frequent hitters in the playoffs shows Dustin Brown leading the way with 104 while Jarret Stoll is tied for second with 80. The Kings, in fact, have six of the top 10 hitters. Voynov is fourth with 69, Trevor Lewis sixth with 61, and Kyle Clifford and Muzzin are tied for seventh with 56. The players the Rangers count on most up front are medium-to-smallish – the likes of Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Mats Zuccarello and Carl Hagelin – and the Kings will take no prisoners.
3. If Jonathan Quick rediscovers his game. Even though Quick has won a Stanley Cup and Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers has not, New York has the edge between the pipes. Lundqvist is first in save percentage in the post-season at .928 while Quick is a distant eighth at .906. Lundqvist is second in goals-against average with 2.03 while Quick is ninth with 2.86. In the playoffs Qucik has had four games during which he allowed four goal, two in which he allowed five, and one, in the first round, when he allowed seven. This is not characteristic for a guy many believe to be one of the best stoppers in the NHL. The good news is he has a very calm demeanour and has the ability to get through the odd bad game without completely coming off the rails. Against the Rangers he will be required to give his team a chance to win nightly while Lundqvist will have to steal a game or three.
Prediction: Kings in 5.