NHL Playoffs 2014: Stanley Cup Final Preview – Los Angeles Kings vs New York Rangers

Image courtesy of NHL.com.

SERIES BEGINS: 4th June

PUCK DROP: 20:00 ET (01:00 GMT)

BY THE NUMBERS

LOS ANGELES NY RANGERS
WON LAST ROUND IN… 7 games 6 games
GOALS FOR/AGAINST (DIFFERENTIAL) 73 / 60(+13) 54 / 45(+9)
TOP POINT SCORER  24 PTS(A. KOPITAR)

 

13 PTS(M. ST LOUIS, D. STEPAN

& R. McDONAGH)

TOP GOAL SCORER  12 G(M. GABORIK)

 

6 G(M. ST LOUIS &

C. HAGELIN)

MOST TOI/G  27:50(D. DOUGHTY) 25:11(R. McDONAGH)
TOTAL 5v5 SV%  91.3%(9th in NHL) 93.3%(3rd in NHL)

LOS ANGELES KINGS ROUND 3 LOWDOWN

That was a hell of a series, wasn’t it?  One for the ages.  Seven games, 3 overtime periods, 51 goals, 94 penalty minutes, 238 blocked shots, 422 shots on net, and 483 hits.  The Los Angeles Kings, who had already taken the longest route possible to the Conference Finals, taking both San Jose and Anaheim to 7 games, defeated Chicago in another 7 to avenge their loss at the same point of last year’s playoffs.

The Kings dropped Game 1 by a 3-1 score, though rookie Tyler Toffoli continued to prove his worth by notching his 4th of the playoffs.  This loss appeared to wake a sleeping giant however, as LA roared back to hand Chicago’s collective asses to them by a 6-2 score, Jeff Carter tallying a hat-trick along the way as the Kings gained the distinction of being the first team other than Chicago to win at the United Center in the 2014 postseason.

Using that game as a launch pad, the Kings won the next two games by a combined score of 9-5 to give themselves a commanding 3-1 series lead.  However, the defending-Champion Blackhawks weren’t done yet, taking a hard-earned victory in double-overtime of Game 5 on the back of a commanding performance by 2013’s Conn Smythe winner Patrick Kane.  The Hawks followed this up with another tight game, Kane again dominating at a vital time.

Suddenly, the Kings weren’t so confident.  They weren’t the first team to see a 3-1 series lead evaporate this year, and they came very close to seeing it happen to them.  They fell behind early by 2, fought back within the first period to tie the game only to surrender another.  The same happened again in the second, Tyler Toffoli tying the game but Patrick Sharp restoring the Hawks slim lead.  Thankfully for LA, deadline-acquisition Marian Gaborik once again came through for his new team, scoring his 12th of the playoffs with less than 8 minutes remaining to tie the game.

Both teams knuckled down in the remaining minutes before heading to the most exciting period of sport known to mankind – Game 7, overtime.  Just under 6 minutes in, Justin Williams proves yet again why he’s such a brilliant player, controlling the puck beautifully in the Hawks’ zone and making a play to defenseman Alec Martinez at the point who wrists a shot over Corey Crawford‘s shoulder to take the game and the series.

LOS ANGELES KINGS PLAYER TO WATCH

It simply has to be Anze Kopitar.  Marian Gaborik has been terrific so far, potting goal after goal, but Kopitar has been truly dominant offensively during these playoffs.  He leads the league in total points – nearly double that of the highest scoring Rangers – and has been, for the most part, his usual excellent defensive self.

It shouldn’t be ignored that a lot of his production is the result of an extremely high on-ice shooting percentage, something that could be expected to regress.  However, in the playoffs it is hot streaks and elevated play that can help win Championships, so it would be best to simply embrace it!

NEW YORK RANGERS ROUND 3 LOWDOWN

No-one saw this coming.  Well, OK, the always-excellent Patricia Teter at Artful Puck kind of saw it coming. But the rest of us mere mortals, despite having one of the World’s best goalies in Henrik Lundqvist, saw the Rangers as playoff contenders.  Particularly given said goalie’s numbers were quite pedestrian this year, by his own standards at least.

Luckily for the Rangers, Lundqvist has rekindled his outstanding play in the playoffs, and combined with a flourishing Ryan McDonagh and revitalised Martin St Louis, the Rangers have been able to work their way past some very good teams to reach this point.  Alain Vigneault has instilled a confidence and camaraderie in these players that wasn’t so evident under John Tortorella, and they do have a talented bunch of players, so this is far from a flukey run.

Despite many (me) picking Montreal to take this series, the Rangers came out all guns firing in Game 1, rocking the Habs to the tune of 7-2 at the Bell Centre, not an arena that is traditionally kind to the Rangers.  Chasing star goalie Carey Price from the net thanks to injury and poor form, the game also saw Rick Nash break the longest goal drought of his career (15 games) and Ryan McDonagh tie a record for points by a  Rangers defender in a playoff game with 4 (Rags legend Brian Leetch had three 4-point games in the ’94 playoffs).

Game 2, and the Rangers had the advantage of facing a Carey Price-less Habs team, Dustin Tokarski, and though he was admirable enough in his first taste of NHL playoff action the Rangers didn’t have too much trouble taking a 3-1 win.  Montreal showed some signs of life in Game 3, Chris Kreider scoring a late goal to tie the game but Alex Galchenyuk helping the Habs save some face by getting the OT winner.  Not to be outdone, Martin St Louis came through once again for New York in Game 4, scoring a wonderful overtime goal to give the Rangers a 3-1 series advantage.

The Canadiens decided to avenge the lop-sided loss suffered in Game 1, launching a 7 goal beatdown of their own upon the Rangers, forcing Lundqvist from his fortress with off-again-on-again forward Rene Bourque scoring a hat-trick to keep the series interesting at 3-2.  Luckily for the Rangers, The King is not easily shaken, and came back with a good game in Game 6, strong enough to blank the Canadiens 1-0, with 2014 Masterton Trophy nominee Dominic Moore scoring the series winner.

NEW YORK RANGERS PLAYER TO WATCH

Henrik Lundqvist is the man on whose shoulders the fate of the New York Rangers is going to rest.  Ryan McDonagh has enjoyed a fantastic playoffs, but it is The King who has brought the team this far, and who will either take them all the way or do his best to try.

His numbers are outstanding, recording a .928 SV% and 2.03 GAA in 20 games, and has been arguably better on the road than at home, though he is strong wherever he plays.  As it stands, he is enjoying a vastly superior playoff to Kings’ netminder Jonathan Quick, though that former Conn Smythe winner will surely do his best to rise to the occasion.

PREDICTION

Deviating from our previous predictions, I am allowing all the Ice Nation writers to chip in for this one.  Not letting it go to their heads, though.

  • Sam Skelding (disgusted Ducks fan)“Rangers in 7: Goalies win cups and New York have the best in the league right now. Also, even writing the words ‘Kings win the cup again’ makes me feel like vomiting.”
  • Melissa Geschwind (devoted Devils fan)“I’m picking the Rangers, in an attempt to jinx them.”
  • Brad Marsh – “New York: It is going to be a tight series, but this is King Henrik’s year and he may well just be the difference in the series. New York in 7.”
  • Michael Devine (bitter Hawks fan) “Kings in five and the only reason it goes five is Lundqvist nicking a game. This SCF is going to be like Godzilla stepping on an ant.”
  • Cas Crawford – “I’m going with the Kings in 5. I they’re just going to out skate the Rangers, leaving Lunqvist open more than he’s prepared for.”
  • Micki Holley“My pick is the Kings. Simply put, they are hungry, have a few tricks up their sleeve and have not been too “rested” as many times that is the downfall of a team!”
  • Ger Devine“My prediction for the Cup is the LA Kings. Reason: For me, the Kings were the best even strength team in the league this season and finished as low as they did because they didn’t get a whole lot of shooting luck, having the 2nd lowest Sh% in the league. They’ve been getting a lot more puck luck in the playoffs and as a result have eliminated 3 of the biggest favourites for the Cup, two of which I would count among the 5 best teams in the league (San Jose and Chicago). The Rangers have much better goaltending, but I think the Kings will be too much for them provided Jonathan Quick stops being as mediocre as he has been in these playoffs.”

For my part, I am taking the Kings in 6.  Henrik will take the Rangers as far as he can, but those Kings are just too good to lose.

Happy Stanley Cup Finals everybody!

Follow Chris on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

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