WARR’s hockey writer Sidney Brown offers his takes on the Blackhawks throughout their postseason run as well as predictions on the rest of the NHL
In this year’s Stanley Cup Finals hockey fans are going to get a chance to see which coast truly has the most.
In a rare occasion — the first time between these two particular teams — franchises from the NHL’s two biggest media markets are battling it out for Lord Stanley’s Cup — the Los Angeles Kings, previously the champions in 2012, when they beat another Tri-State area power (New Jersey Devils) against the New York Rangers, who are in their first Cup Finals in 20 years since their memorable seven-game Mark Messier-led victory over the Vancouver Canucks, that then was Big Blue’s only Cup victory since 1940.
In either case of who wins we are set up for a victory by a team that will have a lot of bandwagon fans to come and that stands to ignite the sport of professional hockey, temporarily or maybe even longer, in a place that could make a difference for the NHL.
Keeping it strictly on the ice, both teams had challenging roads in getting to this point with many twists and turns and comebacks helping the two squads make a little luck and history along the way. If you’re a pure hockey fan, the contrasting styles of both teams should make it an interesting series from start to finish. We’re talking Broadway vs. Hollywood! Who has the advantage? Let’s take a closer look.
How They Got Here
After its elimination from the second round of last year’s playoffs by the Boston Bruins, the New York Rangers fired then-coach John Torterella and hired former Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vingnault to bring in a new approach to the team. The Rangers got off to a sluggish start, lasting up to the trading deadline in March, then the team took action and traded their captain, Ryan Callahan, to the Tampa Bay Lightning for their captain, Martin St. Louis.
Sparking the offensive attack, St. Louis helped New York finish the season 45-31-6 for second place in the Metropolitan Division and drew the young, flying Philadelphia Flyers in the opening round. The Rangers survived a tough seven game series against Philly which prepared them for their next opponent in the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins were picked by many to reach the Stanley Cup Finals and took a 3-1 series lead, but the tide turned when St. Louis’ mother died of a sudden heart attack on Mother’s Day weekend, but in the face of that tragedy the team rallied behind St. Louis and defeated Pittsburgh in seven games. In the Eastern Conference Finals a pesky Montreal Canadiens squad offered a test of endurance against their Original Six rival. After losing goaltender Carey Price for the series, Montreal fought harder than expected but could not overcome the goaltending of the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, which secured New York the Eastern Conference title.
Los Angeles came into this season bearing the sting of being eliminated by the eventual 2013 Cup champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, and that looked to have been a great motivator for the 2013-14 season. As strong and physical a team as they were in 2012 when they won it all, the Kings still struggled to score goal throughout the season, but also like in ’12 — when they traded for Jeff Carter — the Kings’ front office made a solid move by trading for Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets and it proved to be the move that put the team over the top for a prime playoff run.
L.A.’s playoff run so far has come to be defined by how the Kings have dealt with adversity. After trailing the San Jose Sharks 3-0, the Kings used their offensive attack and great goaltending from Jonathan Quick to defeat the Sharks in 7 games, becoming only the fourth-ever team to win a series after trailing 3-0. In the next round, the Kings’ nemesis from Orange County, the Anaheim Ducks, played the other half in a Freeway Series. L.A. won the first two games on the road but lost the next three games to trail 3-2 in the series but that once again only set up a rally where the Kings won in 7. It was on to the Western Conference Finals and the team that unceremoniously ended their last season, the resulting series with the Blackhawks turned out to be one of the best fonference finals series ever played.
The Kings used their newly built-up offensive attack along with their ever-strong defensive style to frustrate the Hawks and take a commanding 3-1 series lead. The Hawks fought back like champs to force a Game 7 and that deciding game not only tested both squads to the extreme, it went past the allotted amount of minutes into overtime. After Alec Martinez’s reflected shot sent the team into the Cup finals, the Kings stood alone as the only NHL team to win three Games 7 on the road in one postseason. It is an understatement to say that the Kings are battle tested, but it’s true and using their experience from this year’s playoffs and from the tougher conference will help them in the final round.
Points: Anze Kopitar (24)
Assists: Anze Kopitar (19)
Goals: Marian Gaborik (12)
Penalty Minutes: Kyle Clifford (37)
Goals Against Average: Jonathan Quick (2.86)
Points: Martin St. Louis (13)
Assist: Ryan McDonagh (10)
Goals: Martin St. Louis (6)
Penalty Minutes: Daniel Carcillo (22)
Goals Against Average: Henrik Lundqvist (2.03)
The Kings have home ice and momentum on their side by winning three Game 7’s on the road — nothing should shake this team moving forward — and that alone should give them confidence. As for the Rangers, some people would say that it’s destiny primarily that got them to the Finals with lack of competition in the Eastern Conference coming a close second, but they did what they had to do to get here.
This series is going to come down to the special teams — primarily the Kings’ power play versus the Rangers’ penalty kill. If the Kings can grab advantages early in that department during most of the games then you can polish the trophy for them right now. The Rangers’ inconsistency on their PP will likely continue and their lack of scoring will ultimately keep them from winning this series. Get ready to celebrate, Cali, cause the Los Angeles Kings will be your 2014 Stanley Cup Champions, beating the Rangers in six games.
Game 1: at LA, Wednesday (7PM, NBC)
Game 2: at LA, Saturday (7PM, NBC)
Game3: at NY Rangers, June 9 (7PM, NBCSN)
Game 4: at NY Rangers, June 11 (7PM, NBCSN)
Game 5: at LA Kings, June 14 (7PM, NBC)*
Game 6: at NY Rangers, June 16 (7PM, NBC)*
Game 7: at LA Kings, June 18 (7PM, NBC)*
*= If Necessary
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