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
If excitement is what brings you to hockey then this year’s installment of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Finals has brought plenty of it, from great saves, hard hits, timely scoring and overtime heroics.
Through the first two games this series has done everything it can to live up to the hype. The Los Angeles Kings, aka the Cardiac Kings, survived slow starts in their first two home games to come back in each one and seal them in dramatic fashion, both times in overtime with goals from Justin Williams Wednesday and Dustin Brown Saturday.
Coming into this series I said that the key match-up of the series would be the New York Rangers’ penalty kill unit against the Kings’ power play and through the first two games, both teams have scored only one goal a piece with an advantage, so give credit to both PK units.
Both goalies — New York’s Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick of the Kings — have played evenly so far with each goalie making great saves and stopping key shots at times, what’s separated them has been the bad luck manifesting for Lundqvist in giving up goals in OT.
Going back home for Games 3 and 4, good play between the posts will be at a premium, expect “King” Lundqvist to make an appearance in front of his home fans, matching Quick as the Rangers try to crawl their way back into the series.
Game 1 (Power Play): NY Rangers, 0-3; LA Kings, 0-4
Game 2 (Power Play): NY Rangers, 1-5, LA Kings, 1-4
New York Collapse
You can simply make an argument that the Rangers should be up 2-0 in this series going home to Madison Square Garden. Consider this — the Rangers twice held two goal leads at some point this series (2-0 after 1st period in Game 1 and 4-2 after two periods in Game 2).
What the cause of all this? Defensive breakdowns in coverage along with the Kings using their skills offensively to crawl back into each game have made the difference up to this point. New York is known to be a strong defensive team, but it has been the Kings that has taken the reigns of that title when it matters most in crunch time.
L.A. has displayed throughout these playoffs — especially in the Western Conference Finals versus the ever-dangerous Chicago offense — how to shutdown your opponent by taking away open space, clearing pucks out, not giving up multiple rebounds and getting sticks on pucks to not allow many shots on goal.
As a game reaches its crucial moments, no team in the NHL does it better than the Kings and the numbers prove it.
Kings Goal Differential by Period (2014 Playoffs)
1st Period: -1
2nd Period: +1
3rd Period/OT: +15
Goals: 14 players each with 1
Points: Justin Williams (LA), 5
Goals Against Average: Jonathan Quick (LA), 2.33
Hope For the Rangers?
The initial thought would be NO, but there have been three teams in the history of the NHL that have done so as you can see below. It’s a tall order, but the Rangers still have a shot with at least two games left at home in Manhattan.
2003: New Jersey Devils
1950: Detroit Red Wings
1931: Montreal Canadiens
Looking Ahead to Games 3 & 4
With their backs against the wall, look for the Rangers to set the tone offensively in the next two games. Yes, they’ve taken leads in the first two games and squandered them but to keep that from repeating they just need to play a stronger defensive game like their counterparts specialize in.
This stage is set up perfectly for Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist to take over and try to snuff out the confidence of the Kings. For LA, all it needs to do is steal one game on the road and their previous Game 7 experiences should help them if the series goes deep.
Even if they fail to keep control of this series, the Kings still have home ice advantage, but make no mistake about it, the pressure is squarely on the Rangers to even this series up especially since they could have won each game so far.
Pay attention to the power play units from both teams and each squad’s goaltenders as difference-makers. This series has fit a lot of action into it already but it is just getting started.
Game 3: 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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