The time has come to crown an NHL champion and it could not have come down to a better matchup. Hailing from two of the nation’s best and biggest cities, the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers set up a Stanley Cup Finals for the ages. This Final comes loaded with an endless amount of headlines: East coast versus West coast; New York versus LA; Lundqvist versus Quick; fast offense versus strong defense; and so much more. The road traveled for both of these teams has been a long and winding one to say the least. However, that means both of these teams have been battle tested and are both better prepared coming into the Finals, but who has the advantage?
Both of these squads have had talent up front for a while and both got even stronger near the trade deadline. The Kings picked up Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Rangers picked up Martin St. Louis from the Tampa Bay Lightning. These moves added some major depth for both of these teams coming into the postseason and both have seen a lot of production out of their third and fourth lines. However, given how the playoffs have shaped up so far, the big and bruising forwards of the Los Angeles Kings hold a slight advantage over the quick and fast forwards of the New York Rangers.
The Rangers, similar to the Blackhawks, are balanced up front and on defense and play a more offensive-oriented, up-and-down style of play. Unfortunately for them, the Kings big boys like to play a more puck-possession style of offense that can grind and grind down the smaller forwards of the Rangers until they are forced to tiredly wave their white flag. The Rangers style can get the best of the Kings in some of these upcoming games, but in a seven-game series the advantage has to go to the bigger and tougher four lines of Los Angeles.
The most glaring and possible fatal flaw among the forwards for both teams will have to be the Kings advantage at the center position. The Kings will have Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll facing off against the Rangers Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard and Dominic Moore. Kopitar and Carter alone have a combined 46 points this postseason, which is two points more than all four of the Rangers centers combined.
Like the forwards, the defensemen matchup should be a good one to watch, but give the Kings the slight edge in this category as well. From top to bottom, Los Angeles has a depth on defense that is unwavering. Drew Doughty is putting together quite the resume for his bid for the Conn Smythe and could be LA’s best all-around player so far in the playoffs. However, it is their entire defensive depth that has been sparking the Kings defense and offense. The top line defensemen for the Kings (Doughty, Muzzin, Voynov, and Martinez) have a combined plus-13 rating and have an amazing 43 total points. Compare that to the Rangers top line defensemen of McDonagh, Girardi, Staal and Stralman, who have a combined plus-six rating and 30 total points, and the advantage is clear.
That being said, the New York Rangers have one man in particular that can be a series changer: Ryan McDonagh. After suffering a late season shoulder injury, it took eleven playoff games for him to finally make a splash… and what a splash it was. Since his first points in Game Five against the Pittsburgh Penguins (a game that sparked his offense and the entire team to a series comeback), McDonagh has been a one-man wrecking crew, nabbing 12 points in nine games. If McDonagh can keep this torrid pace alive, Ranger fans could be seeing flashes of Brian Leetch, who had 11 total points in New York’s 1994 Stanley Cup Finals win.
This could be the biggest X-factor when it comes to winning the Finals. The ‘King’ in net has been everything New York fans could have hoped for this postseason and his play in net could be the only advantage the Rangers have in this series. ‘King’ Henrik is putting up some terrific numbers this playoff season, posting a .928 save percentage and a 2.06 goals-against-average (GAA). Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick is eighth ranked among goalies in these playoffs with a .906 save percentage and is ninth best with his 2.86 GAA.
As hard as it is to believe, the goalie advantage does in fact reside in New York’s Lundqvist. The streaky play of the LA net-minder, paralleled with the outstanding play of Lundqvist, is about the only reason why the Rangers even have a chance in this series. Lundqvist is going to do what he has been doing all year, but if Quick can get to streaking in the right direction, it may not matter how good the ‘King’ does for the Rangers as this series could end up being a short one. However, Quick has been anything but consistent, so this series could definitely go the distance. Nonetheless, consistent or not, if it does come down to a Game Seven in Los Angeles, the Cup has to go to the goalie that has won three straight Game Sevens on the road this postseason.
2014 Stanley Cup Finals Prediction:
Kings over Rangers in seven games.
Conn Smythe winner: Anze Kopitar
If the Kings end up winning the Stanley Cup, it would be due in large part to the amazing play of Anze Kopitar. Granted, given how this series shapes up, the award could go to a slew of Kings that have been performing amazingly this postseason. Gaborik leads all players in goals with 12. Doughty seemed to be involved in every big play during the entire WCF and leads all defensemen with 16 points; Carter is two points behind Kopitar for the most points this post-season with 22 points; and if it goes to Game Seven, Justin Williams could be the surprise winner as “Mr. Game Seven” has proven time and time again to come in the clutch. He also has 18 points to boot as well.
Kopitar, however, has been the catalyst for Los Angeles in more than just one way. He leads the league and team in helpers with 19, total points with 24 and is averaging more than a point per game, but his “follow my lead” type of leadership on the ice is how the Kings were able to make their two improbable comebacks through the first two rounds. When the Kings were down 3-0 to the San Jose Sharks, Kopitar rallied the troops by racking up four of his five total goals this whole postseason in the following four games (seven total points). When they were facing elimination again, Kopitar scored three points and had a combined 66 percent faceoff-winning percentage in Games Six and Seven. In the WCF against the Blackhawks, he added five more helpers. If Kopitar can remain steady in the faceoff circle and continue to rack up the points, he should definitely win the award.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles
Read Me @ GuardianLV