Stanley Cup Final Preview
By Greg Hudson
The 2014 Stanley Cup Final begins Wednesday night at the Staples Center, and it looks set to be the start of a Finals series for the ages.
It’s admittedly an unlikely matchup, but the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings proved they deserve to be here with impressive performances in their playoff runs. The Rangers stared elimination in the face against the Pittsburgh Penguins after falling behind the perennial giants 3-1 in the best-of-seven conference semifinal. But they rallied behind netminder Henrik Lundqvist and hero Martin St. Louis, who led the team to victory after the tragic loss of his mother. Their mettle was tested again by the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference final, but triumphed in six games to return to the Stanley Cup final for the first time since they won it last, in 1994.
The Los Angeles Kings, meanwhile, have dealt with even tougher odds. Down 3-0 to the San Jose Sharks, the Kings rallied to pull off a rare comeback and won the series 4-3 with a 5-1 road win in game seven. After racing to a 2-0 lead against the Anaheim Ducks in the conference semis, they dropped three straight and once again stared elimination in the face. Needing two wins to avoid an early exit, they again came together as a team to force game seven in Anaheim, and won the series with a convincing 6-2 victory. The 2012 champions then faced the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks in a rematch of the 2013 Western Conference final. After gaining a 3-1 series lead the Kings struggled to close out the series, allowing the Blackhawks to claim games five and six after trailing in the third period of both games. In yet another game seven on the road, the Kings trailed 2-0, 3-2, and 4-3, but despite not holding a lead for a single second of the game, found a tying goal, and an overtime winner from unlikely source Alec Martinez.
Heading into the Finals, there’s no doubting the quality in either team. The Rangers’ defense is almost impenetrable, thanks in no small part to the presence of Lundqvist in net. But the Rangers’ defensive record is truly a team effort. They blocked well over 100 shots in the conference semifinals against Pittsburgh, and made a great team effort on the penalty kill in the conference final to stave off a dangerous Montreal powerplay.
But they’ll have their hands full with the Kings’ offense, a juggernaut of goals that is averaging 3.48 goals per game in the postseason, and has found goals from almost everyone on the team, from stars Anze Kopitar and ex-Ranger Marian Gaborik, to youngsters Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, and defensemen Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, and Martinez. They’ve found a way to put the puck in the net all postseason, and it will be a big test for the Rangers to keep it a low-scoring affair.
In a high-scoring contest, it’s advantage Kings, seeing as the Rangers offense has been hot-and-cold all postseason. But so have Jonathan Quick and the Kings’ defense, which has allowed four or more goals on six occasions in 21 postseason games. If the Rangers’ persistence and timely attack can get the best of Jonathan Quick, the Stanley Cup could well end up in New York for the first time in 20 years.
Prediction: Kings in 5, Rangers in 6, or it goes 7 games and it’s anyone’s trophy.