We’re down to the final two teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs, as the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings will duke it out for Lord Stanley’s Cup. The Kings and the Rangers have been made it through the minefield of their respective conferences.
The series starts Wednesday at Staples Center. We’ll break down the matchups for each team, and I’ll make a prediction on how’s going to take the big silver trophy.
New York Rangers
How they got here: Beat Philadelphia 4-3 in first round; Beat Pittsburgh 4-3 in conference semifinals; Beat Montreal 4-2 in Eastern Conference final.
Leaders: Martin St. Louis (6 goals, 7 assists); Ryan McDonagh (3 goals, 10 assists); Derek Stepan (5 goals, 8 assists); Goaltending: Henrik Lundqvist (12-7-1, 2.03 goals against average)
Los Angeles Kings
How they got here: Beat San Jose 4-3 in first round; Beat Anaheim 4-3 in conference semifinals; Beat Chicago 4-3 in Western Conference final.
Leaders: Anze Kopitar (5 goals, 19 assists); Jeff Carter (9 goals, 13 assists); Marian Gaborik (12 goals, 7 assists)
Forwards: Both teams boast very deep lineups. The Rangers’ third line of Mats Zuccarello-Derick Brassard-Benoit Pouliot were one of the hottest lines going into the playoffs. Martin St. Louis has carried the team since the second round. Stepan has been great as a second-line center, while Brad Richards has shown his playoff experience (and is also fighting for his contract.) The Rangers hope their team speed can catch the bigger, stronger Kings off guard.
Los Angeles has scored buckets of goals this postseason. Five of the top 10 scorers are on the Kings. Anze Kopitar has parlayed his Olympic performance and it’s infected the rest of the team. Marian Gaborik has fit in nicely since coming over at the deadline. The young Kings like Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson and Dwight King. The Kings will want to grind down the Rangers and neutralize their smaller forwards.
Defensemen: The playoffs have been Ryan McDonagh’s coming out party. McDonagh has carried the blueliners through this postseason. Dan Girardi has made some timely plays, but this is the first time they won’t be better than the opposing D.
Drew Doughty is almost at the point where he can be considered a household name. He carried Canada in the opening round of the Sochi games. Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez have also broken out this postseason, and provided points when needed.
Goalies: This is probably one of the most even goaltending matchups for a final in a long time. Both Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick are capable of stealing games and frustrating the other team’s offense. Lundqvist has had to do more of the lifting in the postseason, but Quick can be downright unbeatable. Lundqvist is going to have to outplay Quick if the Rangers are going to win the Stanley Cup.
Coaching: Daryl Sutter has a Stanley Cup ring already, but he’s not just a guy that just stands behind the bench and looks good in a suit. Many thought Gaborik wouldn’t fit because he’s not “a Sutter guy.” However, Sutter has gotten the most out of Gaborik in a long time. Sutter can flat out coach.
Alain Vigneault has been to the Stanley Cup final, but he’s never won a title. AV took over a squad that was comprised of players that were used to playing under John Tortorella’s defense-first system. Vigneault has allowed the offensive players to be more creative and try to score more. He has kept a lot of the defensive principles that allowed the Blueshirts to flourish.
Other factors: The New York Rangers looked like they were finished after going down 3-1 in their series against Pittsburgh. However, things turned around soon after the death of Martin St. Louis’ mother, France. MSL has willed this team to the final. It also helps when you’ve got Lundqvist on your side.
As in trouble as the Rangers were, the Kings were in an 0-3 hole against San Jose, but Los Angeles fought back and downed the Sharks. LA also rallied to beat the Ducks after being down 3-2. The Kings fell behind a few times in game seven against the Chicago Blackhawks, but fought back. The Kings remind me of a villain in a slasher film, where you just can’t kill them. I’ll only believe that LA has lost the series when someone on the Rangers hoists the Cup over their head.
Prediction: As much as it would be a feel-good story for the Rangers to win the Cup, the Kings are built for a seven-game series. They can score goals. They’ve got the goaltending and the defense to win games. LA is the favorite for the reasons. New York still has a chance. I’m not writing them out like a lot of other people are. I’m still thinking that the Kings will win this in seven.
That’s it for today. I do hope you check out the games even if you’re not a hockey fan. I think you’ll enjoy it. If you have thoughts, leave comments below or tweet me @DanMountSports.
Dan Mount is an NHL columnist for TJRSports.com. He also covers the Rangers, Devils and Islanders for NYSportScene.com. He is based out of Watertown, NY.