NHL Caucus: Stanley Cup predictions
June 3, 2014 § Leave a comment
The Los Angeles Kings are the first team to play 21 games in the playoffs and advance to the Stanley Cup Final, their second in three years. The New York Rangers are playing this deep into the season for the first time in 20 years, the last time they won the Cup. Who will win it all? Writers from around the USA TODAY Sports Network weigh in.
The Kings’ offense is dynamic enough to carry the day. They’re able to rally when falling behind, either in a game or a series. They’re brimming with confidence. Winning three consecutive Game 7s will do that.
The Rangers might have the more emotionally cohesive unit, thanks to their underdog status and with the team wanting to pay tribute to the lost loved ones of Martin St. Louis and Dominic Moore. But many of their key players have never been to a Cup Final in their career, while even those who have (highlighted by 2004 Cup winners Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis) might be in for a rude awakening amid the unyielding scrutiny and spotlight of Cup-starved New York fans and media eager to relive 1994. Meanwhile the Kings once again will go about their business of doing whatever it takes to emerge victorious, a task that’ll be helped greatly by the fact that more than two-thirds of the current team were members of their 2012 Cup-winning squad.
The Kings have two horses in center Anze Kopitar and defenseman Drew Doughty that the Rangers will have their hands full containing and depth down the middle that is unparalleled. However, the Rangers have shown that their structure, team speed (especially on the wings) and group defense gives them a chance to win and the ability to shut down the league’s best (see Sidney Crosby and P.K. Subban). The biggest difference for me is the goaltending. The Kings’ Jonathan Quick continues to get the benefit of the doubt despite his subpar numbers since his 2012 Conn Smythe/Cup-winning season. He posted a .915 save percentage this season and has a .906 mark during the postseason. The Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist is simply better: He has a .928 SV% in the playoffs, after recording a .920 mark during the regular season.
Throughout the regular season, it was pretty apparent that the Western Conference has a step up on teams from the East. The Stanley Cup Final shouldn’t be any different. While the Rangers have opened games with more of an offensive push, the Los Angeles Kings have played the “waiting game” the entire playoffs – sitting back defensively until a hole opens for them to strike. On top of that, the Kings have much more team experience in the Cup Final with the core of their team remaining the same from their 2012 Stanley Cup win.
The New York Rangers have excelled in these playoffs on the shoulders of goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, and King Henrik will present a formidable challenge for the L.A. Kings. But L.A.’s blistering offense only seems to be improving and looks more cohesive than ever. In their series with the Sharks, Ducks and Blackhawks, the Kings have embodied a bend-don’t-break mentality and they could be the toughest foe the Rangers have faced in the postseason. As it should be, the final battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup will be between two great hockey clubs. The Kings have what it takes to bring it back to the West Coast.