Rangers-Kings: Who has the edge in Cup Final?
June 3, 2014 § Leave a comment
When the NHL went from a six-team train league to a 12-team coast-to-coast league in 1967, the idea of a New York-Los Angeles Stanley Cup Final was a possibility that had to excite owners.
It took 47 years, but the NHL finally will get there Wednesday when the Los Angeles Kings host the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the NHL championship series (8 p.m. ET, NBC). The Kings, the 2012 champions, are trying to join the Chicago Blackhawks as the only NHL teams with multiple championships in the salary cap era.
“This is a great opportunity for us, but we aren’t really worried about the stats,” said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty. “We just want to win another Cup. It doesn’t matter when it comes or where it comes.”
The Rangers have to work harder to find the net. Martin St. Louis has been an opportunistic scorer, but what the Rangers truly need is for Rick Nash and Brad Richards to have a big series. Carl Hagelin’s speed causes problems for the opposition. Advantage: Kings
Special teams: The Kings’ power play is clicking at a 25.4% rate, while the Rangers are at 13.6%. The Rangers’ penalty killing is better (85.9% to 81.2%). The Kings’ power play looks even more dangerous than the stats indicate. Advantage: Kings
Intangibles: The Kings’ swagger and confidence is off the charts. When they fall behind, they expect to rally. You see their determination building as the game wears on. By erasing a 3-0 series lead against the San Jose Sharks in the first round, the Kings have come to believe that no lead is insurmountable. They are a strong, physical team that is challenging to play against. They were behind on three occasions on Sunday before beating the Blackhawks in overtime in Game 7.
The Rangers’ confidence seems less boisterous. They have a good dressing room and have poise, mostly fueled by Lundqvist stellar play. Advantage: Kings
Prediction: This could be a playoffs worthy of a Hollywood script if Los Angeles can win the Stanley Cup on the strength of a fourth Game 7 victory in this postseason.
This matchup wasn’t expected when the regular season ended. The Rangers were the fifth-best team in the Eastern Conference and the Kings were sixth in the West.
How they match up:
Goaltending: The Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist has been the most notable difference-maker in the playoffs, posting a .928 save percentage and 2.03 goals-against average.
He has been carrying the Rangers for the better part of two months, and he has surrendered 15 goals in the past nine games. Lundqvist is playing with an overflowing supply of composure and bravado. He is playing almost as well as Kings goalie Jonathan Quick did when the Kings won in 2012.
Quick hasn’t been as invincible during this year’s Kings’ playoff run, but he has made the saves he has needed to make and won the games he has needed to win. His .908 save percentage is slightly misleading. Advantage: Rangers
Defense: The Rangers’ top four defensemen of Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal and Anton Stralman have played consistently well for the Rangers. They are quality shot-blockers and effective one-on-one defenders. Girardi will provide a physical presence.
LA’s Drew Doughty will have the most impact among defensemen in the series. He’s an elite-level player who makes big plays in all three zones of the ice. He is crucial to the Kings’ power play and their overall success. He leads the Kings in blocked shots. Jake Muzzin, Slava Voynov and Willie Mitchell are the Kings’ other 20-minute defensemen. Advantage: Rangers
Offense: The Kings are averaging 3.48 goals a game, compared with 2.70 for the Rangers. Over a seven-game series, that’s a difference of five or six goals.
Interestingly, though, the Rangers are the better five-on-five team. The Kings’ edge comes on the power play, where New York has struggled.
Still, the Kings seem more dangerous on offense. The Marian Gaborik-Anze Kopitar duo has been dynamic, and the speedy Gaborik is always a breakaway waiting to happen. He leads the NHL with 12 playoff goals. Dustin Brown, who spent time with those two, is a punishing hitter (playoff-leading 104). Justin Williams is an underrated offensive threat, and youngsters Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson have helped make the Kings more formidable up front. Jeff Carter is visible every game.