Finally, the Stanley Cup Final will get underway Wednesday evening, at the Staples Center. The Eastern Conference Champions New York Rangers take on the Western Conference Champions Los Angeles Kings in a “east meets west” showdown. It’s Manhattan against Beverly Hills, Broadway Boulevard against Rodeo Drive. Iconic symbols such as the Statue of Liberty versus the Hollywood Sign.
After all the talk, blood, sweat, and tears shed throughout the regular and post seasons, it comes down to a final best of seven series. This is what teams play for: an opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup and etch their names into hockey history.
Without our further delay, here is your Stanley Cup Final preview. And make sure to check out the Barry’s Tickets blog post preview as well.
Offensively, the Los Angeles Kings are led by their all-star Anze Kopitar. The former first round pick in 2005, he leads the team with 24 points through 21 games played these playoffs. He has five goals, 19 assists, a +9 rating, and averages 20:18 minutes of ice time per game. Even though he was held off the goal column against the Chicago Blackhawks, he has developed chemistry with former Ranger Marian Gaborik. In a trade deadline acquisition in March, the Kings traded forward Matt Frattin, a second round pick, and a conditional third round pick to Columbus in exchange for the right wing sniper. Since being acquired, Gaborik has refound his scoring touch with a team that had been offensively challenged in the second half of the regular season. He has 12 goals through 21 playoff games for the Kings, which leads the team. He has seven assists to give him 19 points, good for third on the team. Unlike the Rangers, the Kings have a captain in Dustin Brown. Another first round pick in 2003, he has helped formed an identity with the Kings. A rugged, hard-nosed player, he never takes a play off and will stand up to the opposition. You could say he is the “Ryan Callahan” of the Kings.
Perhaps a crucial element to the team’s success is their depth. Head coach Daryl Sutter has the luxury of rolling four scoring lines. Jeff Carter, the former Philadelphia Flyer, is second on the team in scoring with 22 points. He, along with Dustin Brown, have the “hot” hand. In the Chicago series, Carter had a point in every game except for game six. In game two, he had a hat trick en route to a 6-2 win over the defending Stanley cup Champions Blackhawks in Chicago. For the series, he had 11 points in seven games. Other threats on the ice include: Justin Williams, Mike Richards, and the young Tanner Pearson. If they can’t beat you offensively, they can play defensive hockey. Dustin Brown leads the team in hits with 104. Jarret Stoll’s 80 hits are good for second on the team. Also, he leads all forwards with 22 blocked shots.
For the New York Rangers, Martin St. Louis and Derek Stepan are tied for the team lead in points with 13. Both men have been inspirations to the team in these playoffs. St. Louis leads the team in goals with six, two of which were game winning goals. He averages close to 19:00 minutes per game, seeing playing time on even strength, power play, and penalty kill. The team’s other points leader is Derek Stepan. Through 19 playoff games this season, he five goals and eight assists. He is most remembered for his two goal performance in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals with the Montreal Canadiens . He skated with a jaw protector on his helmet, after sustaining an injury from a Brandon Prust hit.
As with the Los Angeles Kings, the New York Rangers have scoring depth, up and down their lineup. All four lines are capable of sustaining offensive pressure in their opponent’s zone. Their aggressiveness on the forecheck and playmaking ability makes this team dangerous and difficult to defend. Also, the team prides themselves on their speed. Two Rangers forwards that embody these traits are the young budding star Chris Kreider and Swedish speedster Carl Hagelin. Both have played important roles in their own ways. Hagelin has been most dangerous on the penalty kill, pairing up with Brian Boyle. He leads the team in shorthanded goals with one. Kreider missed the first 10 playoff games with a wrist injury sustained late in the season. However, he was able to return for game four against the Pittsburgh Penguins and has no looked back since. With his presence in the lineup, he has made an immediate impact on the team’s overall performance. He provided a shot to the arm against the Penguins and played a crucial, yet controversial role against the Montreal Canadiens. Through 10 playoff games this season, he is a point per game player with four goals.
The Kings defense is spearheaded by Drew Doughty. He leads the team’s defense in points with 16, with four goals and is a +5. His nearly 28:00 minutes of average ice time per game leads the team in that category. Also, he leads the team in blocked shots with 45. Just as the Kings have scoring depth, their defensive corps are threats from the blue line. Jake Muzzin leads all Kings defenseman with five goals through 21 playoff games. He is second in assists with six, behind Doughty with 12. Willie Mitchell leads all Kings defensemen with a +7 rating. Slava Voynov is the defensive leader in hits with 69. Other blue line threats are Alec Martinez, who got the game winning goal to beat the Blackhawks in game seven, and veterans Matt Greene, Robyn Regehr.
For the Rangers, the defensive corps is the heart and soul of this team. Leading the charge is Ryan McDonagh. He leads all Ranger defensemen in points with 13, including two power play goals. Also, he leads the team in ice time, averaging 25:11 minutes per game. Tentative at the start of the playoffs, McDonagh is gaining more and more confidence with each game he plays. His playing time has involved even strength, power play, and the penalty kill. If the Rangers needed an answer to Drew Doughty, he is the one.
For Stralman, he was originally an offensive defenseman. However, head coach Alain Vigneault has put him in defensive situations, namely the penalty kill. His easy, caring puck possession has not proved to be a liability. With his cool demeanor, it has given his fellow teammates calmness in stressful situations. Though he has no goals, Stralman has five points with a +6 rating. With defensive partner Marc Staal, they offer a welcome relief for the top pair of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi.
Like Stralman, Kevin Klein’s role has differed in the playoffs. Acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline in March, Klein has become a player of reliability. Originally thought of as a defensive player, he is starting to showcase his offensive ability. He leads the team with a +7, whenever he is on the ice. Through 20 playoff games with the Rangers, he has one goal and four points. He is becoming a two-way defenseman, as we have seen in the Montreal series. At times, he is able to join the offensive rush, carrying the puck deep into the offensive zone, and shooting on goal.
Once defenseman John Moore returns from his two game suspension, the Rangers will have a dangerous group of defensemen ready to tackle any situations.
The Los Angeles Kings have good overall special teams. Their power play ranks fifth, among this year’s playoff teams. They have converted 25 percent of the time with the man advantage, scoring 17 goals in 67 opportunities. Their leading goal scorer on the power play is Jeff Carter with four.
The team averages 13 minutes per game in penalties. This makes them vulnerable if a team is able to take advantage of their opportunities. Currently, this makes the Kings the fifth most penalized in the playoffs.
However, their penalty kill ranks ninth among the NHL playoff teams this season. Through 21 playoff games, the Kings have been short handed 80 times. They have yielded 15 goals to their opponents, which is good for a little over 81 percent.
The New York Rangers do not boast a top power play unit. Even heading into the playoffs, their unit had been suspect. For these playoffs, their unit ranks tenth. In eighty-one opportunities with the man-advantage, they have converted 11 times. That’s a 13.6% success rate. Many thought that this team will not go far, due to the lack of their power play conversion opportunities.
However, they have thrived on the penalty kill.
Their penalty kill units have made up for their power plays failures. In these playoffs, the team has been short handed 64 times. Within those opportunities, they have yielded only nine goals, good for close to 86% kill rate. That’s good for second among this year’s playoff teams. The Rangers do have a short handed goal to their credit, by way of Carl Hagelin.
The goalie matchup in these Finals will be a true matchup of world-class goaltending. Both are accomplished athletes, both in the NHL and world-wide.
For the Los Angeles Kings, their go-to-man is Jonathan Quick. The American-born star for the Los Angeles Kings brings a record of 12-9, a 2.86 goals against average, one shutout, and a save percentage above .900. His aggressive style makes him a dangerous goalie to face. He is not afraid to get low to the ice, sprawl out for the puck. He likes to show scorers looks at the open net and dare them to commit. However, this may be his undoing. He wears his emotions on his sleeve. I’d compare Jonathan Quick to Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith. He does not like his crease to be crowded. If an opponent crashes into him, he reacts with emotion and physicality. If the Rangers have any chance against him, they will need to get him off his game, mentally. Unlike Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, Jonathan Quick is not fragile, mentally. It’s his temper that may get him into trouble.
To counter, the Rangers will have Henrik Lundqvist in net. Entering the Stanley Cup final, he brings a record of 12-7, a 2.03 goals against average, .928 save percentage, and one shutout. The backbone of the franchise since 2005, this is what he has been working towards. All the years of disappointment and frustration will be erased, if he can rise to the occasion one more time. He has already became a winning goalie during the regular season, holds notable distinctions such as most shutouts and career wins by a New York Ranger goalie, a Vezina trophy winner, Olympic gold medalist, and recently Eastern Conference Champion. Now, there is one more hill to climb, one more trophy to add to his already impressive collection: the Stanley Cup. However, he will need to face a formidable foe in the Los Angeles Kings, who have already tasted the promise land in 2012. He will need to will himself and single-handedly take over games. He’s been wanting this more than ever. This year’s Rangers team gives him the best opportunity. You could say it is Jordan-esque. For years, Michael Jordan was one of the greatest professional basketball players to have never won a championship. Then, one year, everything fell into place. This could be that year for Lundqvist. If he wants it bad enough, he’ll go get it.
Before writing this piece, I convinced myself it was too close to call. I decided I would not choose a winner and let fate do as it wished. However, as I wrote more and more, I felt I had to choose. My heart is, and always will be, with the New York Rangers. This has been the closest a Rangers team has come since 2012, when the Rangers lost to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Final. I have witnessed the trials of subpar teams, the frustration of mediocrity, and the unending madness that was the New York Rangers. But this year, this team is on the verge of something special. In my humble opinion as a fan, Rangers in six games.
Tags: Anton Stralman Anze Kopitar Carl Hagelin Chris Kreider Derek Stepan Drew Doughty Feature Henrik Lundqvist Jonathan Quick Kevin Klein Marian Gaborik Martin St. Louis New York Rangers Popular Ryan McDonagh