Stanley Cup Final Preview


#8 Los Angeles Kings   vs  #6  New Jersey Devils

Regular Season meetings:

10/13/11 LA 1 @ NJ 2 (SO)

10/25/11 NJ 3 @ LA 0

Stanley Cup Final Schedule:

Game 1 Wed 5/30 LA @ NJ 7pm NBC

Game 2 Sat 6/2 LA @ NJ  7pm NBC

Game 3 Mon 6/4 NJ @ LA 7pm NBCSN

Game 4 Wed 6/6 NJ @ LA 7pm NBCSN

Game 5* Sat 6/9 LA @ NJ 7pm NBC

Game 6* Mon 6/11 NJ @ LA 7pm NBC

Game 7* Wed 6/13 LA @ NJ 7pm NBC

* if necessary

Los Angeles Kings

Regular season record: 40-27-15   95 Pts.

How the Kings got to the SCF: 

1st round: defeated the #1 Vancouver Canucks in 5 games

2nd round: defeated the #2 St. Louis Blues in 4 games

Western Conference Finals: defeated the #3 Phoenix Coyotes in 5 games

Ex-Blackhawks Factor:Colin Fraser and Head Coach Darryl Sutter

The Kings have steamed rolled their way through the top 3 seeds of the Western Conference, on their way to their first SCF since 1993.  They are only the 2nd 8th seed to make the Final, and the first one since the 2006 Edmonton Oilers, who lost to the Carolina Hurricanes.  The Kings are not your typical 8th seed.  They are a team that was picked to contend for the Cup at the beginning of season but underachieved.  It took a coaching change in December, that brought in former Blackhawks player and head coach Darryl Sutter to right the ship.  The Kings lost both regular season meetings versus the Devils, but this is not the same team it was in October.  The Kings have been the best team in the Stanley Cup playoffs and enter the Final an astonishing 8-0 on the road.  They have everything clicking and are going to be very tough to knockout at this point.

The Offense:

The Kings struggled to find the back of the net for most of the regular season but that has not been a problem in the playoffs.  The Kings top line of captain Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar,  and Justin Williams has been spectacular.  Brown is playing worthy of the Conn Smythe.  Not only does he have a team high 16 points (7 G, 9A) and is a +13 but he has been playing some great defense too.  He has been boarded from behind and hacked down by opposing goalies and he keeps getting up and leading this team.  Kopitar has 15 points (6 G, 9A) of his own and Williams has notched 11 points (2 G, 9A).  The Kings second line of Dustin Penner, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter has been dangerous too.  Penner, who scored the OT goal that clinched the West for LA, has 10 points (3G, 7A).  Richards and Carter, who are in their 2nd SCF in 3 years, have 11 (4 G, 7A) and 9 points (4G, 5A) respectively.  Dwight King, a late season call up, has been a pleasantly surprising source of scoring, as he has added 5 goals of his own.

The Defense:

You cannot mention the LA defense without talking about Drew Doughty.  Doughty underachieved for much of the season after getting his huge contract extension.  He has played very well down the stretch of the regular season and has carried that over into a fine playoff run.  Doughty has accounted for 10 of the Kings 21 points from the blue line.  He had 2 goals, 8 assists and his a +10 in 14 games.  All 6 of the Kings defensemen are in the plus.

Special Teams:

The Kings power play has been a joke in the postseason.  It has been Blackhawks power play bad, maybe even worse.  They have just 6 goals in 74 chances which is good for only an 8.1% conversion rate.  3 of the 6 goals have come with a 2 man advantage.  Thankfully, for the Kings, their penalty kill has been very good.  The PK has nearly as many goals as the power play, with 5.  Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar have 2 each and Matt Greene scored one as well.  LA’s penalty kill unit has killed off 91.2% of their penalties, only giving up 5 goals in 57 chances.

The Goalie:

At the start of the playoffs I said the Kings will only go as far as Jonathan Quick can take them.  Apparently Quick is ready to take that leap into immortality and carry his team to the Stanley Cup.  Quick has been the best goalie in the playoffs and has been very hard to beat.  Quick has a 1.54 goals against average and a stunning .946 save percentage.  He has given up 1  goal or less in 6 of his 14 games.  He has been a brick wall behind the Kings’ defense and his becoming one of the best goalies in the game.

New Jersey Devils

Regular Season Record:

48-28-6  102 Pts.

How The Devils got to the SCF:

1st round: defeated the #3 Florida Panthers in 7 games

2nd round: defeated the #5 Philadelphia Flyers in 5 games

Eastern Conference Finals: defeated the #1 New York Rangers in 6 games

Ex-Blackhawks Factor: Goaltending coach Chris Terreri

The Devils are in their 5th Stanley Cup Final and their first since 2003.  They are looking to win their 4th Cup in team history.  Even though these two teams do not play each other very much there are some connections.  Assistant coach Larry Robinson took over for Barry Melrose as Kings head coach in 1995.  The last 6th seed to win a Conference title was the Calgary Flames in 2004, who were coached by Darryl Sutter.  This will be the first series in which the Devils will have home ice advantage.  They are 6-2 at home during the playoffs including 3 OT wins.

The Offense:

The Devils paid a boat load of money to gain the services of Ilya Kovalchuk and that investment is starting to pay off.  Kovalchuk leads the Devils with 18 points (7 G, 11A).  Head coach Peter DeBoer split up the dynamic duo of Kovalchuk and captain Zach Parise and it has worked.  Parise has 14 points (7G, 7A) of his own.  His linemate, and former teammate at the University of North Dakota, Travis Zajac is the 3rd Devil to have 7 goals to go along with his 5 assists.  Rookie Adam Henrique has been impressive in his first playoff run putting up 11 points (3G, 8A) and is a +9.  The Devils have gotten scoring from all 4 lines which is huge in April and May.

The Defense:

The Devils top pairing has been very good, in Bryce Salvador and Marek Zidlicky.  Salvador has been an unexpected source of offense.  He has 11 points (3G, 8A) and is a +10 in 18 games.  This is coming from a guy who only had 9 assists and did score a single goal in 82 regular season games.  Is he sitting in Claude Lemieux’s old locker stall?  There is not much drop off between New Jersey’s 2nd and 3rd pairings either.  All 3 pairs have a great combination of defensive responsibility and offensive ability to be very effective.

Special Teams:

The Devils special teams have been far from special this post season.  They had the best penalty kill unit in the regular season but they have struggled in the playoffs.  They have given up 16 goals on 62 PK attempts, which is less than 75%.  Not good for a team who set the all time single season record for PK % this year.  Their power play is about the same as it was in the regular season, mediocre at best.  Kovalchuk has been dangerous with the man advantage, scoring 5 of his 7 goals on the power play.

The Goalie:

Martin Brodeur is not the same goalie he was in years past.  This will be his 5th SCF with the Devils and probably the first one where he isn’t the best player between the pipes.  Marty has shown just enough of his old self to get New Jersey back in the Cup Final.  He has given up 2 or less goals in 13 of his 18 starts.  He enters the Final with a 2.04 goals against average and a .923 save percentage.  One huge advantage he does have over Jonathan Quick is experience.  The pressures and scrutiny of playing in the Stanley Cup Final is nothing new for Brodeur.

My Prediction:

This year’s Stanley Cup Final shows why the NHL playoffs are the best thing going in sports.  You have a matchup between a 6 and an 8 seed, and it will be a very entertaining series.  You would never see this in the NBA.  I like the Devils a lot, and would love to see Marty get one more Cup, but I don’t see how they can derail the train that is the LA Kings of late.  Kings in 6.