2014 NHL Stanley Cup Finals Preview – Los Angeles Kings vs New York Rangers
The Western Conference Finals was basically the Stanley Cup Finals, pitting the last two Stanley Cup champions against each other in an epic series. But don’t tell the NHL or the New York Rangers that. This is also a far cry from the Anaheim Ducks vs Boston Bruins Stanley Cup Finals I had predicted and hoped for. But the top two teams in each conference meeting in the Stanley Cup Finals rarely happens. The Kings finished 10th overall and the Rangers 12th overall in the NHL regular season standings. The Kings will go for their 2nd cup in three years and the Rangers will go for their first cup in twenty years. Both teams had a regular season goal differential at or above +25.
M2 New York Rangers vs. P3 Los Angeles Kings
Season Series: 1-1
Playoff Series History: 1-0 Rangers
What We Learned: The Kings are really good in Game 7’s but they never really play a complete series, which forces them to need to win a Game 7. As crude as this sounds, if it wasn’t for Martin St. Louis’s mother passing they probably wouldn’t be in the Finals.
Stars to Watch: Take your pick. My money is on Drew Doughty, one of the top leaders for the Conn Smythe trophy, who always seems to elevate his game to the next level in the postseason. We should see a heavy dose of him against the St. Louis line. Anze Kopitar should be more involved offensively, now that he doesn’t have to worry about Jonathan Toews anymore. Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik will continue with their net presence and goal scoring ways. For the Rangers, it’s all about St. Louis, Ryan McDonagh and Derek Stepan. St. Louis is still the biggest threat and what makes the Rangers go. St. Louis and Brad Richards will see if the can recreate the magic that won them the Stanley Cup as underdogs in Tampa Bay.
X-Factor: Both of these teams have, basically, played the maximum number of games possible to reach the finals. The Kings played in 21 games, the Rangers 20. Fatigue will be a factor but not as bad as you think. The Rangers (Ryan McDonagh) and the Kings (Drew Doughty) only have one player each in the top 30 in ice team per game in the playoffs. Anze Kopitar is the only forward from either team in the top 30 in ice time per game for forwards in the playoffs. So despite the number of games played, each team should still be somewhat rested. But if the series goes long, the fresher legs and the coaching staff that adjusts better will prevail. The Kings don’t have a sizeable playoff experience advantage like you might think but they do have a Stanley Cup experience advantage.
Goalie Problem: Besides the Game 5 sticker against the Canadiens, Henrik Lundqvist has been marvelous this postseason. He will need to be ever better for the Rangers to have a chance to win the series. Jonathan Quick had a so so season and a somewhat decent postseason, even thought he numbers don’t reflect. Mostly because Los Angeles is a much more offensively skilled team and doesn’t just play defense to win game anymore.
Fun Fact: The Rangers don’t have any players in the top fourteen in playoff scoring. The Kings have the top three and five of the top seven.
Prediction: It seems hard to imagine a scenario in which the Rangers win the Stanley Cup. The Kings beat the 2nd, 5th and 7th best teams in the NHL to get to the Stanley Cup. The Rangers beat the 6th, 9th and 13th teams. The Kings are a much more potent team on offense and they are highest scoring team in the playoffs. But never count out the Rangers. Coach Alain Vigneault has pushed all the right buttons to get the Rangers to this point and he just flat out knows how to coach. It also won’t be easy to get goals by Lundqvist. But the Western Conference style of play is different and they have been the better conference all season. It’s time for the Kings to lead another parade down in Los Angeles in a city where, unfortunately, not as many people care as they should. Kings in 6.