What do you get when you gather Ian McShane, Arrow’s Susanna Thompson, Oz’s Eamonn Walker, and Macaulay Culkin? Only one of the most underrated shows in recent memory, NBC’s Kings.
So far my predictions have not been so great. I had neither the Kings or the Devils in the Finals, although that’s partially due to the fact that I’m a closet Coyotes fan and had to pick them against the Kings. This column will end with a prediction, but first lets examine the top 5 reasons why each team will win the Cup.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings, who came into the playoffs as the 8 seed, have dispatched the first, second and third seeds in the West in short order playing only 14 of a possible 21 games to get the job done. New Jersey was a six seed in the East so once again Los Angeles has the underdog card in their favor, a mentality that has done well to motivate them so far.
2.) Jonathan Quick.
Quick didn’t exactly come out of nowhere but the 26-year-old, 2005 third-round pick by the Kings has been taking it a whole new level this year and has exceeded all expectations in the playoffs. He only has two shutouts so far, but has still done a good job of limiting opposing scorers with a .946 save percentage, and a 1.54 GAA both good enough to lead all postseason goaltenders if you throw out Corey Schneider’s three-game performance.
3) Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar.
Brown and Kopitar are both averaging above a point a game, and a matching +13 in the plus/minus column. They will have to continue that sort of production for the Kings to be successful. Brown has really improved his game this postseason and has at times looked like a man among boys. If they can get continued solid performance out of Penner and Richards as well as the guys on the top line they will continue their playoff dominance.
4) The “Old Guy” and the “Franchise First”.
The perennial feel good story about the veteran who has never won a cup is Willie Mitchell of the L.A. Kings. He is 35 and has played 14 NHL seasons, ironically enough starting with the Devils, and has been a solid, journeyman defenseman throughout his career, and alongside Drew Doughty has been logging the most ice time for the Kings during the playoffs. This would also be the first Stanley Cup for the Kings Franchise and it seems long droughts always seem to kindle some extra fire… see 2011 Bruins, 1997 Red Wings, and 1994 Rangers.
5.) The L.A. Factor.
After the Clippers and the Lakers both made early Playoff exits, the people of L.A. should be rallying around this plucky NHL team. The Dodgers are also in first place, but it’s still too early in the Baseball season to really get excited about that kind of thing. The Kings are undefeated on the road so far this playoffs so having the extra support at home should give the Kings a home and road ice advantage, that and the throwback silver and black jerseys are some of the best in NHL history.
New Jersey Devils
1) Martin Brodeur.
Brodeur hasn’t been phenomenal this season, but he has been very good and a .923 save percentage coupled with a 2.04 GAA is nothing to shake a stick at. Brodeur is 40 years old, but has already said that he would like to come back next season which would make it an even 20 years as a Devil. This guy has tons of experience and is unshakable. Brodeur piloted the 2002-03 New Jersey Devils to a Stanley Cup Championship amid a messy divorce, in which it was revealed that he was sleeping with his sister-in-law. That doesn’t say much about Martin as a stand-up guy, but it does show the type of focus he brings to the ice rink which makes it hard to bet against this guy. Getting another Stanley Cup ring would also tie Brodeur with Patrick Roy his greatest contemporary goaltending foe.
2) Ilya Kovalchuk.
Kovalchuk is the leading scorer among all skaters in the playoff st the moment and along with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac leads the Devils with 7 goals apiece. Unlike the Kings top scorers these three Devils are in the negative when it comes to plus/minus so they will have to do a better job of protecting in their own end as well as lighting the lamp. It’s good to see the scorers scoring as that means that New Jersey’s game plan is working effectively. If any of these three guys drop off however they could be in trouble. Remember also that this is Ilya Kovalchuk’s first opportunity to shine in the postseason, so it will be interesting to see which way he goes in the Finals.
The Devils struggled a bit out of the gate and just barely got by the Florida Panthers in a seven game series that included the last two games being won by New Jersey in overtime. Since then the Devils have been much better though and once they have smelt blood in the water they have done a good job on closing down their opponents. After losing game one to Philly they won four straight and won three straight against the Rangers after going down 2-1 in the series. The first game of the Finals is starting late so both teams have been sitting but for the Kings it has been over a week since they have played real hockey so that gives NJ the edge in game one as far as rust is concerned.
The Kings have the “Feel Good” old guy, but the Devils have the “Old Guy” old guys. Beyond Broduer they also have Petr Sykora, 35 and Patrick Elias, 36 as the grizzled veteran presence who have been there and done that. New Jersey also has experience on the backline with 35-year old Marek Zidlicky and Danius Zubrus checking in at 33. It’s clear that the Devils have the dominant edge here in age and experience but the question is whether or not this is too many old legs to keep up with the young and speedy Kings.
5) The New Jersey Factor.
New Jersey has the “Soprano” tough guys, the “Jersey Shore” greaseballs and the New York’s little brother complex to motivate its players. New Jersey has a storied and fervent fan base but unfortunately the team is in financial trouble and a Stanley Cup win might still not be enough to get the ship righted. That being said the Devils have nothing to lose and a lot to prove so I wouldn’t put it past them ton once again surprise everyone by toughing it out and intimidating their way to another championship as they find their way to another 16W.
My prediction: Los Angeles Kings in 6. This is probably the kiss of death as I have picked against the Kings in every previous round but I think they look too good and their goaltender is playing too well to lose it now.
Phoenix Coyotes (#3) vs. LA Kings (#8)
I guess it’s time that I give the Los Angeles Kings their due. They have now handily dispatched the best two teams in the Western Conference in a mere 9 games. Goaltender Jonathan Quick has been ridiculously good with a 1.55 GAA and 94.9% save percentage. Against the Canucks they were winning close games, against St. Louis they were just plain winning averaging an extra goal per game. Apart from Dustin Brown no one has been dominating the Kings games but they have had a nice balanced attack spreading the goal scoring wealth among all 4 lines. It’s a good time to be a sports fan in LA as they have two basketball teams in the playoffs, a hot start from the Dodgers and the Kings looking like the favorite to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. The Kings certainly are following the formula of recent success in the NHL Playoffs. A low seed who guts their way through “superior” competition riding the hot hand of it’s goalie. On the other side of the ice we find a kind of Cinderella story of it’s own right in the Phoenix Coyotes. Phoenix was a three seed going into the playoffs but their historical lack of playoff success and perceived over achievement kept them fr4om getting the respect that position normally garners. Being on the better side of three out of five overtime games against the Blackhawks hardened them to then take it to the next level against the Predators.
The Preds/Yotes series was extremely close but the suffocating defense of the Coyotes coupled with the stellar play of goaltender Mike Smith was enough to carry them forward to the Conference Finals for the first time since they were the Winnipeg Jets and fodder for Gretzky’s Oilers in the 80’s. Mike Smith would perhaps be giving perhaps the best performance by a goaltender in the playoff this year if it wasn’t for the absolute dominance of Jonathan Quick so it will be interesting to see which of these two steals this series. As good as Smith has been he has also been greatly aided by the incredible amount of shot blocking Phoenix has been employing throughout the playoffs. The Coyotes has been impressive in their willingness to sacrifice the body and have shown an overall toughness that the team has been lacking in previous playoff performances. It would be a great story for lifetime Coyote Shane Doan to finally make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Any way you cut it this should be an incredibly intense and exciting series and we should expect a lot of close games. Despite Quick’s dominance I’m going to give Phoenix the edge in this series as they have been battle tested in close games winning six games by one goals and four of those in overtime.
Prediction: Coyotes in 6
NY Rangers (#1) vs. New Jersey Devils (#6)
The New York Rangers have not made it easy on themselves this postseason taking both of their series to 7 games and just haven’t had that dominating presence that they had in the regular season. You can’t blames Lundqvist who has been playing really well but finding the back of the net has not been easy and eleven of their fourteen games so far have been decided one way or the other by one goal. This probably shouldn’t come as a huge surprise as this was kind of their MO all season long however it always seemed like they could take it to the next level when they needed to which has been harder to accomplish this post season. The onus is on Marian Gaborik, who netted 41 goals in the regular season, to elevate his game against the Devils. He hasn’t been bad but he definitely hasn’t been putting the fear of God in opponents goaltenders either.
The New Jersey Devils have been one of the more feel good stories of the post season. After taking it to the limit against the plucky Panthers in seven games the Devils grounded the Flyers handily in five games. The Devils stars Kovalchuk, Parise and Zajac have started finding the back of the net and while 40-year-old Martin Broduer has not been his old dominant self he has been solid between the pipes. This Devils teams has been kind of an enigma over the last couple of seasons alternating between utter dominance and utter futility. So far this post season they have been pretty darned good but yo never know when the bottom if going to fall out with this team. It will be interesting to see how New Jersey fares against an elite goaltender like Henrik Lundqvist because so far they have faced pretty mediocre netminders in whomever plays for Florida and the headcase that is Ilya Bryzgalov. Overall I think the Rangers still have the edge in this series talent wise and unless year 2000 Martin Broduer walks through the door the Rangers should be able to gut it out against their across river rivals.
Prediction: Rangers in 6
Best case scenario for Gary Bettman and the NHL national interest speaking is that the Rangers and Kings advance adding a chapter to the East-Coast West-Coast rivalry so you know the more likely scenario is that we get the series that almost no one will care about Phoenix vs New Jersey….
Just for the record: In my first round playoff preview I only predicted half of the games correctly and got one series exactly correct (Phoenix in 6). There also will be no repeat of last year’s Stanley cup Finals as both Vancouver and Boston were eliminated.
Phoenix Coyotes (#3) vs. Nashville Predators (#4)
By taking care of business versus Chicago the Coyotes advance into the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 25 years and the first time since moving to the desert. The first five games of their series against the Black Hawks went into overtime, an NHL first, and youngster Mikkel Boedeker got back-to-back game winning goals. With Hanzl and Vrbata battling some injuries and Shane Doan skating his way out of quality scoring chances they had to rely on the likes of newcomer Antoine Vermette to put the puck in the net. What most people will remember from this series however is the head shot Raffi Torres laid on Marion Hossa that garnered him a hefty 25-game suspension. Nashville, on the other hand, took out Phoenix’s greatest playoff kryptonite in the Red Wings. Detroit just didn’t have that killer instinct this year and Nashville was able to grind away a series victory bolstered by the strong play in net by Pekka Rinne. Rinne and Phoenix’s Mike Smith were both brilliant in the first round posting identical 1.81 GAA albeit with Smith appearing in an extra game. This should be a really good grind it out series that probably no one will watch. Phoenix and Nashville aren’t exactly hockey hubs and certainly won’t attract the casual fan. With goaltending being even I give Phoenix the slight edge in offense and nastiness.
Prediction: Phoenix in 7 with at least four overtimes.