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.