After six weeks of exciting playoff hockey, it is now down to just two teams. The Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers are set to square off for hockey's Holiest prize. But each team took interesting routes to get here. East coast vs. west coast, car vs. subway, Hollywood vs. Broadway or even Quick vs. Lundqvist, there are a number of ways to look at this battle, but, albeit tempting to use, no superfluous adjectives are necessary. The 2014 Stanley Cup Final marks a battle between two of the premier teams in hockey today - and it ought to be one heck of a series.
The Kings came back from an 0-3 series deficit just to get out of the first round and won an unprecedented three Game 7s (all on the road) to get to the Final. But nothing can be taken away from the route the Rangers took. After falling behind 3-1 in their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the mother of Rangers' veteran forward Martin St. Louis suddenly passed away. From there, the rest of the Rangers rallied behind their despondent teammate and all of a sudden, the Blueshirts were away to the races, winning the next three to eliminate Sidney Crosby and company before needing six games to take out the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final.
While some may say that New York's win over Montreal was tainted due to Chris Krieder's seemingly-intentional collision with Montreal netminder Carey Price in Game 1 (which sidelined the Olympian for the rest of the series), the Canadiens, in all fairness, did receive superb netminding from Dustin Tokarski. While the Rangers did win the series, they did not win it because Price was injured. Their own goalie, Henrik Lundqvist, was just that much better. In their clincher (Game 6), Lundqvist stopped every shot he faced to preserve a 1-0 win for the Rangers. Of course, King Henrik did find himseld on the short end of a 7-4 loss in Montreal in Game 5. But more on the goaltending battle later.
This past regular season, the Kings and Rangers split wins in their two meetings. Unfortunately for the Kings, there was one particular play from their October 7 meeting with the Blueshirts that became fodder for many sports shows across Canada and the United States.
Entering said meeting at Staples Center, the big storyline was the battle between two of the best goaltenders in hockey. But during said game, the Rangers cleared the puck from their own zone, bounced off the boards and Quick, who came out to play the puck by trying to stop it with his stick, was fooled as the biscuit sailed past the netminder and into the net. In Canada, Quick's gaffe earned the dubious honour of TSN's Sportscentre's Worst Play of the Day. Those biased towards the east coast certainly seemed to enjoy Quick's mistake, but the Kings did get their revenge on November 17, beating the Rangers 1-0 at Madison Square Garden. Jonathan Quick, however, was injured during that time, so the since-traded Ben Scrivens picked up the shutout for the silver-and-black.
With that said, there will be no time like the present for Quick to get his redemption against a netminder who is deemed better by many of the so-called experts.
During these playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings averaged 30.7 shots per game while the New York Rangers registered 29.4 per game, a few short of their 33.2 average (second-overall) during the regular season. In terms of shots against, the Rangers gave up an average of 28 per this postseason while the Kings were not far behind with 30.3.
Offensively this postseason, the Kings led the way with an average of 3.48 goals per game while the Rangers scored 2.7 goals per.
Speaking of offense, the Rangers have been led by the aforementioned Martin St. Louis with six goals and 13 points. Teammate Derek Stepan also has 13 points entering the final round. But the Kings do have six different players ahead of St. Louis and Stepan's totals, including Marian Gaborik, leading the playoffs with 12 goals, and Anze Kopitar, who leads the way with 24 points. Justin Williams also leads all playoff scorers with a +11 rating with Kopitar and Tanner Pearson close behind, each with a +9 rating.
In terms of physicality, the Kings and Rangers were one-two thus far in these playoffs. The Rangers recorded 587 hits, second to Los Angeles's total of 898. The Rangers' 331 blocked shots were just a few more than Los Angeles's 314. The KIngs also committed 30 more giveaways than the Rangers (250 to 220) while the Blueshirts made 127 takeaways, 35 more than Los Angeles's total of 92. In the faceoff department, however, the Kings had a percentage of 52.9, better than New York's 47.5.
Defensively, the Rangers are led by Ryan McDonagh who has 10 assists and 13 points through the first three rounds. But, like Dan Girardi and Rafael Diaz, McDonagh rounds out the three Rangers D-men who have plus/minus ratings in the red. In said category, Kevin Klein and Anton Stralman lead the way with ratings of +7 and +6 respectively with John Morre's +4 and Marc Staal's +3 close behind. The aforementioned Girardi, however, leads the way defensively for the Blueshirts with 50 blocked shots.
As for the Kings, Jake Muzzin leads defenseman on his team with five goals while Drew Doughty leads the way with 12 points. Of the eight defensemen to suit up for Los Angeles in these playoffs, only one (Jeff Schultz) has a rating on the minus side with -1. Four D-men have ratings +3 or better with the veteran Willie Mitchell leading the way with +7. The aforementioned Doughty leads his team's defensive unit with 45 blocked shots while Slava Voynov is dominating in the hits department with 69 with Jake Muzzin (at 56) not too far behind.
The hype has been built, the matchups are set but now, all that is needed is to drop the puck on the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. Some experts and fans have picked the Kings to win the series but with the all-too-familiar east-coast bias still playing a large factor, few are dismissing the Rangers.
Whichever way you look at it, this is going to be one intense battle with one team vying to win their second Stanley Cup in three years with the other looking to claim the first championship in 20 years.
Everything's set. So, let's get down to business.
Enjoy the series!