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By UltimateCapper.com Contributing Writer, Mike Ivcic
Well, itâs down to this â the Los Angeles Kings and the New Jersey Devils will play for Lord Stanleyâs Cup beginning Wednesday, May 30. The Kings knocked off the Canucks, Blues, and Coyotes â the top three seeds in the Western Conference â in stunning fashion, winning all eight road games theyâve played this season and going an impressive 12-2 overall this postseason. Theyâre well-rested heading into their matchup with the Devils, who avenged their loss in 1994 with a win over the Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals after dispatching the Panthers and Flyers in the first two rounds. It should be a great series featuring two high-scoring teams with solid defense and outstanding goaltending, so one side has to give. Which side? Well, since you askedâ¦
The Devils feature two highly skilled offensive players in Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuck that will be the hardest working and most talented player on the ice, respectively. Add in the splendid play of the fourth line of Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta, and Steve Bernier, who have produced 9 goals in 18 games, and the Devils have proven to be the deepest team in the entire postseason. They have scored on odd-man rushes, broken plays, and beautiful backdoor passes, so theyâre well prepared to play whatever game the Kings would like, and thereâs something to be said for Adam Henrique and his two series-ending overtime goals this postseason. Throw in their tremendous forecheck that was on full display against the Flyers, and New Jerseyâs offense will be the best that the Kings have seen so far this year.
On the flip side, six games with the Rangers will look like a cakewalk to the Devils as they fact the high-powered Kings attack. Jeff Carter may have gotten on track in the Coyotes series, joining Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, and Mike Richards to provide two legitimate scoring lines. Theyâve also gotten some contributions from their fourth line as well â though not as much as the Devils â so at least head coach Darryl Sutter has to feel comfortable playing all of his lines right along with Pete DeBoer. Despite some of the common thinking, this will likely be a decently high-scoring series, but the Devils are a little deeper than Los Angeles.
Edge: New Jersey
No defenseman has played as well all playoff long as Drew Doughty. Heâs quarterbacks the Kings power play, kills penalties, and has routinely shut down the top line of LAâs opponents. Shane Doan was virtually nonexistent in the four Kings wins in the Western Conference finals, and thatâs in large part to Doughty, who will likely be a Norris Trophy candidate for many years to come. What gets overlooked is the play of the rest of the backline â Matt Greene, Slava Voynov, Alec Martinez, Rob Scuderi, and Willie Mitchell. They have all been outstanding this playoff season, and will need to continue to do so. They donât get a lot of offense from this group outside of Doughty, but their defensive play is what makes them standout, and theyâll need all of it against New Jersey.
The Devils havenât been the best team in their own zone this postseason, as evidenced by blowing a 3-goal lead in game 5 and a 2-goal lead in game 6 against the Rangers in the conference finals. They will have to be much better in their own end against the Kings, who havenât needed much time or space to put the puck in the net. Marek Zidlicky was a big addition at the trading deadline to the Devils back end, especially offensively, and Bryce Salvador has been the best blueliner defensively, but Andy Greene and Mark Fayne will have to be even better than they were against New York in order for the Devils to keep LA off the board.
Edge: Los Angeles
You may have heard of New Jerseyâs goaltender, Martin Brodeur. The first ballot hall-of-famer could very well be playing his last games ever in the NHL during this series, and he wants nothing more than to leave with a championship. Heâs been shaky at times this postseason, especially with his puck-handling, but like the Brodeur of old heâs brought his A-plus game in the big moments, stonewalling Florida time after time in overtime in game 7 of the first round series and multiple times in big spots against the Rangers. His stack-the-pads save on Brad Richards late in the third period of game 6 kept the game tied and allowed Henrique the opportunity to win the series in overtime. If he can bring that performance once or twice more over the next two weeks, heâll be the biggest difference-maker on the ice.
And then thereâs Jonathan Quick. Thereâs really nothing this guy hasnât done this postseason. The frontrunner for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP sports a .946 save percentage and a 1.54 goals against average, both of which lead all goaltenders in the playoffs. The stingy netminder has allowed just 22 goals in 14 playoff games this season, and his technique of crouching low to the ice to see through screens and give himself the greatest amount of reaction time has proven to work wonders for the Connecticut native. The Devils will have to figure out a way to get pucks past Quick, something the top three seeds in the West couldnât manage to do. Theyâll probably have to move the puck quickly and shoot high, which is much easier said than done, and even that might prove to not be enough.
Edge: Los Angeles
The power play section of this category belongs squarely to the Devils, as the Kings have managed just four power play goals all playoffs. New Jersey, meanwhile, has started to make things happen with the man-advantage, culminating with the beautiful five-player quick passing goal by Kovalchuck in game 6 against New York that was a thing of beauty. Zidlicky and Patrik Elias are the biggest keys to the NJ power play â when they are passing and moving, the Devils top unit becomes extremely difficult to defend.
If anyone can, though, itâs LA, which has used an aggressive penalty kill forecheck to bottle teams up in their own end and ultimately score five shorthanded goals â more than their own power play. The Devils can match that success, though, as they did by stopping a potent Philadelphia power play in round two. NJ was the best penalty killing unit during the season, and after a rough time against the Panthers they are now back on track. One big aspect to watch, though, is that the Kings use their top players â Brown, Kopitar, Richards, and Carter â to kill up front, which could wear them out a bit if the series is extended past five games, something that hasnât yet happened to Los Angeles this postseason.
Edge: New Jersey
Darryl Sutter has done a magnificent job this postseason, constantly tweaking his lines â even after wins â to make sure he gets the best matchups and keep his team from getting stale. Pete DeBoer has been nearly as good for New Jersey, preventing the Devils from collapsing after blowing big leads on what seemed like a regular basis against Florida and New York. Dustin Penner and Justin Williams both won a cup prior to coming to Los Angeles, while guys like Richards and Carter remain motivated after falling just short with Philadelphia two seasons ago, but the playoff edge clearly belongs to the Devils, especially with Brodeur and Elias. Give the Kings credit, though â theyâve been masterful on the road, and theyâll be playing with an extremely high level of confidence in game one at the Prudential Center. That will be a key gave for the Devils, who can put some doubt into the minds of the Kings if they can grab a 1-0 series lead. If not, LA will just keep gaining momentum, and at that point they might be hard to stop. If the series does go the distance, though, itâs hard to imagine the Devils wouldnât have the edge playing the deciding game in their own building.
Edge: New Jersey
Itâs probably not the popular pick â after all, Vegas has odds on Kings in six in their first trip to the finals since 1993, but I think Brodeur goes out in style and captures his and New Jerseyâs fourth overall Stanley Cup.
Pick: New Jersey 4, Los Angeles 3
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