Season Series – Tied 1-1
10/7/13 – New York 3 – Los Angeles 1 @ LA
11/17/13 – Los Angeles 1 – New York 0 @ NY
*Last playoff Meeting – 1981 Stanley Cup Preliminary Round – Rangers won the series 3-2
New York – 6-4 at Madison Square Garden / 6-4 on the road in the 2014 playoffs
Los Angeles – 5-4 at Staples Center / 7-5 on the road in the 2014 playoffs
After five months of regular season and playoff hockey, the Stanley Cup Final is upon us. It’s East Coast vs. West Coast, Biggie vs. Tupac, subways vs. sunroofs – it’s the New York Rangers taking on the Los Angeles Kings. Game one, of what should be a very long series, kicks off at the Staples Center Wednesday night at 8PM (NBCSN in the US, CBC in Canada). Both of these teams have gone through the ringer already, with the Rangers playing 20 of a possible 21 games, and the Kings going the full monty each round. The Kings have won three straight game sevens on the road, including having to erase a 3-0 deficit in the first round against the San Jose Sharks. The Rangers had to dig themselves out of their own hole earlier in the playoffs, when they trailed Pittsburgh 3-1 in the second round.
Many storylines will develop throughout the course of the series, but here are the five that will be on the radar throughout the next two weeks:
Jonathan Quick vs. Henrik Lundqvist
-If you were to rank the top three goalies in the NHL, Lundqvist, Quick, and Boston’s Tuukka Rask are the three that would occupy that category. You can rank them however you’d like, but it’s tough to argue anyone else in the top three. Quick was the backbone of LA’s 2012 championship run, and this year is no different. His playoff stats might not be as sparkly as they were in 2012 (12-9, 2.86 GAA, .906 save percentage thus far), but he’s still very capable of becoming a wall in the crease. As for Lundqvist, he’s making his first Stanley Cup Final appearance (12-7, 2.03 GAA, .928 save percentage) after being the Rangers’ backbone in the crease for almost a decade. The Rangers rallied around Martin St. Louis to come back to beat Pittsburgh, but the fact that Sweden’s favorite goalie only gave up one goal in each of those three elimination games was a huge factor, too. Both are big game goalies, and the team that gets a second goal behind one of these guys first will likely win the game. Probably the only guarantee of this series is that we’ll be treated to many highlight-reel saves.
-When the Rangers signed Marian Gaborik prior to the 2009-10 season, he was supposed to solve their offensive woes and fill the void Jaromir Jagr left. In his three and a half seasons on Broadway, he broke the forty goal barrier twice. The problem was his production came in peaks and valleys, with too many of the latter. After being dealt to Columbus at the 2013 trade deadline, Gabby found himself on the move again at the 2014 deadline. LA needed some offensive punch, and he provided 16 points in 19 games (five goals, eleven assists) to close out the regular season. Not bad, but he’s taken it to another level during these playoffs, with a league-leading twelve goals, and seven assists. Retribution is a hell of a motivator, and he would certainly love to stick it to his former team. If the Blueshirts hope to slow him down, they’ll need to rough him up a bit.
Four Lines & Bluelines
-A common trait between these teams is that they can both roll all of their lines all game long. The fourth line of Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore, and Derek Dorsett has been a nice supplemental source of scoring for the Blueshirts throughout the playoffs. As for the Kings, all that needs to be said is Mike Richards is their fourth line center. As for the defensive groups, both can boast two of the deepest bluelines in the NHL. If scoring on Lundqvist or Quick wasn’t already tough enough, generating opportunities in the other team’s zone will create more headaches on top of that. LA’s best defenseman is Drew Doughty, and the argument can be made that he’s the best D-man in the NHL right now (except when it comes to celebrating that you’re going to the Stanley Cup Final). For the Blueshirts, it’s Ryan McDonagh. Both are two of the most important players on the ice in this series. They can both shut down the opposition’s best player, and both of their offensive games need to be respected (Doughty – four goals, twelve assists/ McDonagh – three goals, ten assists)
-While the spotlight is on Gaborik, Quick, Doughty, and the “70s Line” (Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson), the top hockey player from Slovenia is quietly putting together a Conn Smythe-worthy campaign. Kopitar has 24 points (five goals, 19 assists), which is good enough for tops in the NHL in total points during the 2014 playoffs. He’s a big reason why Gaborik is producing as much as he is. Having bruising winger Dustin Brown on the other side gives Kopitar the room to be the playmaker that he is. The Kings have one of the best groups of centers in the NHL, and he’s a big reason why they’re so strong down the middle.
Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis
-It’s been a long time since Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis reached the Stanley Cup. Their last appearance came as teammates on the 2003-04 Tampa Bay Lightning. Richards took home the Conn Smythe Trophy after leading the league in playoff in scoring. St. Louis ranked second in playoff scoring en route to hoisting the Cup. 10 years later, they’re reunited on the same line, and four wins away from lifting the Cup again. The beards have a little more gray in them, but they’re just as important to their team now as they were in 2004.