The Stanley Cup won’t be awarded until June 11, at the earliest, but to hear the way some are describing this year’s final, Los Angeles has already won.
For sure, the Kings are the favorite and with good reason. They heroically dispatched three of the league’s toughest opponents, all clubs that finished higher in the standings than New York, and have home ice advantage in the final.
In the regular season, they ran roughshod over the East, and the Metro Division in particular, with an 11-4-0 mark against its teams. The Rangers, meantime, were 6-8-0 versus Pacific clubs. The ice is tilted in the Kings’ favor.
But an upset isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Here are five factors that could contribute to a slaying of the California Goliath over the next couple weeks.
1. Emotional leverage. The Kings are saying all the right things about not taking the Rangers too lightly, but sometimes that’s easier said that done. The mind is an extremely powerful tool, and while Los Angeles has been unbelievably resilient this spring, it’d be human nature to take a breather when faced with what appears to be a slightly easier challenge. If that transpires and New York can catch Los Angeles sleeping in Game 1, it’d eliminate home ice advantage. On the flip side, the Rangers have a couple players in Martin St-Louis and Domenic Moore with well-documented, inspirational back-stories. At this time of year, you wouldn’t think anyone would need added motivation, but the human condition is indeed complex.
2. Physical fatigue. While the Rangers played just one fewer game than Los Angeles to get to this point, it’s generally conceded their 20 contests were less grueling than Los Angeles’ 21. And there’s some statistical evidence to back up that assertion. Understanding the real-time hits numbers can vary from rink-to-rink, it’s worth nothing the Kings, as a team, have delivered 898 through 21 games compared to 587 for the Blueshirts. On average, that’s 15 more hits per contest for the Californians. Eight Kings have 50 or more hits, including Anze Kopitar, compared to just two for the Rangers. The body blows add up. Meantime, the Kings have logged about three times more travel than New York the past six weeks (nearly 19,000 air miles to 6,000) and have had three more days rest in recent days than their Western foes leading up to Game 1.
3. Goaltending. There isn’t much to choose between Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick. In fact, you could give the edge to Quick based on the pair’s playoff records. Quick has a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe, while ‘The King’ is still under .500 for his post-season career. That said, Quick looks more fallible this year, less consistent. While he’s made some unbelievable saves and had head-standing stretches, he’s also made some head-scratching moves. His .906 save percentage this spring is a full 40 points below the number he posted in the Cup-winning run two years ago. And don’t forget this doozy of a brain cramp he suffered early in the season when he allowed one of the most bizarre goals you’ll see. It came against the Rangers, helping the road team secure a win:
Quick didn't play in the rematch, a 1-0 L.A. win in New York in which Ben Scrivens pitched the shutout. Lundqvist, meantime, has been more consistent this post-season than Quick and leads netminders with a .928 SP.
4. Coaching. Alain Vigneault’s seven seasons as a coach in the Western Conference could serve him well. He has familiarity with the Kings, their players and systems which might give him and the Rangers a slight edge when it comes to game preparation.
5. Road Warriors. The Rangers have been uncanny on the road this season and solid in the playoffs. Following a nine-game, start-of-campaign mystery tour, they went 22-8-2 away from Madison Square Garden. In the post-season, they’re 5-5 on the road. This band of brothers has proven, not unlike their Stanley Cup final foes, they know how to overcome adversity.