The Stanley Cup final is set: The New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings will play for hockey's ultimate prize. The Rangers return to the final for the first time in 20 years, while the Kings made history by winning three Game 7s to get here. So who will win?
The Kings and Blackhawks treated hockey fans to a perfect ending of Round 3 by extending their incredible series to an OT finish. And why not? The 2014 playoffs have had more than its fair share of wild, crazy and unbelievable games.
And now, here we are, with a big market dream championship between New York and Los Angeles.
Can the Kings take home their second Stanley Cup in three seasons and set up a potential dynasty run a year from now? Can the Rangers win the Cup 20 years after they last raised Lord Stanley? Will it be a high- or low-scoring series?
Can this series live up to the three rounds that came before it?
Cherish the conclusion of the 2014 playoffs, which have given us plenty to laugh, and cry, about. Game 1 starts Wednesday night in Los Angeles. Who you got? You can vote here. THN's pick is at the bottom.
NEW YORK RANGERS vs. LOS ANGELES KINGS
How the Rangers got here: New York returned to its first Cup final in 20 years with Game 7 wins over Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and a six-game elimination of Montreal. The Rangers have survived on their defense, which has allowed 28 shots against per game to rank third-lowest in the playoffs, and the goaltender who plays behind it. Henrik Lundqvist (.928 SP, 2.03 GAA) will have a strong case for the Conn Smythe Trophy should the Rangers take down the favorites and emerge as champions. But New York's underrated depth has helped them overcome such trials as a punchless power play and extended goal droughts from Rick Nash and Martin St-Louis. Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin, Derick Brassard, Benoit Pouliot and Dominic Moore aren’t the biggest names in this lineup, but at different points this spring each has played a shining role. We all know Lundqvist will need to be at the top of his game for the underdog Rangers to make a fight out of the final, but a productive performance from these lesser-lights could be the ingredient that gives New York a winning edge.
How the Kings got here: By making history. Los Angeles is the first team to win three Game 7s en route to the Stanley Cup final – and all of them came on the road. After overcoming 3-0 and 3-2 series deficits in Rounds 1 and 2, Los Angeles survived Chicago’s comeback from a 1-3 series deficit in one of the best playoff series’ in recent memory. Though the Kings, and Jonathan Quick, have had bad nights – Game 2 against San Jose comes to mind – they have a knack for turning it on at the most crucial moments. This characteristic was most recently realized in Game 7 against Chicago, which Los Angeles trailed 2-0 in the first period. They later trailed 3-2 and 4-3, before winning on a seeing-eye shot from the point in overtime. Talk about depth, the Kings have all sorts of talented options, whether it’s sure-handed goal scorers Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik, inspired youngsters Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson or a defense that starts with superstar Drew Doughty and ends with Matt Greene and Alec Martinez, who scored the OT series-winner against Chicago. The Kings are one of the deepest teams at center, are led by one of the best blueliners in the business and have an acrobatic goalie with one Conn Smythe to his name. The Kings have all the ingredients to win.
Rangers play of the playoffs: Dominic Moore left the San Jose Sharks during their 2012 playoff run and missed the entire 2012-13 season to be with his wife, Katie, who passed away from a rare form of liver cancer on Jan. 7, 2013. Moore’s story was eloquently told in E:60’s “Coming Home.” In Game 6 of the Eastern final, with the score tied 0-0 in the second period, Moore scored his third goal of the playoffs from a wide open position in front of the net. The goal stood up as the series-clincher and was an inspirational way for the Rangers to advance to the final.
Kings play of the playoffs: After clawing back to force a Game 7 against San Jose in Round 1, it appeared the Kings were going to be in for a close finale against their rivals. The Sharks scored first and after the Kings tied it up, Patrick Marleau had a great chance to re-establish San Jose’s lead. Quick, however, made one of the best stops of the spring to keep the game tied. Los Angeles would break this game wide open shortly after – how different would it have been had Marleau converted on this chance?
Keep an eye on: Marian Gaborik. The trade deadline pickup from Columbus could not have worked out any better, as he leads all players with 12 playoff goals. And now he’ll face the team that traded him away to Columbus in 2013 because they didn’t want him anymore. The Rangers got John Moore, Derek Dorsett and Derick Brassard in return and while all of them have played throughout this post-season for the Rangers, none come close to the impact Gaborik has had on the Kings. But while the sniping Slovak could really burn the Rangers, New York possesses a pretty good counter who could turn the odds on their heads: Henrik Lundqvist.
Prediction: These two teams split their season series 1-1, with the road team winning both games. But the last time they played was Nov. 17 and a lot has changed since then. The Rangers completely turned around a shaky early start and became a powerhouse in the East, especially after the Olympic break. They have quiet depth, solid defense and a game-changing goalie with an impeccable Game 7 history. The Kings, steady as she goes, came into the playoffs as a bit of an under the radar team, as much as a recent champion can be anyway. But when the going got tough, the Kings got going and showed just how dominant they can be when they're backed into a corner. With all the comebacks, big-game wins and bounce-back performances Los Angeles has experienced this post-season, we may be witnessing the best (or at least the most exciting) playoff run of all-time. And now it comes down to this: New York vs. Los Angeles, a dream matchup for the NHL. KINGS IN 6