The 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs have been nothing short of unpredictable.
If you made a bet prior to the start of the playoffs that had the Los Angeles Kings meeting the New Jersey Devils in the final, we all salute you. Congratulations, you’ve earned your winnings.
But for the rest of us who are sitting here stunned by what we’ve just witnessed over the last month, this is where things really get interesting.
Technically, the Devils are the favourite to take home the most prized possession in hockey, but are they really? Yes, New Jersey was the sixth seed at the start of the playoffs, and Los Angeles was the eighth. The Devils also swept the season-series between the two. However, the Kings have really proved the world wrong recently.
To start their run to the Cup final, Los Angeles took out the number one seed in the Western Conference, the Vancouver Canucks. They were a common favourite to win it all, as they were the winners of the President’s Trophy, and were widely considered to be the team to beat. After shocking the world by taking out Vancouver in five games, Los Angeles has gone on a tear, and it appears they won’t be letting anyone stand in their way.
The Devils have taken a slightly different path to the final. New Jersey eliminated Florida in the first round, and though it was close, it wasn’t too much of a surprise. Indeed, Florida was the third seed in the Eastern Conference, but the Devils were still viewed as the better all-around team. The real surprises came when New Jersey knocked off the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers in the second and third rounds, respectively.
Now, a battle of unlikely contenders is about to get underway, and chances are, this one could end up going the distance.
Los Angeles Kings
Throughout the playoffs, Los Angeles has succeeded due to clutch scoring, and ultimately, wearing down their opponents with a combination of physical play and pure talent.
Without Jonathan Quick, this Kings squad would just not be the same. Quick has been an absolute beast in the postseason, and has a ridiculous .946 save percentage. To fully understand what that means, think about how Los Angeles faced the league’s best regular season team in the first round, the second best Western team in the second round, and the third best Western team in the third round. That’s the hardest path there can be, and Quick has led the Kings through all of it.
Up front, Los Angeles has been fittingly led by their leader, Dustin Brown. The Kings’ captain has been a force since day one of the playoffs, and doesn’t look like he’ll be slowing down anytime soon. He’s averaging over a point-per-game right now, and alongside Quick, has been a key reason for the King’s success. As expected, Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards have both contributed well offensively.
After a regular season that was by no means outstanding, Drew Doughty has really stepped up his game. The defenseman has produced points on a regular basis, and leads all Los Angeles rearguards in postseason scoring. Matt Greene has shown he’s one of the best blueliners in the West, and Willie Mitchell has been solid for head coach Darryl Sutter as well.
If Los Angeles doesn’t come out flat in Game One, this series could be over awfully “Quick.”
New Jersey Devils
It’s more than fair to say that if Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise haven’t been playing as well as they have been, New Jersey more than likely would not be in this situation. Far from it in fact. Kovalchuk has been outstanding for the Devils. He has 18 points in 17 games, and has been arguably the most feared sniper of the postseason. Upcoming unrestricted free-agent Parise has been great too, and will be expected to continue his stellar play.
One of the leading feel-good stories of the 2012 playoffs has to be the performance of Martin Brodeur. He hasn’t shown his age one bit, and it’s hard not to like a goalie who plays with such excitement and passion. Brodeur has played in 18 playoff games, and if he’s thinking about retiring following the end of the Devils’ season, there will be a lot of support for him to come back for one more.
Bryce Salvador has been another nice surprise. The defenseman is fourth in team scoring at the moment, and has really surprised viewers who weren’t very familiar with the name prior to his playoff performance.
Marek Zidlicky has provided exactly what New Jersey was looking for when they acquired him mid-season, and Mark Fayne, Andy Green, and Anton Volchenkov have all been more than reliable on the back-end.
A player to keep an eye on in the final is forward Adam Henrique. The former Windsor Spitfires (OHL) star has been clutch for New Jersey, as was shown when he scored the series-winning goal for the Devils in the conference final. He’s been in championship series’ before, and though he’s an NHL rookie, he has the experience of playing in high-pressure situations.
If New Jersey can stick to their system, and not fall to the Kings’ tricks and gimmicks, the Devils could very well end up taking home the championship.
All things considered, this is bound to be an entertaining final. The exciting style of Los Angeles combined with the more heart-warming New Jersey Devils should make for an interesting series.
Personally, I see the Los Angeles Kings winning the Stanley Cup. They’re just such a strong team, and will be looking for their first Cup in franchise history. As a result, my prediction is that the Los Angeles Kings will defeat the New Jersey Devils in six terrific games.
This one’s your call, hockey fans. Who do you want to win the Stanley Cup?
David O’Connor is a managing editor with the Sunbelt Hockey Journal. His writing has been on the Los Angeles Times’ website, among other places. O’Connor also does some scouting work for the local Junior B hockey club. Please feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.