When the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012, they breezed their way through the competition in a way almost unmatched in the modern era of the NHL. They faced little adversity, despite entering the playoffs as the eighth seed in the Western Conference. This postseason, however, has looked much different for the Kings.
How the Kings Got Here
Down three games to none to the Sharks in the first round, Jonathan Quick looked dreadfully ordinary, and L.A looked dead in the water. But four straight victories rocketed the Kings to the second round to face another inter-state rival in the Anaheim Ducks. The Kings once again found themselves trailing in the series, but won games six and seven to advance to the Conference final. In the third round, L.A looked like the better team against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, but almost squandered a 3-1 series lead. But their third game seven win of the these playoffs secured their birth in the final.
The Kings are an interesting team, struggling to score goals in the regular season, but finding a way when it matters most. Is this team one of destiny? Does the perceived notion that the West is far superior to the East give them an advantage? On paper, perhaps it seems that way, but don’t be so quick to count out the New York Rangers.
Who Are the Rangers?
There was a point during the regular season when it looked doubtful that the New York Rangers would even qualify for the playoffs. The class of the East seemed centered around the Bruins and Penguins, and the Rangers flew mostly under the radar. Then a massive trade mid-season put them on the map. They sent their captain Ryan Callahan over to the Tampa Bay Lightning for disgruntled veteran Martin St. Louis. In the immediate, it looked like the Lightning won the trade. St. Louis wasn’t scoring, and Tampa was looking poised for a good run.
But St. Louis’ experience was what the Rangers coveted, and he came alive in the postseason, scoring big goals, and leading by example. But it was something unexpected that seemed to carry him and his team through the Eastern Conference. During their second round series against the Penguins, down three games to one, St. Louis’ mother passed away. Perhaps it was the raw emotion, or the team’s desire to rally around their mate, but whatever it was, it worked, and the Rangers came all the way back to win in game seven and advance to the Conference final.
The Rangers Had Luck on their Side
There are some who feel as though the injury to Carey Price was a big reason why the Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens in round three. And there may be some truth to that. The absence of Price may have caused the Habs to play a little more cautiously in front of their rookie goalie. And what made them so successful against the Bruins didn’t quite work against a speedy Rangers team.
The reason why New York wasn’t listed as a Stanley Cup favorite by many is because despite some real horses on the blueline, they don’t have a ton of defensive depth after the top four. They often struggled to score, and had a porous powerplay. But sometimes you have to be lucky to be good, and the Rangers took advantage of a flustered Canadiens team missing their best player.
Who Will Win the Stanley Cup?
Los Angeles is a big team. They’re fast, they hit hard, and they wear opponents down. They have a stud on the back-end in Drew Doughty, and a star up front in Anze Kopitar. On paper, it looks as though the Kings are the heavy favorite. But when they won the Cup two years ago, it was due in large part to the Conn Smythe performance of their goalie. This year, however, Jonathan Quick hasn’t been as lights out as most come to expect. And across the rink in the opposition’s net is a guy who looks more focused than ever to win his first Stanley Cup.
Henrik Lundqvist has long been considered one of the best goalies in the world. He’s the best player on his team, and the glue that holds them together. One thing that can’t be underestimated is the presence of the King. He can steal a series. And there’s no reason to doubt that he can steal this series. The Rangers may not be the best team. They may have used luck and emotion more than skill to carry them through. There’s a concern the emotion has worn off. There is concern their luck has run out.
The Kings are a better team. But New York is here in the final, whether they are the most talented team or not. Right now, it doesn’t matter who “should” be representing the East. The Rangers have their chance. They have a goalie on a mission. The Kings have spent a lot of energy to get to this point. How much will they have left?
Prediction: Rangers in six.