After defeating the Chicago Blackhawks in one of the entertaining Western Conference Finals in years, the Los Angeles Kings have advanced to their second Stanley Cup Finals in three seasons. The Kings will face the New York Rangers, who upset the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round and then defeated Montreal to reach their first Stanley Cup Final in twenty years. By virtue of a better regular season record the Kings will have home ice advantage, hosting the opening game at STAPLES Center on Wednesday night. Here are some key factors to watch in this year’s Stanley Cup Finals:
The Doughty Factor: While Ryan McDonaugh of the Rangers has put himself in the conversation of the top defenders in hockey, the most dominant defenseman in this year’s playoffs is Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings. Doughty was the top defenseman in this year’s Sochi Olympic Games, winning a gold medal for Canada, and he’ll have an opportunity to pull off the Gold Medal/Stanley Cup title if the Kings can defeat the Rangers. Doughty is a leading candidate for this year’s Conn Smythe Award as the top playoff performer. A true two-way star, Doughty can dominate a game both offensively and defensively. Like all great players, he’s known for scoring big goals at critical times. In 21 postseason games, Doughty has 16 points. Doughty has formed a winning combination with second-year player Jake Muzzin.
King Henrik: It’s unusual for Jonathan Quick to be seen as the lesser goalie in a playoff series, but that’s the case in this year’s finals. While Quick has played well overall in this year’s playoffs, he’s had his ups and downs at times, including several stretches of rough play versus the Blackhawks. While Quick’s overall numbers don’t compare to his epic stats in the Kings 2012 title run, he’s helped the team go 7-0 in elimination games this playoffs. Quick opposite number, Henrik Lundqvist, has added to his legend with an outstanding playoff performance thus far. In twenty games this postseason Lundqvist has 2.03 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. Like he has his entire career, Lundqvist has been a dominant force in net. The Kings will have the firepower advantage in the series, but Lundqvist can be the great equalizer, with the ability to steal games. If Quick can match the Rangers goalie shot for shot the Kings will be in good shape.
Home Ice Advantage: The Kings will have the rare luxury of home ice advantage versus the Rangers, something they didn’t have during their 2012 run or during this year’s run. While they haven’t been dominant at STAPLES Center at times, witness two losses versus Anaheim in the second round and a loss to Chicago (Blackhawks Promotional Schedule)in game six, the Kings will have the advantage of a boisterous home crowd to set the tone. The Kings home ice advantage may offset the additional amount of rest the Rangers have after eliminating Montreal in six games. When New York visits the STAPLES Center on Wednesday they will have had three extra rest. Of course additional rest doesn’t necessarily translate to quick starts. If Los Angeles can start quick and win two at home they’ll be in a good position to shorten the series with a win in New York in game three.
Marian Gaborik: While the rest of the Kings team struggled at times in the opening round versus San Jose and the first few games versus Anaheim, the Kings were receiving a dominant performance from veteran Marian Gaborik who they acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the trade deadline. Gaborik spent a handful of years in New York as a Ranger before he was dealt to Columbus as part of the Rick Nash trade. The finals will give Gaborik a chance to win his first cup, while exacting some revenge on his former team. Gaborik has formed a dynamic partnership with Anze Kopitar this postseason. Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Gaborik are three of the top four scorers in this years postseason, indicative of just how dominant the Kings offense has been at times.
So who wins? The Kings have shown an extraordinary amount of mental toughness in overcoming deficits to win all three series, with game seven victories on the road in all three games. Offensively they’ve had an extra gear this postseason, becoming a truly dynamic offense. Los Angeles has an advantage over the Rangers in every facet of the game other than goaltending. While Henrik Lundqvist has an advantage in goal, Jonathan Quick can dominate games when playing up to his potential. The Rangers have made a nice run, but it’s been in the weaker Eastern Conference. Their victory over Montreal in the Eastern finals was helped greatly by the Carey Price injury. The Kings are simply the better team.
Kings in 5.
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BY: Chris M.