Wednesday, June 4, 2014

2014 Stanley Cup Final Preview

Since everyone has dipped their toe into this pool, why shouldn't I? New York and Los Angeles facing off against each other on a big stage for the first time since the Yankees and Dodgers in 1981, and storylines and narratives galore for both sides (although the whole "this is the series the NHL wanted" nonsense needs to stop). Many think this will be a walk for the LA Kings. But will it be? Probably.

How good are the LA Kings? Very, but are they the juggernaut everyone presumes them to be? As Jeff Marek has said repeatedly, "you can't be a juggernaut if you've needed 3 Game 7's to move on", and that is true... but the Kings do have to deal with the minefield that is the Western Conference. They've certainly passed all of those trials, which include coming back from 3-0 down in a series to win it, winning a series after dropping 3 in a row after winning the first two on the road, and winning a Game 7 on the road after trailing 3 separate times. They are certainly resilient, but how does that match them up against the Rangers? They match up well in everywhere but in net. Jonathan Quick is not the same goaltender he was 2 years ago, and let's be fair, he probably never will be again, because that run will never be replicated again. Henrik Lundqvist has been the best Ranger this postseason, and this has been his best postseason. If he wins the Conn Smythe trophy, the Rangers more than likely hoist the cup.

Everywhere else though, the Kings are better. They have better strength up front with players like Kopitar and Gaborik, they have better depth in the forward group with players like Toffoli, Williams, Stoll, and King among others, and they have Drew Doughty while the Rangers simply don't. The Rangers also have a tendency to let teams off the hook after climbing to what seem to be insurmountable leads (just ask the Flyers). The Rangers are often their own worst enemy, and look at Benoit Pouliot's penalty numbers to see that proven. If the Rangers stay out of their own way long enough, maybe they'll have enough to get a foothold in the series. But in all likelihood, the Kings will be forcing those mistakes instead of the Rangers causing them for themselves.

Everything on paper says that the Kings will win this series quickly (pun 100% intended, sorry) and efficiently. This is hockey, so anything can and probably will happen. What will the Rangers have to do to hoist the cup? Rick Nash and Brad Richards have to play to the level we know they can play at consistently. The Rangers power play can't go ice cold as it did against Pittsburgh. Finally, they'll have to make so that Henrik Lundqvist doesn't have to win every game for them to win the series, and even though he likely can, the Rangers can't win a series that way. If all of those things happen, they'll have a chance to make this interesting.

Maybe the Kings will win the Cup simply because Gary Bettman will have no clue who to hand the Cup to if the Rangers win since they traded away their captain at the trade deadline. That might be a clever out for the Rangers fans if they need it, but more than likely they'll just have to applaud as the Sharks, Ducks and Hawks did that they were beaten by a better team.

Prediction: Kings in 5, because sweeps don't happen in the NHL since Foxtrax was thankfully erased.

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