Show of hands how many of you picked the Stanley Cup final to be between the Los Angeles Kings and the New Jersey Devils? Now put your hands down and stop lying, no one saw these two teams making it to the Stanley Cup Finals. It wasn't until the Kings beat the Canucks that I knew they had a slight chance, and I never believed the Devils would make it all the way until they took the Rangers to game 7. Shoot, I was mildly surprised when they beat the Panthers.
Two teams that finished 8th and 6th are in the finals, just goes to show that once you make the playoffs anything can happen. So let's take a look back at each team's journey and then preview the match-up.
Los Angeles Kings
In their first series the 8th seeded Kings were up against the 1st seeded Canucks, not a place you want to be in to start off the playoffs. Many had the Canucks as the favorites to go all the way this year and prove they could win a cup. But the Kings had other plans and beat the favored Canucks in 5 games and possibly put an end to Roberto Loungo's tenure in Vancouver.
After upsetting the first seed team, they went on to face the #2 seeded St. Louis Blues. Once again the Kings were able to manhandle the Blues and knocked them off in 4 straight games. The coveted sweep made people start believing the Kings were the real deal.
Then in round three the Kings were up against Garry Bettman's team the Phoenix Coyotes. Despite some controversial overtime happenings in game 5, the Kings had little difficulty knocking off the desert dogs. They finished off the Coyotes in 5 games and won the series 4-1, and at this point you can't call it an upset anymore. The Kings have solidified themselves as the real deal.
Through the first 3 rounds of the playoffs the Kings have played in just 14 games, playing nearly flawless hockey.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils started their Stanley Cup run against the Florida Panthers, in a series that was mostly an afterthought Both teams play a rather boring style of game, making it painful to watch. None the less the Devils prevailed in 7 games, narrowly edging out the Panthers to win the series 4-3.
Next up for the Devils was the enormous task of the Philadalphia Flyers, who had come off a major win over the Penguins. Luckily for the Devils the Flyers left too much emotion in Pittsburgh and got overly happy with their first round win against their cross-state rivals, there wasn't much left for the Devils. To many people's surprise the Devils tore apart the Flyers fairly easily as they won the series in 5 games.
Next up was the first seeded team from the East, the New York Rangers. It was the battle of the goalies, Brodeur vs. Lundqvist, the old gaurd vs the new.Tthe 40 year old Brodeur surprised many a expert and played fantastic showing no signs of aging. In large part due to their goaltending the Devils were able to upset the Rangers in 6 games, winning the series 4-2.
Teeing up the series
These two teams met twice during the regular season with the Devils winning both games, so there is some familiarity between the two teams. But the Kings have changed a lot since last playing the Devils, a coaching change, acquiring Jeff Carter and having Jonathan Quick catch fire. It's likely to be a very close hard fought series that may very well go to 7 games (for the second final in a row).
This series, like many a finals before it, is likely to come down to goaltending. Arguably one of the best goalies in the league right now Jonathan Quick against a former best goaltender, an all-time great, the legend himself Martin Brodeur. This will likely be Brodeur's last playoff run/season in the league, while Quick is just beginning his career. Whichever goaltender performs better will end up winning the series for their team and perhaps skating away with the Conn Smythe trophy and well you know, the Stanley Cup. With the way these goalies play most games will likely be low scoring affairs, so expect some 2-1 games.
A second chance:
Some players play hockey all their life, get drafted and play in the NHL but fail to reach the Stanley Cup finals, and even fewer make it back there for a second time. But for some former Flyers now on the Kings roster it's a second chance at glory. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were part of the Flyers run to the Cup Finals in 2010. They lost. But now they're back for another crack at winning proffesional sports most prized possession, and they aren't the only former Flyers looking to win big. Kings assistant coach John Stevens is a former Flyers head coach, Kings forward Justin Williams is a former Flyer, Simon Gagne is also a former Flyer, King GM Dean Lombardi is a former scout for the Flyers and assistant GM Ron Hextall is one of the Flyers greatest goaltenders.
But the biggest ex-Flyers Richards and Carter have all eyes on them, how will they perform, will the trade end up biting Philly in the butt?
Both teams have superstar players they are counting on to produce and help them win the Cup. Ilya Kovalchuck and Zach Parise must be huge for the Devils and Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar must come up huge for the Kings. But the Cup will be decided by secondary scoring from guys you don't expect a great deal of. For the Devils rookie Adam Henrique and veteran David Clarkson both have 3 goals in these playoffs, and are the type of players you win with. They play a hard 2 way game and aren't afraid to get physical.
For the Kings Dustin Penner is a guy who could really step his game up. He had a rough season, but it's time to put that behind him and help his team win the cup!
For the first time since 1999 the Stanley Cup will be lifted by an American born captain, both Zach Parise and Dustin Brown are American.
Parise's possible last games as a Devil
Devils Captain Zach Parise will become an un-restricted free agent at the end of the year (July 1) and he hasn't signed a new contract with the Devils. He is 6th in playoff scoring with 14 points in 18 games, and will be one of the, if not the, most sought after free agents. It's not every day a top-line talent like Parise becomes available. But if the Devils are able to win the Cup it may convince him to stick around.
The European streak
The past two Stanley Cup champions started their season in Europe. The 09-10 Blackhawks played their first games in Finland, while last season's Bruins started in the Czech Republic. The Kings started this season in Europe as well, and are prepared to see the streak continue.
While this series doesn't hold the glamour a New York Ranger vs. Los Angeles Kings would hold, it still looks to be a pretty solid series. The series may get a little boring at times, but we should be in for an exciting finals.
My prediction Kings in 6