Saturday, May 26, 2012

Stanley Cup Preview: Devils vs. Kings

     The Stanley Cup Finals are all set and it's now down to two teams: The New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings. New Jersey, behind the best penalty killing unit in hockey and Ilya Kovalchuk's stellar play, have given Marty Brodeur one more shot at Lord Stanley's Goblet. Meanwhile, the Kings are back in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1993 when the Great One Wayne Gretzky led the Kings to the Finals against Montreal (By the way, that team was coached by none other than the legend himself Barry Melrose). But this time, goaltender Johnathon Quick has been the reason for the Kings success, posting a 12-2 win-loss record and a 1.54 GAA this postseason. So who's going to be eating Fruit Loops from the 34.5 lb trophy this summer? Here's a brief breakdown:

Scoring: During the regular season, the Devils got plenty of production from left wing Ilya Kovalchuk. The ex-Thrasher led the team with 37 goals and 83 points. During the playoffs, Kovalchuk wasn't alone in the scoring department. While Kovalchuk leads the team in points this postseason with 18 (seven of those being goals), fellow left winger Zach Parise and center Travis Zajac have chipped in seven goals as well. Ryan Carter and Patrik Elias have scored four goals for New Jersey as well. As for Los Angeles, right wing and team captain Dustin Brown has manned the Kings' offensive production with sixteen points during the playoffs. Anze Kopitar has also aided L.A. with fifteen points of his own. But one of the most unexpected contributors to the Kings' scoring has been left wing Dwight King, who's scored five goals this postseason, including four goals against Phoenix in the Western Conference Finals. But the Kings are scoring 2.93 goals per game this postseason compared to New Jersey scoring 2.83. But the Devils have more experienced veterans than the Kings. Advantage: Devils
Goaltending: Both squads have terrific netminders this year. Martin Brodeur continues to prove to everyone that he's the ageless puck-stopping wizard that he's been all these years throughout the playoffs. An example of this is his Game 6 performance versus New York on Friday, stopping 33 of 35 shots in a 3-2 clincher over the top-seeded Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals. But Johnathon Quick has been spectacular throughout the playoffs, posting a .946 save percentage against the Canucks, Blues and Coyotes. Los Angeles has only allowed 1.57 goals per game this postseason. Expect a low-scoring series. Advantage: Kings
Coaching: Los Angeles has really taken off since firing Terry Murray 32 games into the 2012 regular season and replacing him with Darryl Sutter. The Kings were 26-13-11 under Sutter during the regular season and are 12-2 this postseason under him. This is the third year for New Jersey's coach Peter DeBoer and he has certainly revitalized Devils hockey. He has a way of exploiting certain teams' weaknesses as shown during the second round against the Flyers in which Philadelphia was peppered with shots on goal and many odd man rushes. Then he exposed the Rangers for their lack of offensive punch by blocking numerous Ranger shots. Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik ended up combining for only one goal for New York that entire series.
Advantage: Tie
Special Teams: New Jersey led the NHL in penalty killing during the regular season with an 89.6 % of power plays fended off. They've been more successful than the Kings on the power play as well, scoring 17.5 % of the time on the power play compared to Los Angeles scoring on 08.1 % of their power plays. Additionally, the Kings have had more opportunities with a man advantage, posting 74 PP shots on goal compared to the Devils with 63 shots on goal during a power play. Advantage: Devils
Intangibles: While the Devils have playoff experience with the likes of Brodeur, Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, Parise and Brian Gionta, the Kings have yet to lose a game on the road. They're 12-2 this postseason and have won eight straight road playoff games, an NHL record. They've dismantled previous Western Conference Champion and President's Trophy winner Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix in the playoffs. These teams were seeded one, two and three, respectively. Plus the Kings might benefit from the extra week of rest after beating Phoenix in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals on Tuesday, 4-3. Advantage: Kings
Prediction: L.A. is literally en fuego right now. They're the most dangerous eighth seed that sports has ever seen. I'm leaning towards the Kings in seven. But, this series could go either way.

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