LOS ANGELES KINGS VERSUS NEW YORK RANGERS
The Los Angeles Kings defeated the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks in an epic seven-game series to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. The Kings nearly blew a 3-1 series lead, but they managed to keep their composure and emerge victorious on the road. Alec Martinez provided the game winner early into overtime during Game 7.
Los Angeles has taken the longest road possible to get to the Cup Final by playing in all 21 games. In doing so, they became the first NHL club in history to win three consecutive Game 7s in order to play for the league's championship. The Kings ousted Western Conference powerhouses in the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks to punch their ticket to the final and all of their series-clinching victories came on the road.
The New York Rangers' path to the Stanley Cup Final fell one game shy of what the Kings accomplished. The Blueshirts knocked out Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in seven games before eliminating the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final in six contests.
Los Angeles struggled to score during the regular season, where they finished 26th in the league with 2.42 goals per game. However the playoffs have been a different story as the Kings have been firing on all cylinders and lead the pack with 3.48 goals per contest. Four of the five top point scorers wear black and silver. Anze Kopitar leads the league with 19 assists and 24 points. Jeff Carter is right behind him with nine goals and 13 assists for 22 points, while Drew Doughty sits first among NHL defenders in scoring with 16 points. The Kings' offense also features Justin Williams (18 points) as well as trade deadline acquisition and former Ranger Marian Gaborik, who leads the postseason with 12 goals and has 19 points.
New York has also benefited from a late addition to their squad, as Martin St. Louis is tied for the club lead with six goals and 13 points. He didn't contribute much (one goal and seven assists in 19 games) during the regular season after being obtained from Tampa Bay, but he's been dynamite for the Rangers in the playoffs. Derek Stepan, who missed one game in the Eastern Conference Final with a broken jaw, and blueliner Ryan McDonagh have picked up 13 points apiece as well.
Between the pipes, New York has a potential game changer in Henrik Lundqvist. He has posted a 2.03 goals-against average and a spectacular .928 save percentage in the playoffs. By comparison, the usually stellar Jonathan Quick has a 2.86 GAA and a .906 save percentage. However, any advantage that the Rangers appear to have in this particular matchup isn't as daunting as it looks on paper. Quick has a Conn Smythe Trophy and Stanley Cup to his name, while Lundqvist will be playing in his first Stanley Cup Final. They both know how to elevate in moments when they are needed most and both of them are capable of stealing a series.
The Kings have been on a mission during the 2014 postseason. The team rallied from a 3-0 series deficit in Round 1 against the Sharks and that never say die attitude has been with them throughout their playoff run. Los Angeles has defined resilience and they have displayed tremendous mental toughness. The question of fatigue will come up heading into the Stanley Cup Final, but the Rangers have been on a mental roller coaster themselves. New York's playoff run has been fueled by feel-good stories like Martin St. Louis battling through the loss of his mother and Dominic Moore doing the same for his wife.
Both teams feature deep rosters and strong goalies. The Kings have an uncanny ability to lean on teams until they break and they never appear to be fully out of a game. Los Angeles can rattle their opponents with relentless physical play, so the Rangers will have to stay disciplined or else the Kings' power play could end up burning them. New York will try to utilize their speed to outwork Los Angeles like other teams have done for parts of the 2014 playoffs. However, it didn't work out for the Kings' previous opponents and I don't think it will work here either. I'm expecting the Kings to capture their second Stanley Cup in the past three years in six games.
Jeff Carter amassed five goals, including a hat trick, and six assists in seven games against Chicago last round. Justin Williams is known for his Game 7 heroics, but he also had a strong showing in the Western Conference Final with two goals and five helpers in his past six outings. Tyler Toffoli had seven points in his previous 14 playoff contests before exploding for four markers and two assists in seven matches versus the Blackhawks.
Slava Voynov had his most productive series of the 2014 playoffs against Chicago, with one goal and two assists in seven games. He has recorded two goals and seven points in 21 games, which is nowhere close to the incredible pace he set a year ago when he had six markers and 13 points in 18 postseason matches.
Robyn Regehr might be available to return during the Stanley Cup Final after being sidelined since the opening game of Round 2 against Anaheim with a knee injury.
Los Angeles has amassed a playoff-high 17 power-play goals on 67 opportunities for a 25.4 success rate, but their penalty kill has permitted 15 markers on a playoff-leading 80 shorthanded situations (81.2%).
The Kings have a 7-0 record in elimination games this postseason.
Los Angeles leads the playoffs with a whopping 898 hits of which Dustin Brown has been credited with 104. The Rangers are the next closest club with a total of 587.
Ryan McDonagh racked up two goals and 10 points in six contests versus the Montreal Canadiens last round. He had contributed just one goal and two assists in 14 postseason games prior to his breakout series. Derek Stepan registered three goals and added four assists in five games during the Eastern Conference Final. Chris Kreider was a thorn in the side of Montreal throughout Round 3 and not just because he injured starting goalie Carey Price in a collision during Game 1. He hurt them on the scoreboard as well when he notched three goals and five assists in six outings.
Brad Richards collected one goal and one assist in six games versus Montreal in the Eastern Conference Final. He produced six points in seven contests in Round 1 of the postseason against Philadelphia, but he's been quiet offensively since then with five points in his last 13 appearances.
John Moore has one contest remaining on his two-game suspension for an illegal check during the Eastern Conference Final. He will be eligible to return in Game 2 against Los Angeles, at which point he will probably replace Raphael Diaz in the lineup.
Daniel Carcillo has served three matches of his 10-game ban for physically abusing an official. He has appealed the suspension, but it's unclear if he'll be available to play in the Stanley Cup Final.
J.T. Miller sustained a suspected shoulder injury in Game 4 against Montreal, which forced him to miss the Rangers' last two outings. He is listed as day-to-day and will travel with the team to Los Angeles. Backup goaltender Cameron Talbot is also day-to-day with an undisclosed ailment. However, he will travel with his teammates as well and could be ready to suit up in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The Rangers have excelled on the penalty kill during the 2014 playoffs, while allowing just nine power-play goals on 64 opposition opportunities (85.9%). However, their power play has not been nearly as effective, scoring 11 times on 81 chances for a meager 13.6% success rate.
New York will enter the Stanley Cup Final just five blocks behind Chicago for the most in the playoffs with a total of 331.
The Rangers lead the postseason with 137 takeaways.