Ten things you need to know, plus a prediction, as the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils face off tonight in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals:
1. NBC TV schedule: Every game will begin at 8 p.m. and will be carried exclusively by the NBC Sports Group. NBC will broadcast Games 1 and 2 from the Prudential Center in Newark. NBC Sports Network will present exclusive coverage of Games 3 and 4 from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. If necessary, NBC will resume coverage of Games 5, 6 and 7. Before every game, NBC Sports Network will present a one-hour pre-game show beginning at 7 p.m., along with a 30-minute post-game show.
2. History lesson: The Devils and Kings are meeting in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time. The Devils swept a pair of early-season games from the Kings, posting a 2-1 shootout victory Oct. 13 in New Jersey and a 3-0 win Oct. 25 at Los Angeles. Goaltender Johan Hedberg posted both victories in relief of Martin Brodeur, who played one period in the teams' first encounter before being sidelined with an upper-body injury that kept him
out of the lineup until Nov. 2.
3. To the victors: Marty Brodeur and the Devils are shooting for their fourth Stanley Cup title, following wins in 1995 (4-0 vs. Detroit), 2000 (4-2 vs. Dallas) and 2003 (4-3 vs. Anaheim). The Devils have suffered just one series defeat in the Final, dropping a seven-game series to the Colorado Avalanche in 2001. Brodeur is the only active Devils
player to have represented the club in each of those four series. Forward Patrik Elias skated with New Jersey for its three Final appearances (and two Cup wins) in the four-year span from 2000 through 2003. The Kings are seeking their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. In their only previous Stanley Cup Final appearance, Wayne Gretzky and the Kings dropped a 4-1 decision to the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.
4. Throw away the seeds: The Devils are the first No. 6 conference seed to reach the
Stanley Cup Final since the 2004 Calgary Flames, who were coached by current Los Angeles head coach Darryl Sutter. The Kings are only the second No. 8 seed to reach the Final since the conference-based playoff format was introduced in 1993-94 (Edmonton Oilers, 2006). The Devils and Kings eliminated the No. 1 seed in their respective conferences New Jersey over the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final, Los Angeles over Vancouver in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
5. Rocking in the USA: For the first time in NHL history, both Stanley Cup Finalists will be led by captains born in the United States. The Devils' captain is Minneapolis native Zach Parise, while the Kings are led by Dustin Brown of Ithaca, New York. Both 27 years of age, Parise and Brown were teammates on the 2010 United States Olympic team that captured a silver medal in Vancouver. The only previous U.S.-born captain to raise the
Stanley Cup is defenseman Derian Hatcher Sterling Heights, Michigan of the 1999 Dallas Stars.
6. Road Warriors: The Kings are 8-0 on the road in the 2012 Stanley CupPlayoffs, outscoring their opponents 30-13. They are the first team to win eight consecutive road playoff games in a single year. The Kings are two road wins shy of the NHL record for one postseason (10), shared by a group of clubs that includes the New Jersey Devils in their
Stanley Cup-winning 1995 and 2000 playoff campaigns.
7. Turnarounds: The Devils were 12-12-1 through Dec. 3 but went 36-16-5 the rest of the way. The Kings were 15-14-4 when former Caps coach Terry Murray was replaced with Darryl Sutter. They went 25-13-11 to claim the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. As late as March 28, the Kings were on the outside looking in of the playoff
race and needed to go 3-0-3 down the stretch to claim the eighth seed.
8. Express to Final: The Kings needed just 14 games to reach the Stanley Cup Final, eliminating the Vancouver Canucks in five games, the St. Louis Blues in four and the Phoenix Coyotes in five. That equals the fewest games needed to reach the Final since the best-of-seven format was adopted for all four rounds in 1986-87.
9. DeBoer vs. Richards: The Stanley Cup Final will pit New Jersey head coach Peter DeBoer against Los Angeles Kings center Mike Richards nine years after the pair teamed to capture the 2003 Memorial Cup with the OHL's Kitchener Rangers. DeBoer was Kitcheners coach and Richards was the captain and leading scorer. DeBoer once said it was never a matter of whether Richards would win a Stanley Cup, but how many. Another key player on the DeBoer-coached 2002-03 Kitchener squad is current Devils forward David Clarkson.
10. Cup Experience: The Kings boast nine players who have played in the Stanley Cup Final, but only four own Cup rings: Colin Fraser 2010, Chicago, Dustin Penner 2007, Anaheim, 2009, Pittsburgh and Justin Williams 2006, Carolina. Three Devils Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora have won the Stanley Cup with New Jersey, while fourth-line sensation Ryan Carter won a Cup with Anaheim in 2007.
Prediction: The Devils have been incredibly resilient, but there are a few cracks in Marty Brodeurs 40-year-old armor and the Kings are talented enough to find them. Kings in 6.