And then there were two. The conference finals turned out to be everything we had expected and then some. The LA Kings and Chicago Blackhawks battled out for seven great games. The Canadiens hit a landslide curtsey of a New York defense that has peaked at the right time and none other than Henrik Lundqvist. The road to the Finals for both teams have differed greatly. LA has remained relatively strong throughout the regular season and turned things around in the postseason after they shocked San Jose in that remarkable four-game swing to come back from a 3-0 series deficit. The Rangers were inconsistent for the most part but picked it up tremendously in the postseason when Henrik Lundqvist and their defense regained stoutness. The Stanley Cup Final this year should end up becoming one of the best championship series in recent memory because of how much each teams coincide so well with offense, defense, special teams, and above all, the fact that we will see the two best goaltenders in all of hockey play against one another.
Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty have come on strong as of late, and the underrated play of Dustin Brown and Dwight King has paid dividends. This truly is the best scoring team aside from the squad they just beat in the conference finals and that is going to go a long way in terms of how competitive they should make this series.
The Rangers feature only a few elite goal scorers in Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash, yet their ability to possess the puck for extended periods of time when Carl Hagelin, Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan and Dominic Moore are able to keep the puck in the neutral zone when working the fore-check. If indeed they can posses they puck more frequently and at longer durations than the Kings, New York will have a big advantage when you add their defensive capabilities and Lundqvist’s clutch factor.
The Kings will have to improve upon their defense immensely if they are to win this series. They may have beaten the defending champs, but it was by no means easy and multiple goals were given up in the process. If they play as defensively unsound as they did against the Blackhawks, this could end up being a route.
The Rangers have come together defensively at the right time and that is the largest reason that they are in a position to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1994. Ryan McDonagh is in a class of his own right now and Marc Staal and Daniel Girardi add to it. The number of forced turnovers created by this defensive squad is staggering. Look for that to continue, though we should not see as many as we did when Montreal’s offense gassed out.
It could very well end up being a story of how well the penalty-killing unit will perform. LA has had fair PK numbers as of late but it should not be too much of a worry because of the inefficiency of the New York powerplay. New York has killed off nearly every man advantage they have faced this postseason and their PK rank was near the top during the regular season. If I were either team, I would be focusing on finding ways to improve the powerplay as only crisp man advantage shifts will be able to beat the tenacity of these respective PK teams.
If you like low-scoring affairs, what better time to see that than in the championship round. Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick are undoubtedly the best two goaltenders in the world today. Both have habits of playing their best when it matters greatly and have made careers for unorthodox saves and movement around the cage. You cannot win this league without goaltending, so really this series comes down to whichever goalie is going to disallow that puck to reach the back of the neck the most times and keep their team in the game.