It’s been a magical ride for the two teams that now site just four wins away from hockey immortality and forever staking their claim in NHL history with their names on the Stanley Cup. It’s taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to this point, and now over the course of the next 15 days, either the Los Angeles Kings or New Jersey Devils will be crowned 2012 Stanley Cup Champions. Here’s my take on what may unfold during what I expect to be a great series, and a roller coaster ride of sorts to the fans of both teams, so sit back, relax, root hard and enjoy the ride!
Goaltenders: There are certainly a number of cliches that can be bantered around to describe this matchup, whether it’s the old vs the new, or the legendary Hall of Famer against the up and comer potential star, I’ll let you choose which one you want to use. However, don’t sell either goaltender short as their opponents have during this playoff run. Neither team would be here if not for the strong goaltending of Jonathan Quick and Martin Brodeur. Quick has been sensational for the Kings thus far, posting a 12-2 record with a ridiculous 1.54 GAA and .946 save percentage. When you compare it to Brodeur’s 12-5 record with a 2.04 GAA and .923 save percentage, you would think Quick might have a distinct advantage.
Then again, Brodeur will be starting his 200th playoff game Wednesday night in New Jersey. Jonathan Quick will be playing his 27th, with it his 15th of this playoff. Brodeur has won five Jennings Trophies, four Vezina Trophies and three Stanley Cups Championships, all while making more saves than any other goaltender in the history of the National Hockey League. Quick is no slouch in his own right, being voted a Vezina Trophy finalist this season, after a 1.95 GAA and 10 shutouts on the season. In the end, Quick has the better numbers, but Brodeur has literally been through everything and at age 40, he’s seen it all. Quick does have the chance to get sidetracked while playing in his first Stanley Cup final, but I don’t see that too likely to happen. All in all, when you add it all up, I think it’s pretty even. Advantage: Even
Defensemen: I see another comparison of opposites here, as the Devils have a very unheralded group, the Kings are led by one of the better defenseman in the game in Drew Doughty. The Devils have been led by the combination of Marek Zidlicky and Bryce Salvador in the playoffs, but have also received invaluable contributions from the combination of Mark Fayne and Andy Greene, both of whom aren’t the flashiest in the bunch, but they consistently get the job done. Filling it out have been mostly Anton Volchenkov and ex-King Peter Harrold, although Adam Larsson has played five games and Henrik Tallinder is also on the sideline fully recovered from injury, and both are chomping at the bit to get a chance to play in the Finals.
For the Kings, after Doughty, they are led by ex-Devils draft pick Willie Mitchell, who provides toughness from the backline and eats up big minutes, all while providing leadership, similar to what Bryce Salvador brings to the Devils. They also have vets Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene, plus promising youngsters Viatcheslav Voynov and Alec Martinez. The Kings rely heavily on the combo of Doughty and Mitchell, but definitely receive support from the other four. There is little doubt the Kings have more “star power” with Doughty in their lineup, but the Devils’ “no-name” defense is used to being overlooked. In the end, I give the slight nod to the Kings, because of the superstar presence. Advantage: Kings
Forwards: This is certainly a very interesting matchup as well, with lots of star power on both teams. Both teams like to focus on puck possession and a solid forecheck to help create scoring chances and utilize the time spent in the offensive zone to minimize opportunities for their opponents. The Devils are led by Captain Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, two of the best wingers in the game today. While they have played together a lot, Coach Peter DeBoer has split them up at even strength of late, and both have helped to carry their respective lines to much success, each scoring seven goals thus far. Center Travis Zajac has also added seven, and the Devils have a lot of depth up front, when you add seasoned veterans like Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, David Clarkson and Alexei Ponikarovsky to the mix, you get a great balance of size and skill. Not to be outdone, youngsters like Jacob Josefson and overtime hero Adam Henrique bring a lot of skill to the team, and it’s hard to think the Devils would be at this point of the playoffs without the two overtime series clinching goals from Henrique.
The fourth line, labeled the “CBGB” line by radio color commentator Sherry Ross has been all anyone could’ve hoped for and more in these playoffs, as the combination of Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier and Stephen Gionta (“Gionta’s brother) have added a combined 9 goals and 10 assists in the 18 games thus far, including two game-winning goals against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals, both by Carter. Like with Henrique, I shudder to think of what round the Devils would have lost in without the contributions of the CBGB line.
As for the Kings, their first line has been absolutely incredible in the first three rounds, as the combination of Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Dustin Brown has yet to be stopped for the most part, combining for 15 goals and 27 assists in the first 14 games of the postseason. The second line of Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner hasn’t been too shabby either, compiling 11 goals and 19 assists over that span. The biggest question is how much can the third and fourth lines produce for LA? Can the size of the Kings’ forwards take advantage of the Devils defense?
Before Andre King (how do you not like that name for an LA King?) broke out in the last round, there hasn’t been much secondary production from the Kings’ bottom six forwards. How will the likes of Jarret Stoll, King, Brad Richardson, Jordan Nolan, Colin Fraser and Trevor Lewis match up against the third and fourth lines of New Jersey? This may be the key to the entire series. The top six for both teams are pretty star-filled, but in the playoffs, it’s often the bottom six that make up the difference if the stars cancel each other out.
Other: I see a lot of similarities between this series and the last time the Devils were in the Stanley Cup Finals, back in 2003 against the Anaheim Ducks. The Devils are facing a team from California that has come in extremely hot, posting a 12-2 record, with an incredibly hot goaltender and timely scoring along the way, both after entering the playoffs as an underdog, but are considered the favorites against the Devils, even though New Jersey has home-ice advantage. There are a lot of other subplots to enjoy between these two teams, including the following:
- Ilya Kovalchuk was courted by the Los Angeles Kings as a free agent before last season, but chose to stay with the Devils, signing his infamous 15-year $101 million contract. Kovalchuk turned down large offers from the Kings, but I don’t see too much controversy stemming from these free agent discussions.
- Devils Head Coach Peter DeBoer was a Memorial Cup winning coach with both David Clarkson and Mike Richards as his players at Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League. I’m sure there will be a lot shared after this series between the three, but you can bet Clarkson and DeBoer will avoid any “face time” with Richards at least during this series.
- Kings Head Coach Darryl Sutter is the brother of former Devils Head Coach Brent Sutter, who helpled to give Brent a job as head coach of the Calgary Flames after he left the Devils under unusual circumstances after the 2008-09 season. There were a lot of people that were bothered by how it all played out, but whether or not Devils GM Lou Lamoriello was actually bothered by it all, we will never know. No one keeps their emotions and knowledge closer to their vest than Lamoriello. Needless to say, there are many Devils fans out there who are happy to know that Sutter did not have any success as Flames head coach, but they should also let it go for the most part at this point.
- Speaking of Lamoriello, he helped mentor Kings GM Dean Lombardi before he became general manager of the San Jose Sharks, and helped Lombardi with the blueprint of how to build an organization. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t surprise too many people that know of Lamoriello, who is very charitable with his time and money behind the scenes, and doesn’t like to receive any notoriety for it.
- Zach Parise and Matt Greene were roommates at the University of North Dakota. Alec Martinez and Andy Greene were teammates at Miami (Ohio) University.
- Both Captains, Dustin Brown and Zach Parise are American-born, giving the NHL its first Stanley Cup matchup between two teams led by American captains, which is a nice boost to USA Hockey and means the second US Captain will lift Lord Stanley at the end of the series.
- The Kings are the second youngest team in the NHL and the Devils are the oldest, so there clearly is no blueprint for teams to follow.
Prediction: I see this series as one I expect to go back and forth. I think there will be ups and downs for both teams, and similar to the matchup back in 2003, I see the Devils taking the series in 7 games. Devils in Seven
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