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|HPT Stanley Cup Finals Preview|
|Written by Blake Benzel|
|Monday, 28 May 2012 19:46|
One was the Western Conference eighth seed while the other was sixth in the East. Neither was picked to get this far but for the next two weeks it’s SoCal vs. The Sopranos for The Cup.How New Jersey Got Here: The Devils have had the rougher go of it of the two teams in the playoffs, having to play at least six games in two of their three series on the way to the Final. They defeated the third-seeded Florida Panthers in a thrilling double-overtime victory in Game 7 before making quick work of the offensively gifted Flyers, exploiting Philadelphia’s weaknesses in five games. The Devils discarded the Rangers in six games to reach the franchise’s fifth Stanley Cup Final.
How Los Angeles Got Here: The Kings road to the Final was much quicker than that of their Eastern Conference counterpart. L.A. dismissed the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in five games, swept the second-seeded St. Louis Blues in four and eliminated the third-seeded Phoenix Coyotes in five. The Kings have been perfect on the road in this playoff season, going 8-0.
Season Series: Devils 2-0-0; Kings 0-1-1.
Oct. 13: Devils 2-1 (SO) at Prudential Center.
Oct. 25: Devils 3-0 at Staples Center.
Forwards: The Devils have had the luxury of rolling four productive lines during the postseason.
Their offensive attack begins with the duo of Ilya Kovalchuk (pictured) and Zach Parise. Coach Pete DeBoer has kept the two on separate lines for most of the playoffs and it has served New Jersey well. Kovalchuk leads the NHL with 18 points in the playoffs. Parise’s 14 points ranks fifth most in the league. Travis Zajac’s re-emergence as the team’s top-line center has bolstered the attack. Zajac, who was limited to 15 games during the regular season due to a ruptured Achilles, has seven goals and 12 points this postseason. New Jersey’s fourth line has been surprisingly productive as the Rangers had no answers for the triumvirate of Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier. The trio has combined for 19 points in the playoffs which offsets the lack of production from Patrik Elias (six points) and Petr Sykora (four points).
Like the Devils, the Kings’ strength up front is their depth. L.A. has had 15 players register at least one goal during the playoffs and they have also had 15 players register at least one assist, allowing Darryl Sutter to roll four lines.
Dustin Brown (16 points) and Anze Kopitar (15 points) have been the lynchpin of the Kings’ attack. Brown has emerged as a strong leader on-and-off the ice after being dangled as trade bait at the deadline this season while Kopitar has stepped up his play during the playoffs. Dustin Penner and Dwight King have been solid secondary contributors. Penner has 10 points in 14 games, and King has equaled his regular season production by tallying five goals during the playoffs. Perhaps the most disappointing Kings forward has been Jeff Carter, who has four goals and nine points during the playoffs. Three Carter’s goals were scored in Game 2 of the Conference Finals. Veteran center Jarrett Stoll has also struggled offensively, scoring just four points in 14 games, but his role is as a shutdown center.
Defensemen: The Devils have been getting by with a balanced attack on the blue line.
Marek Zidlicky and Bryce Salvador make for an offensive-minded first pairing. The Devils have benefitted from Zidlicky’s skill while Salvador’s three goals and 11 points are more than his regular-season totals in both categories. The second pair of Mark Fayne and Andy Greene have played important minutes against teams’ best players, while the third duo of Anton Volchenkov and Peter Harrold have provided penalty killing and a terrific two-way game.
The Kings’ defense is second-to-none.
L.A.’s top pairing is Drew Doughty (pictured) and Willie Mitchell. Doughty and Mitchell have been dominant both offensively and in their own zone. Doughty has 10 points in 14 games in nearly 26 minutes of ice time per game. As he has throughout his career, Mitchell is doing a tremendous job shutting down teams’ top forwards. Rob Scuderi is the mainstay on the second pairing. Dependent on the situation, Matt Greene (physicality) or Viatcheslav Voynov (offense) will partner with Scuderi. Alec Martinez has been a terrific when he has been called upon.
Goalies: A terrific matchup of the old guard against the new with New Jersey's Martin Brodeur and Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick.
Brodeur, the record-holder in nearly every major goaltending category, is the underdog heading into this matchup, because of the postseason Quick is authoring. Quick holds a 1.54 goals-against average, a .946 save percentage and has won 12 of his 14 games, Eight of the 12 wins have come on the road. Both goalies have given their team the confidence that they can win anywhere..
X-Factors: New Jersey’s fourth line of Gionta, Carter and Bernier have combined for 19 points and have been responsible in their own end. Penner has been a physical, front-of-the-net goal-scoring presence.
Conn Smythe candidates: Kovalchuk, Brodeur, Quick, Brown.
Kovalchuk leads the NHL is scoring during the playoffs and has been absolutely spectacular in the first extended playoff run in his career. He’s been a force in every zone and he’s been a true leader for the team, dispelling the notion that Russians don’t care. Another candidate could be Brodeur, who may be a sentimental favorite for the Devils.
Quick is likely the frontrunner for the award regardless of the outcome. He has been terrific in the playoffs, leading the league in the three aforementioned categories. Another possibility for the Kings would be Brown, whose 16 points leads the Kings. He also leads all playoff players in plus/minus and game-winning goals.
New Jersey Will Win If: They can control the play with their forecheck and continue to roll four lines. Both the Devils and the Kings like to play similar styles of hockey, which should make for an entertaining series to watch. The Devils were able to neutralize the Flyers and Rangers in the previous two rounds due to their puck-possession game. In order to get to Jonathan Quick, the Devils are going to have to control the tempo of the game and keep the Kings in their own zone.
Los Angeles Will Win If: Its special teams are better than the Devils’ power play and penalty kill units. The Kings have tallied five shorthanded goals and are killing power plays against at a 91.2 percent clip. New Jersey’s power play has been a strength as the Devils have scored 12 man-up goals in 66 attempts. The Devils’ penalty kill has only been successful killing penalties 74.2 percent of the time. Luckily for them, the Kings’ power play has only converted at an 8.1 percent clip. If the Kings can limit New Jersey’s power play while getting theirs going, it’s going to make them even more dangerous.
Photos by Getty Images