Just hours remain until the puck drops on the 2014 Stanley Cup Final between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings. A season that saw more outdoor games than ever before, a season dubbed "like no other," will come to a close sometime in the next couple weeks. Will the Rangers hoist the Stanley Cup on the 20-year anniversary of their last victory or will the Kings initiate the talk of "dynasty" with their second Cup in three seasons?
Who is going to win it all? Five for Howling editors and writers make their picks.
Brendan Porter: I feel the same way about this series as I did about the LA - San Jose series: flip a coin. Both teams are solid in possession (LA was first in unblocked shot attempts when the score is close, while New York was sixth). Both teams have very potent weapons on offense with solid role players in depth positions. After Game 4 of the LA-CHI series, I figured the Western Conference winner was going to handily defeat the Rangers or the Habs in the Final, but now I'm starting to think otherwise, for a couple of reasons.
First, Los Angeles did not close out the series in 5 games, which meant they had two more hard fought contests against Chicago than they otherwise should have. It also means they've played the maximum numbers of games to get to the Cup Final, and no team has done that and won.
The other thing I noticed is that Jonathan Quick has really been subpar. His save percentage in the playoffs is .906, and while I think Chicago is better offensively than New York, Henrik Lundqvist is significantly better than Corey Crawford. Quick will need to have a considerably better series in the Final to even come close to matching that.
Overall, I think Los Angeles will pull out the series in seven games. Having Game 7 at home will be key and I think the offensive weapons that Los Angeles has, both up front and on the backend, are unlike anything New York has seen thus far. But I wouldn't be terribly surprised to see New York hoisting the Cup when it is all said and done either.
KINGS in 7
Carl Putnam: The Rangers have one key advantage in this Stanley Cup Final match-up, Henrik Lundqvist. If the Swedish goaltender significantly out plays Jonathan Quick, the Blueshirts have a shot at their first Cup in 20 years. Given how the playoffs have gone so far, this is a distinct possibility. Though to be fair to Quick, his team has faced much tougher opposition. While I'd argue the Pens and Ducks could be seen as somewhat similar squads, the same can't be said for the Canadiens and Flyers versus the Blackhawks and Sharks.
The problem for the Rangers is everywhere else on the ice besides in net. The guys from the City of Angels are as good or better than the gentlemen from the Big Apple are. The Kings are better on special teams, in the faceoff circles, and, as Brendan mentioned, possession. In addition, this postseason the Kings have been shooting the puck much better than the Rangers. Of course, those numbers are due to come down, even more so since they will be facing an elite netminder.
The Kings centers pose a problem for Rangers coach Alain Vignault. He doesn't have the size that his counterpart Darryl Sutter does down the middle. If Brad Richards struggled against the Flyers, Pens, and Habs, what happens when he's faced with either Anze Kopitar, Trevor Lewis, Jared Stoll, or Mike Richards? The Rangers also don't have dynamic defensemen, save for Ryan McDonough, who can jump into the play like the Kings do.
My head says Kings in six. However, since neither of these teams seems to like to do it the easy way and the sport could use it, I'll say the series goes seven games via King Henrik stealing a game or two. L.A. wins their fourth straight series in seven games and hoists the Stanley Cup for the second time in three seasons. And we'll all be stuck hearing about the '94 Rangers for another year.
KINGS in 7
There are a lot of similarities between these two teams--strong goaltending, solid defensive units, good penalty kills and a group of elite forwards. They also both have a good bit of speed throughout the lineup that allows them to play strong transitionally. In addition, they are maddeningly inconsistent as evidenced by the fact that both teams have had to play a ton of playoff hockey to this point, with dramatic comebacks and nearly epic collapses (LA becoming the first squad to win three Game 7s on the road en route to the Finals; NY playing in two game 7s and a six-game series). So both teams are battle-tested, banged-up, beat-up, road-weary, and ready to knock the ever-living piss out of everyone. So why do I think the Rangers have the edge? I think Lundqvist is just a little bit better than Quick and he has something to prove. I think that Rick Nash has another gear to his game and realizes that this might be his best and only shot at winning it all. I think Marty St. Louis provides just a bit more to the Rangers than Marian Gaborik does to the Kings. I think the Rangers can continue to stifle power play opportunities and force the Kings to beat them too much at 5-on-5.
Of course, though, the Kings have proven everyone wrong for the better part of three years and may well be poised to capture their second Stanley Cup in just three years. It wouldn't surprise me in the least, to be honest. In the end, it's going to be a great series and carry us through to the draft and free agency on a high note to end what has been a pretty amazing NHL season.
RANGERS in 7
Christopher Hair: I really wanted the Hawks to win Game 7 so I could have picked the Western Conference dead on from top to bottom. That said, I don't see the Rangers skating with L.A.
The Kings have the best forward in this series, the criminally underrated Anze Kopitar, and the best defenseman, Norris trophy candidate (and my personal pick to win it), Drew Doughty. The Rangers have the goaltending edge in King Henrik, but all you have to do is rewatch games 2 or 7 of the WCF to see how Quick making the big save at the right moment saves the Kings bacon more often than not. L.A. is battle tested and ready. I think this should be a short series, but since the Kings have won every series in hostile territory, why change things. The Queens will hoist the cup in MSG after game 6. Man, I don't like Dustin Brown.
KINGS in 6
Carl Pavlock: Although I didn’t have the best predictions for this year’s playoffs, way to let me down St. Louis, I am extremely confident that LA has this one in the bag. New York has definitely proved to be a surprise this year. They have great goaltending, an excellent penalty kill and have definitely proved to be one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. On the other side, Los Angeles hasn’t been getting the best out of Jonathan Quick, but they have been great on the power play. Of the top five playoff point scorers this year, four of them are Kings. Are they likely to maintain that offensive production? Maybe. When they won their first Cup, they came alive offensively in the playoffs after being a low scoring team in the regular season.
At the end of the day, LA seems to be the better team. They also just finished beating a team that is better than the Rangers, and unless they are tired by the start of the series or suffer an injury to a key player, I can’t see much preventing them from keeping the Cup in the Western Conference.
KINGS in 6
Andy Warycka: I'm basing this on a couple of factors, most of which are probably unscientific, but then again I have an art degree, so there. Anyway, Jonathan Quick has been less than spectacular in the postseason, looking particularly vulnerable in the series against the Blackhawks. I think the advantage goes to the Blueshirts with Lundqvist in net, provided he continues to play like the machine he has been. And while the Kings excel in clutch situations, pulling out games and series they probably had no business winning, I think the three straight 7-game series will have taken their toll. I think the tank might be running dry on LA while the Rangers are fresh and ready to go. Finally, look: I'm a native New Yorker. I was listening to Game 7 in 1994 on a portable radio while stuck at a baseball game I was photographing. I can't even pretend to admit I'm unbiased here, I can't stand the Kings, and I would love to see the Rangers hoist the Cup 20 years after they last did -- and I think they've got the chops to pull it off. Barely.