The Stanley Cup finals are old hat for the Los Angeles Kings by now. However, the 2014 Stanley Cup finals carry different expectation for the Kings than two years ago. While Los Angeles was a slight underdog to the New Jersey Devils back then and had to start on the road, now it faces the New York Rangers for a home Game 1 on June 4 and is a heavy favorite -- which may benefit New York more than anyone.
The Rangers could have faced the Kings in the 2012 finals, yet the Devils upset them for the Eastern Conference crown. Until now, that was their best shot at a Stanley Cup since their legendary 1994 title run. But on the 20'th anniversary of that curse destroying postseason, the Rangers have finally returned to the Stanley Cup finals.
Despite having played 20 games and two Game 7's to get here, New York still hasn't had the grueling postseason Los Angeles had. The Kings survived a 3-0 deficit to the San Jose Sharks, a 3-2 deficit to the Anaheim Ducks, nearly blowing a 3-1 lead over the Chicago Blackhawks and three road Game 7's -- the last one being in overtime at Chicago -- to get here.
The end result still has the Kings back in the finals, against another opponent from the New York area. Instead of combating an aging Martin Brodeur on his last Stanley Cup run, Los Angeles has to face the red hot Henrik Lundqvist in net. Given the struggles of 2012 Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick, the Kings may have to rely on hot scorers like Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, Jeff Carter and Justin Williams to take this Cup.
Since home ice in the Stanley Cup finals is at Los Angeles, and since the Kings are the favorites for once, this is technically uncharted territory for the Western champions. Los Angeles jumped ahead in 2012 with two road overtime wins at New Jersey, while this year's New York team has won two straight road Game 1's in this postseason. By that pattern, the Kings may be lucky to get to Madison Square Garden -- and back to the road ice advantage they've always loved -- with a split in L.A.
The Kings and Rangers kick off the Cup finals at 8 p.m. est on NBC.