It's taken 50 days to get from the opening of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the puck drop of the Stanley Cup Finals. Along the way we've been witness to some of the best hockey every fan, coach, and player could ask for. Few games were stinkers, most nail-biters, and throughout these 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs one thing has been certain: it's not over until it's over.
Case in point the two teams left standing after three grueling rounds of playoff hockey: The Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers. Two teams that have two different histories and a bit of something for everyone to enjoy.
Broadway vs. Hollywood -
A battle of East coast versus West coast, the two biggest sports markets in the United States, and two different pasts.
The Rangers are an original six team with Stanley Cup victories in 1928, 1933, 1940, and 1994, with the 1994 Cup win being the last time New York has been to the Cup Finals. With one of the most loyal fan bases, a 20 year absence from the Cup Finals may feel as trying as the 54 year Championship drought, given the success the Rangers have felt in those 20 years. 10 Stanley Cup Playoff appearances and 2 Eastern Conference Final appearances since 1994, with the talented rosters that New York has fielded in those 20 years have Ranger fans Cup hungry.
The L.A. Kings on the other hand came into the NHL in 1967 and made waves right away with a trip to the Playoffs in their inaugural season. But it wasn't until the "Trade that shocked the World" in 1988, that the L.A. Kings became household names in the Hockey-verse. Trading to bring in Wayne Gretzky, the Great One, made the Hollywood crowd of Los Angeles come out in droves. Now the Lakers weren't the only show to see in the city. From then on success has been consistent for the Kings, 14 Stanley Cup Playoff appearances, 4 Western Conference Finals appearances, 3 Stanley Cup Finals, and a Cup Championship in 2012. This year marks the second Stanley Cup Final in three years for L.A. looking to be the next to be in consideration as a modern day NHL Dynasty, with a flair for the dramatic, three Game 7 victories on the road to make it to the Cup Finals
The King vs. The Quick -
What more can you say about the quality of the goaltending match up in this Stanley Cup Final other than World Class? Between the pipes for this series are two goalies who have International hardware, a Stanley Cup, and numerous NHL Awards between them. Henrik Lundqvist for the Rangers and Jonathan Quick for the Kings. Lundqvist comes into the Cup Finals boasting the top statistical numbers for the remaining active tenders with a 2.03 Goals against average and a save percentage of 92.8. Numbers that have him square in the middle of the Conn Smythe discussion. Lundqvist has been a rock at the back end for New York and on a team which traded their captain at the trade deadline, Henrik has stepped up as the face and driving force on the team.
For Quick, it has been more of the same that we've come to expect from the US Olympic Starter. He protects the net with the range and style of a gymnast, which makes for show stopping saves and brick wall status. Quick's save percentage and Goals against aren't the stand out numbers that Lundqvist posts, 90.6 percentage and 2.86 GAA, but he has come up big when needed for the Kings and playing behind an offense as potent as L.A. has, he has wiggle room. Expect him to tighten it up though as big players step up in big games and every Cup Finals game is big.
New faces in new places -
Two players making huge impacts during the Stanley Cup Playoffs are Marian Gaborik and Martin St. Louis, both of which are playing in the Stanley Cup Finals thanks to trades made at the trade deadline. Gaborik arrived in Los Angeles after not finding his stride with the Blue Jackets. Before that Gaborik played three and a half years with the Rangers, also not entirely fitting into the offense there. In the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Gaborik leads all players with 12 goals, 19 points in total through 21 games, and playing with Anze Kopitar, the Stanley Cup Playoff leader in points with 24, has allowed him to fit perfectly into the fast-paced, strong offense for the Kings.
Another trade deadline move that has made major impacts in these Stanley Cup Playoffs is the Ryan Callahan for Martin St. Louis trade. While only posting 13 points in the Stanley Cup Playoffs so far, St. Louis has come up with huge plays when it counts. Like it's said, big players come up in big games, and St. Louis came up biggest in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals where he netted the overtime winner to give the Rangers a 3-1 series lead before winning, the series in Game 6. Just days after his mother's unexpected passing, the Rangers and St. Louis rallied heavy-heartedly and have moved onto the Stanley Cup Finals. Look for him to continue to be a keep part of the Rangers success.
Prediction: Kings have all the pieces working for them, but at some point three 7-game series' will take their toll. Their epic 7-gamer to knock out the defending Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks was as grueling as they come, but they earned the series win and with it home ice advantage. That will help them a lot, but solid goaltending and a feeling that the Rangers will be ever so slightly healthy makes a difference in my eyes. Rangers prevail in an extremely close and extremely entertaining 6 games, hoisting the Stanley Cup at Madison Square Garden.