The race for the Stanley Cup is down to the final two teams. The L.A. Kings and the New Jersey Devils are the last 2 teams standing. The Kings have done it in dramatic fashion. They came into the playoffs as the #8 seed and promptly knocked off the Presidents Trophy winning, #1 seeded Canucks in 5, swept the #2 St. Louis Blues, and took out the #3 Coyotes again in just 5 games. The most important stat is the fact that they have yet to lose a game on the road. The Devils had a rough 7 game 1st round series with the Florida Panthers. They then proceeded to knock off a Philadelphia Flyers team in just 5 games. The Flyers had taken out the Pittsburgh Penguins, who were favored to win it all. Last but not least, the Devils knocked off their cross town rival New York Rangers in a rough 6 game series. Both teams have proven more than worthy of being in the finals. Now, to break down the matchup.
There is no doubt that goaltending has a played a tremendous part in both of these teams arriving in the cup finals. Jonathon Quick has had an amazing year. Even in the beginning when the Kings were struggling to find offense, Quick kept them alive in every game. With a few moves and some coach tinkering, the offense came together and Quick's performances kept rising. I remember in that 1st series against Vancouver, in game 5, in the second period with the Kings trailing 1-0. I said to myself, Quick isn't letting up another goal so the Canucks better go into defend the lead mode right now. He would hold the Canucks at 1 and the Kings would go on to win and send the Nucks packing. The Kings offense has been great. The standout performer has been Dustin Brown. There are times when I think Brown is being controlled by some kid with an X Box controller that knows every special move. If anything, he has announced to hockey fans "Hey, watch me every night". Nothing short of spectacular. Anze Kopitar has also been very present during the playoffs. Factor in that Drew Doughty seems to be playing the best he's played since coming into the NHL and you have a team that has its best players clicking at the right time.
There are a lot of similarities between the 2 sides and it all starts in net. Marty Brodeur is no stranger to the Stanley Cup. He has been in a key component in winning 3 of them and he has his eyes on #4. Brodeur hasn't been the flashy kind of stopper that Quick has been this year, but he has gotten the job done when it needed to be. Just his presence in the net alone is enough to relax and settle his own defense. They clearly understand, even after letting up a goal, that it's not time to panic. Marty is a big reason for that. My column before the last round said that to beat the Rangers, Ilya Kovalchuck and Zach Parise would need to have big series. While parise had a good series, it was clear that Kovy had put this team on his back to carry them into the Finals. One thing that flew far under the radar were the adjustments made by the Devils coaching staff. The Rangers owned game 1 with their A game of shot blocking and flat out frustrating teams to their own death. Coach Peter Deboer and assistant coach Adam Oates quickly hit the drawing board to make adjustments. They decided to play the Rangers more towards the wall and behind the goaline, instead of between the circles, to get around the collapsing, shot blocking Ranger defense. Oates also put that strategy to use on the power play, which was clearly evident in game 6 on the second goal. After the adjustments off of game 1, the Devils owned the play. Even in the game 3 loss, they dominated more of the play. A 40 year old Brodeur is contemplating retirement. Winning Cup #4 would make it easy to go out on top. Not to be forgotten, Devils have home ice advantage.
Prediction - Last round, I gave you both the winners and the exact amount of games. From everything I've been reading and hearing, the public seems to think the Kings are the team to beat. And while I thought that way after round 1, the Devils have shown me the ability to make adjustments and play some big games in the face of adversity. The Kings have not faced either obstacle. The more I broke this down, the tougher it got. It's got to be a lengthy series. - DEVILS IN 7
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