Here we go. The New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings for the Stanley Cup. The two biggest markets in the NHL, and a coast to coast battle that has never been seen before in the playoffs.
The Kings have become a semi-dynasty in the Western Conference, along with the Blackhawks, as they are going for their second Cup in the last three years. They had been in the conference finals for three straight years, which, in the cap-era, is incredibly consistent. The Kings are good, all over the place. They have the goalie, the D, and the forwards to get it done, as they already have.
The Rangers are probably more of a surprise to be here than the Kings are, given that the majority of people had the Bruins or Penguins going to the finals from the East (Note: I correctly predicted both conference final outcomes, so…yay me!).
Here are my thoughts on the series:
Can’t ask for much of a better goalie match. There is gold and silver winning, all-world goalie Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers. Widely regarded as the best goalie in the league (and for good reason), Henrik has done it all, except win a Cup. He is already a legend in NYC, and if he wins the Cup, he will be an immortal there. On the other side, Jonathan Quick has risen to the top ranks of the league, having won a Cup, a Conn Smythe Trophy, and serving as the US starting goalie in the Sochi Olympics. He has a fat contract from the last time he won the Cup, and now he is again proving that he is a money goalie. Even though he didn’t have the greatest regular season, he has been beyond good in the playoffs. Even though this is a pretty even battle, I have to give the edge to the hungry Lundqvist.
On defense, this is another great battle. Both teams are stacked. The Kings have the best d-man in the league with Drew Doughty. They also have great depth, with guys like Martinez, Voynov, Greene, Mitchell, and Muzzin. These guys can score, along with playing a tight defensive game in front of their goalie. They did show vulnerability against Chicago, and they will show some breakdowns now and then. The Rangers don’t have the same firepower as the Hawks, and will have a tougher time breaking down the tough Kings D. The Rangers can respond with up-and-coming elite D man, Ryan McDonagh, along with an equally formidable stable of depth with Girardi (one of the best defensive defencemen in the league), Staal, and Stralman. I have to give the edge to the Kings here, just because they can get more goals and points from the back end than the Rangers will.
On offense, the teams are built in a similar fashion. Some high end talent (Kopitar, Carter, Gaborik against St. Louis, Nash, Zucharello, Richards) in front of a bunch of tough guys who can also put the puck in the net. The building of these teams is very similar. There are guys that can put the puck in the net. There are guys who can crash and bang, and make you regret going into the corners. There are third and fourth liners who can also contribute on both ends of the ice. I call this a slight edge to the Kings, because of how good Kopitar is in both ends of the ice.
What about the exhaustion? The Kings have played 7 games in each series. Incredibly, they have won game 7 on the road each time around. The teams they have played are bruisers, and even though they have come through, they could be pretty beat up by this point. Can they keep it up after such long, gruesome battles?
The Rangers, while playing fewer games, and having more rest between series, had some tough battles as well. But I don’t think that playing the depleted Habs is anything like the ringers the Kings have been through.
New York has some karma going for them. 20 years have gone by since their last appearance. The city is electric for the Rangers. Are they a team of destiny?
As I mentioned above, the Kings are kind of a dynasty at this point. In the playoffs, they seem as though they are unbeatable. They beat their nemesis in Chicago. They need to be sure to not overlook the Rangers, however. King Henrik can steal more than just a game, but an entire series.
Now that LA has home ice advantage, will they play differently? They have a great, desperate game on the road, and they haven’t been the same at home. Have to wonder if their us against the world mentality will be affected by being the favorite, and having home ice advantage for the biggest series.
This is really a closer call than I thought it would be. I figured that whoever came out of the West would stomp the Rangers, but now I’m not as convinced. And if this year’s playoffs have taught us anything, it’s that these series are closer than we might ever expect.
I hope for a good series, as do all. Best of luck to the Kings and the Rangers. Whoever wins, they will have earned it.
Prediction:I’m going with the Los Angeles Kings to take home another Cup. In 6 games.
Another round of the Stanley Cup marathon is in the books, and I did pretty well in my guesses for the second round. I was right about the Kings, Blackhawks, and Rangers, while being wrong (again) about the Canadiens. I had the Bruins going all the way to the final, so I was pretty surprised by the results. But it happens, and I’ll take my 75% correct guesses any day.
Now we move on to the Conference Finals, the Final Four. After 82 regular season games and two grueling rounds of playoff action, we are left with the four teams who have survived up until this point. The Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
These both should amount to good series, and the first year of the new playoff format has been a massive success, in my mind, as all of the battles have been pretty good, and there hasn’t really been a dud series yet. You can see the rivalries continuing or developing, as they should for the foreseeable future.
On to my next round of guesses.
Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks
How well do the Kings play with their backs up against the wall? So far this year, they are 6-0 when they are facing elimination. That is beyond impressive, as they have been dominant in those games, including both Game 7s they have played in so far. This is a team that knows how to show up and win when it matters most.
Drew Doughty is just awesome. He runs the Kings, and he does it well. The guy is absolute beast, and absolutely does it all for LA. He would be in the Conn Smythe conversation if he were putting up a few more points.
Someone who is in the conversation for playoff MVP is Anze Kopitar, who has been on fire for the entire playoffs, scoring a point in nearly every game. It will be a great battle seeing him going against another all-world defensive forward in Jonathan Toews. These guys are two of the very best (and both Selke nominees), and it will be a treat to watch them play against one another.
Goalie advantage goes to the Kings. I’ll take Quick over Crawford any day, even though I believe that Crawford is in that Chris Osgood area where he does nothing wrong, but still gets no respect from anybody. The guy is a Cup winner, but he is more apt to give up a bad one than Quick is.
These are two teams that have incredible depth. The Hawks have a great bottom 6, guys who can plug away, frustrate another team, and contribute offensively. It’s always tough when a team can roll out four lines that can do damage to you in one way or another. But the Kings can offer the same thing. They have toughness and scoring spread throughout their lineup, and they can always be dangerous as well.
Any time the Kings play, it will be a bruising series. They are so big and so fast. Chicago isn’t as big, but they can absolutely fly on the ice. That will be the biggest challenge for the Kings, is keeping up with the speed across the way. They will be trying to slow them down with their size, and hopefully they don’t have circles skated around them. Not that the Sharks or Ducks were slow teams, but they were built more like the Kings are, and LA is better at their own game. This will be the first battle where they are playing a different style of team.
I can see LA struggling to adapt to the different style of play the Hawks employ. This could get Chicago one or two valuable wins.
Have to wonder if LA is getting tired from the grinding seven game series they have had to play already. Chicago has won both their matchups in 6 games, and neither series was as physical as LA.
This is a rematch from last year’s conference finals, that the Hawks won. Can the Kings get revenge here? Did they learn anything from last year?
This is also the third straight year the Kings have been in the third round of the playoffs, which shows their consistency as an organization.
Honestly, I don’t see massive advantages anywhere. If the Hawks are better at one thing, the Kings are better at another. A pretty balanced series, which makes it hard to guess. So I guess I’ll go with my gut.
Prediction: Kings in 7
New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens
Well, I am 0-2 when it comes to guessing the Montreal series. I thought they would lose to Tampa and get whipped by Boston. I was wrong on both counts.
I predicted the Rangers to the finals since the beginning of the year (against St. Louis, but we won’t talk about that). Nice to have a horse still in the race.
This is a battle of perhaps the best two goalies on earth right now: Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist. You can’t say enough about how either one of them has performed so far. They are the backbones of their teams.
This is also an Olympic goalie rematch in the Canada vs. Sweden gold medal game. Of course, Price won that one and the gold medal.
Both teams are balanced in a similar way. There is equality all through the forward lineup. The Habs scorers seem to be scoring, while the Rangers scorers are becoming more all around players, even if they aren’t putting the puck in the net (hello, Rick Nash).
Overall, I’d say New York has the better D corps, but the Habs have something the Rangers don’t: P.K. Subban. This kid can change the course of a game. With a big hit, or a jaw-dropping goal. Every shift, he is a threat to do something crazy, or something incredible. That is a massive advantage for Montreal, especially coming from the back end.
Do I jump on the bandwagon, and cheer for the only Canadian team left (and the only Canadian team to make it, actually) in the playoffs? Or do I stick to my guns with my initial prediction from the beginning of the year?
Is it possible to bet against Price at this point. He is absolutely on fire, is completely unfazed by the pressure, and is now facing a team that is decidedly weaker than their previous opponent, the Bruins? Can he keep up this amazing pace? Will the team begin to relax in front of him knowing that he is standing on his head?
On paper, I like the look of the Rangers better than I do the Habs. Both teams have good momentum getting here, with the Rangers overcoming a 3-1 deficit against Pittsburgh. Something has to give. The Rangers are clicking at the right time, playing some of their best hockey of the season, while the Canadiens seem to be playing above their heads.
Again, this one is going to come down to a gut decision.
Prediction: Rangers in 6.
I think the fact that both of these series are tough to guess, speaks to how good of matchups they are, and how good these playoffs have been. I can easily see it being a Chicago-Montreal final, or any other combination. But as it stands right now, I’m going for the New York-Los Angeles mega city challenge for the championship.
We are part way through the second round of the NHL playoffs, and it looks like we have some tight series on our hands, which is always great to see.
Boston and Montreal tied 2-2
I feel that with the Bruins winning Game 4 in overtime, it will be the turning point they need to take this series. Not that you can nitpick a 1-0 overtime loss, but the Habs really needed that one.
Carey Price is establishing himself as one of the best high-level goalies in the game. We should have known that before, and especially after he dominated in the Olympics, but he is awesome. If the NHL is back in the Olympics in 2018, I want him as my started for Team Canada.
It is weird that a goalie as good as Rask has such trouble with one team. But he stepped up in Game 4. No curses here.
Pittsburgh leads New York 3-2
Inspiring story of Martin St. Louis playing the day after his mother passed away. I can’t even imagine.
The Rangers offense woke up in Game 5 to stay alive. Can they show up for another game to push it to 7? Or will they go back into a slumber and make Fleury look like a good goalie again?
It would be nice if Rick Nash decided to show up on the scoresheet. His production will be key for what remains of the series.
Is Fleury rattled after giving up 5 goals last game? Will this crack him, or can he bounce back to his ways of back-to-back shutouts earlier in the series?
It’s odd how harsh we will be on Crosby’s games. He finally scored a goal in the series, but we want more. Regardless of the points he is putting up, he is still dominant, and by far the best player in the game.
Chicago and Minnesota tied 2-2
Will Minnesota ever lose on home ice?
If Bryzgalov can put together a decent game on the road, the defending champs could be in some serious trouble.
I like the look of this Wild team, and Parise has been great so far. Shown tremendous leadership and has raised his game to a new level.
I kind of want the Wild to win this one. I thought the Hawks would roll through this series.
Very strong performance by the Wild D so far.
Los Angeles leads Anaheim 2-1
It’s too bad nobody sees this series, it may be the best one.
These teams do not like each other. Which is what the playoffs are all about.
Good black and blue hockey.
The Kings really need to put a stranglehold on the Ducks tonight. They don’t want to be going back to Anaheim with the series tied up. They need to finish, like the Sharks couldn’t do with them.
How amazing has Anze Kopitar been in this series? He has been on the cusp of stardom for years, and is one of the best two-way players in the game.
Who cares about Jonathan Quick’s regular season numbers? The kid plays big when it is important.
With the men’s Olympic hockey tournament underway, here are a few thoughts I’ve had from the opening games. At this point, all teams have played at least two games and we really are already separating the good from the bad and the ugly, as happens every year. The prelims really are just a warmup for the teams we know are going to make it to the medal round anyway, as they try and fuse a team together and get some momentum before the elimination games really begin.
Great job by Slovenia, the tiny former Yugoslav nation with fewer than 200 registered male hockey players, on getting their first ever Olympic win, over the reeling Slovakian team.
Even though Finland hasn’t dominated, as a Canadian fan, I am scared of what Tuuka Raask could do in the medal round.
The US team has looked dominant, maybe the best team in the tourney so far.
4 goals by TJ Oshie in the shootout against Russia? Incredible. That will be seen as a classic game in no time.
Tough blow for Sweden, who were the favorites in my mind. Losing Henrik Zetterberg really hurts. He is a beast, and probably their best player. They have good team depth, however, and should be able to make a run at a medal without him. That D combination of Erik Karlsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson is terrifying.
The uniforms: as awful as they were when they were released, they actually look pretty decent on the ice. That goes for most of the teams. I really like the Finnish flag jerseys, the Czech whites, and the Canada reds. Still a huge thumbs down for the black Canadian alternates, and those Russian ones look like a big mess with the white eagle heads. And is Austria just wearing the Canadian jerseys from 2010 with a different logo? No points for creativity there.
Now, specifically on the Canadian team:
I want Carey Price as my goalie moving forward. Luongo played well and got a shutout, but that was against Austria. I just don’t trust him to rise up like I would Price.
Crosby has been quiet, which shouldn’t really be a concern. He didn’t do tons in Vancouver, either, before scoring that one little goal of his…
I am endlessly impressed with our defense. Weber and Doughty have been great in both ends of the rink. Everyone else has been solid as well. No glaring giveaways, and it looks like they are all playing well together. This bodes well as we move forward, since in these short tournaments, D and goaltending are paramount.
Why is Rick Nash on this team again? I love to hate him.
Hopefully Canada got a scare from its close opening game against Norway. European teams can really shut it down out there, and Canada has to be willing to get dirty in the corners and messy in front of the net to get some mucker goals in order to bear those teams. For example, Switzerland gives you no chances, so you need to capitalize on every sniff you may get.
I don’t know if I like playing two easy teams off the hop. I would rather have had the Finns as a second game, a truer test for the team. Then an easy one to close the round robin. This would have given them a bit of a break going into the medal round. Now, they will be playing tough and meaningful games for the rest of the tournament. No more simple ones.
Again, those black jerseys were terrible.
It is very exciting going forward, to see which nation will rise above the others. There are still so many contenders out there, and it really is too tough to call at this point. The US looks like the team to beat, but that could change in a moment, which really is the best part about the Olympic tourney.
So it has finally been announced after months of debate, that will surely carry on now that we can debate who made it and who didn’t. In Canada, it is no secret that the majority of us base our Olympic viewing around the hockey team, and so many of our hopes rest on the team assembled for each Games.
Here is the list of players that made it:
Forwards: Jamie Benn, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Matt Duchene, Ryan Getlzaf, Chris Kunitz, Patrick Marleau, Rick Nash, Corey Perry, Patrick Sharp, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews.
Defense: Jay Bouwmeester, Drew Doughty, Dan Hamhuis, Duncan Keith, Alex Pietrangelo, PK Subban, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Shea Weber.
Goalies: Roberto Luongo, Carey Price, Mike Smith
Some of my thoughts on the picks:
I feel like Rick Nash is done. He is now dealing with concussion issues, and only has 8 goals this year. He has always been tons of promise, with little follow through. Sure, he has nice hands, skates well, and is a big body, but I would have chosen James Neal over him in a heartbeat.
I want Price to be our starting goalie.
How amazing is that D? Far and away the deepest group in the tournament.
Perplexed by Hamhuis getting named to the team. I may have gone with Seabrook as by defensive D-man instead.
Don’t like Marleau on this team. He was solid in Vancouver, but has a history of not showing up in the biggest games, and I feel like his time is done.
One of the more controversial picks, Kunitz, is fine by me. Anyone who keeps Sid going is fine.
Glad that Jamie Benn, one of the biggest camp snubs, made the team. Big, can skate, can finish.
Same for Sharp. He has been way too hot lately to ignore. Throw him with anyone and he’ll score.
Jeff Carter? I never actually thought of him in the discussion for the team. Would rather have Martin St. Louis on there. Or Claude Giroux. Not nearly the same size as Carter, but it wouldn’t matter on the large ice.
There are two Canadian players who are 5’11”. And they are the smallest, with everybody else over 6′. That is a big team.
Smart moves: leaving Taylor Hall, Joe Thornton, and Dan Boyle at home. Hall can’t play in his own end and is very poor without the puck, Thornton is too slow for the big ice, despite being a generationaly good setup man, and Boyle is over-the-hill, having a poor year, and I was surprised he was being considered.
Shocked Logan Couture didn’t make it, even with his recently injured hand. He will be on the next team, for sure.
I think there is a good combination of finesse, scoring, and grit on this team to rightfully be a favorite for the Gold. Canada, Sweden, Russia and a darkhorse Finland (I just love those goalies) are my Top 4 teams. The US isn’t far behind.
Weakest area is in net. I’ve never been sold on Luongo, as we won last time in spite of him, not because of him. Price has been big before, but has also gone through major slumps. I think Smith is a systems goalie, and kind of surprised he is on there ahead of Corey Crawford.
Too bad those uniforms are just so ugly. I thought for a moment that they were growing on me. But then they weren’t. Will probably still buy one, thought. Sadly.