Stanley Cup Preview

Sometimes it is best to go with your first instinct as a blogger that does predictions and I have learned this with the NHL season. In my 2011-12 season preview I predicted a Los Angeles vs. Philadelphia Stanley Cup Finals. I changed my tune though when it came to the playoffs as I then looked to a Nashville vs. Pittsburgh Finals. I may not have had the entire finals predicted before the season but moving away from the Los Angeles Kings was clearly a big mistake for me. The LA Kings have bolted through the playoffs as the #8 seed and knocked off the top three teams in the west. In the east the New Jersey Devils have snuck through the playoffs under the radar but got through some tough challenges to make the finals. Both teams will now face off to determine which of these two unlikely teams will become the new NHL Champions. For the Devils it is a familiar spot with three Stanley Cups under their belt. Many of the players from those championship teams are still on the Devils and some are looking for one last championship before they decide to hang up the skates for good. Meanwhile the Kings are the opposite with no Stanley Cups to speak of since they came into the league in 1967. Many of the players on the roster for the Kings have been longtime Kings and are looking to become the first Kings players to win a championship. There are plenty of stories to watch for in this final series aside from the history of the teams. There is the potential for this to be the last time we get to see Martin Brodeur play in the NHL. The redemption of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards who were thrown out of Philadelphia for their partying way only to reunite in Los Angeles is something to watch as well. Then there are the potential Conn Smythe winners on Los Angeles in Jonathan Quick and Dustin Brown who will need to win to complete a great postseason. Even the story of the big market against the non-traditional market will get some play before these two teams face off. Both teams will have to ignore the outside talk though and focus for four more wins in order to sit atop the NHL after a long season that both teams have fought through to get to this point.

 

New Jersey Devils

The New Jersey Devils have been a strong team in the past years but with a new regime coming in for the 2011-12 season there were some questions. Would Peter DeBoer be able to take the Devils back to the Finals? Could Martin Brodeur continue to be the best goalie in the NHL in what was likely his last season? These were the glaring questions in New Jersey before the season started and the team went about answering them. It did not start great for the Devils as they went 12-10-1 in their first two months as they looked to be a middle of the road team. Then they began to turn it on and in May had their best month going 10-5-2. With the late surge the Devils were able to take a playoffs spot despite finishing 4th in the division. The Devils would take on the Florida Panthers and in a hard-fought series they were able to beat the Panthers in 7 games. They moved on to face an early favorite in the second round as they would take on the Philadelphia Flyers and surprised everyone by beating them in 5 games. They moved on to the conference finals against their longtime rivals the New York Rangers. In another hard series the devils were able to dispatch of the top team in the East through 6 games. Throughout the year the questions were answered as Peter DeBoer was able to guide the Devils back to the finals and did it in a new way as he ended the longtime defensive attitude to become the best offensive team in the NHL. Martin Brodeur was not exactly himself but he didn’t need to be with a new offensive mindset as he was good enough to win some games and to help his team to the finals. Now the Devils will take their late season success to the Stanley Cup Finals as they hope to win their 4th Championship in franchise history.

The Devils have usually been built from the net out but this year they changed everything as they focused on their offence before their defence. Up front the Devils are led by Ilya Kovalchuk who has risen from previous years of mediocrity to show why he is considered one of the most talented players in the NHL. With 18 points Kovalchuk has led all players in the playoffs and has shown his offensive skill set. Along with Kovalchuk the Devils have had some great performances from Travis Zajac and Zach Parise, each have 7 goals, as their veteran forwards have been the focus of the offence. They have also received some support from their young rookie Adam Henrique as well. On defence the story has been Martin Brodeur who has played well in these playoffs showing that age is just a number. Brodeur is not the reason that the Devils have made it this far but they are also not winning despite him. The defence of the Devils is not what it used to be when the Devils were the epitome of defence but they have held their own throughout the playoffs. The defence gets a lot of help as well with some key two-way forwards like David Clarkson and Ryan Carter. The Devils are an offensive first team and have found way to get through the toughest defences and find ways to score. To win this series the Devils will need to keep up to the Kings on offence and hope that Martin Brodeur continues to shut the door.

 

Los Angeles Kings

The Los Angeles Kings had high hopes for the season as GM Dean Lombardi made some key moves in hopes that his team would challenge for the Stanley Cup. This offseason the Kings were able to add Mike Richards and Dustin Penner. These were two controversial moves from a rumoured party animal in Richards to a notoriously lazy player in Penner. These two moves did not immediately pay off though as the Kings struggled to gain any advantage throughout the season. They could not find a way to score all season as they became the worst offensive team in the NHL. Despite their lack of goal scoring they were still able to hang in to the Pacific division race thanks to some great goaltending by Jonathan Quick. In a last-ditch effort to add some scoring the Kings made a trade at the deadline to reunite Mike Richards with his old Philadelphia teammate Jeff Carter. The Kings began scoring at a rapid pace in their last month as they made up for their poor scoring touch in the rest of the season. The Kings finished their season with a 10-4-1 record in March that put them in the 8th place spot. They did not seem to have much of a chance as the first round would see them take on the President’s Trophy winners the Vancouver Canucks. It seemed as though there was no challenge for the Kings as they were able to get past the Canucks in 5 games. Then they moved on to the next round where they took on the #2 team in the West the St. Louis Blues. This series seemed too easy for them as they swept the Blues and made it past them for a chance at the conference title. They would take on another surprising team in the Phoenix Coyotes. The Kings again made it look easy as they went 5 games with the Coyotes for their first berth in the Stanley Cup Finals since 1993.

The Kings have been the hottest team in the NHL throughout the playoffs and have found their scoring touch. Not much has been able to stop them unless they fall apart which has happened on only a few occasions. Their offence is the focus as they have three solid lines that can all score goals. They are led by their captain Dustin Brown who has had an amazing playoffs that many are saying could earn him the Conn Smythe Trophy. Along with Brown the Kings have a host of other players that have provided offensive support including Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Justin Williams, Dustin Penner, and Drew Doughty. All of these players have over ten points through the playoffs and are a part of the surge of offence by the Kings through the end of the season and throughout the playoffs. Their defence has also been solid but Jonathan Quick has been the anchor of the team. Quick has led all goalies in the playoffs as he has been the rock of the Kings. He has the ability to win a game by himself but will hope that he doesn’t have to do that with such a potent offence in front of him. The Kings will look to continue their roll through the playoffs and win their first ever Stanley Cup but to do so they will need to answer the biggest question of their season. That is whether or not they can continue their unlikely run through the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup. They will need the same performances out of Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick if they hope to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.

 

Prediction:

Los Angeles Kings 4 – 2 New Jersey Devils

– History has shown in any league that you always go with the hot hand and that is clearly the L.A. Kings who have rolled over everyone on their way to the finals and their offensive power will be too much for the Devils to handle although they will put up a good fight.

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