2014 Stanley Cup Preview

stanley_cupThe NHL is a league of two faces as they operate in two different countries with two very different attitudes towards the game. In Canada the sport borders on religion and the fans consistently want more teams to cheer for. This is where the strength of the league lies with the majority of Canadians teams doing very well including the Toronto Maple Leafs being valued at $1 billion in the latest Forbes study. The problem is that there are only 8 teams in Canada and as well as most of them do there are more failing in the USA. The States is a sports hotbed where a number of the world’s biggest leagues must be successful. That is what the NHL continues to attempt and where they continue to struggle. The NHL has been looking to make an impact in the crowded world of professional sports in the USA for years. They continue to remain the #4 league in the big four of North America and have found it tough to get things going in certain parts of the country. Not every team has struggled in the NHL and many of the teams up North in the USA would see success from the start. With Toronto marking the most valuable team in the NHL it is only natural the largest American market in the NHL would stand as the second largest NHL market. New York is the only city in the NHL that holds two teams, albeit the Islanders are not a successful team. New York has been a hockey town for a long time as one of the Original Six teams in the NHL. As big as the city is there is a large group of hockey fans that have followed their teams for a long time. It seems to be tougher as the NHL moves south with a number of teams in the Southern USA struggling to make ends meet. There are some success stories though as the NHL has seen growth in places that many expected there to be none. One of those places has been California where three teams sit in the state and all three have done well. Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose have all gathered a good following. This could not be better for the NHL as the addition of Los Angeles, the second largest city in the USA, means that the NHL has two of the largest populations watching hockey on either coast. It is a victory in the battle to grow the sport in the USA as the NHL continues to build the sport in America. That will go another step further when both of these cities face off in the biggest series of the year. The NHL will see two coasts face off in what could be the biggest American series in the history of the Stanley Cup. The New York Rangers will go in representing the old school traditional hockey power while the Kings will go into the series representing the new school non-traditional market while both face off in a classic American rivalry between coasts.

 

New York Rangers

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The New York Rangers have had a struggle in the last few years as they have seen a great team fall short time and time again. The result was frustration and a habit of having good regular season performances only to fall short in the playoffs. Many would consider the reason to be the coaching style of John Tortorella that tired out the players so much that by the time the playoffs came around he had nothing left. The relentless defensive game that Tortorella employed rewarded grinders and blocking shots and by the time these grinders got to the playoffs they were tired and bruised. Their style would make them worthless in the playoffs as they would fall just short every time. The Rangers would look to fix that issue in the offseason when they fired Tortorella and hired Alain Vigneault to change the way they played. Vigneault was the exact opposite of Tortorella as he employed a defensive game but allowed the offensive stars some freedom to be creative. The move would prove to be a good one but at the start was nothing new to the team. The Rangers would battle in the new Metropolitan Division as the new system would cause a slow start for them. They would begin to climb back though and by the end of the Olympic Break they were in the playoffs. They would remain there until the end of the season. They were back in the playoffs for another year where the true test of Alain Vigneault would start. Heading into the playoffs the Rangers were never supposed to make it too far in the playoffs as they were a team that didn’t seem to have that extra they would need to win a Cup. After all they would likely have to run through Pittsburgh and Boston to get to the finals with Boston looking like the best bet to win it all. They would show why many thought that as there were few dominant series for the Rangers throughout the playoffs but they would show something that is far more important in the playoffs. The Rangers would show resilience as they would never give up even when nobody though that they could win the series. After two seven game series and one six game series the Rangers would find themselves in the playoffs where nobody expected them to be but they earned every win they got.

The Rangers would get where they are for one very big and simple reason, King Henrik. Henrik Lundqvist has been the difference for the Rangers and everyone knew that he would have to be if the Rangers were to get this far. With a 2.03 GAA and a .928 save percentage Lundqvist has been one of the best goaltenders in the playoffs. The play of Lundqvist is a major reason for the Rangers making it this far and his defence has been able to step up to help him out. The offence is another story though as the Rangers have struggled to put up points against opponents instead relying on their backstop to bail them out. The leading scorer for the Rangers is Martin St. Louis who ranks 16th in the playoffs this year with players that have already been eliminated still ahead of him. The Rangers struggle to get their offence rolling and that means a lot of pressure has been put on the defence and above all on Lundqvist. The biggest question now becomes whether or not King Henrik can stand up to another round with little support on the offensive side. Lundqvist has done plenty for this team so far but there may come a time in this series where the offence will need to take over and so far they have not shown the ability to take over a game. They will look to support from their offence but as they face another defensive team they could very well be looking at another series where Lundqvist will have to be their best player if they hope to win the Cup for the first time since 1994.

 

Los Angeles Kings

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The Los Angeles Kings spent the majority of their time in the NHL as the forgotten team from the west coast. Even when the greatest player ever went to Los Angeles the Kings would not establish themselves as a great franchise. When Gretzky came to town they would reach the peak of their popularity as an NHL franchise but when Gretzky left town there was not a lot of staying power and they fell into obscurity once again. That would all change in 2012 when they made an unbelievable run to the Stanley Cup as they would finish the regular season in 8th place taking the last playoff spot in the west. From that spot they would make a dominant run as the hottest team in the NHL and pushed all the way to their first ever Stanley Cup. Since the championship the Kings have been on top of the hockey world. They continue to grab headlines and three years after their first ever Stanley Cup they have come back to the spotlight. This year the Kings would not be able to put together that long stretch of wins to compete with the top teams in the Pacific division. They were still better than the wild cards though as they were stuck in the middle. It was good enough to get a playoff spot but coming into the playoffs they were not expected to go far as San Jose or Anaheim were considered the strongest teams in the division added to the defending champions the Chicago Blackhawks. The Kings would not have the dominant performance they had in 2012 but they would find a way to win. They would start against the Sharks and would take them out in 7 games after losing the first three games. They would escape elimination only to get the Anaheim Ducks where they would win the first two games only to drop the next three and finally come back to take the series in 7 games. They would move on to the Chicago Blackahwks where once again they would take 7 games and a lot of emotional ups and downs to eliminate the team many considered to be the best left in the playoffs. The Kings are back in the playoffs and are looking to establish themselves as one of the top teams of the decade alongside the Blackhawks by winning their second Stanley Cup in three years.

After 21 games the Kings are the most active team in the playoffs, taking every series right to the wire. That could be their biggest fault in this series as they are clearly the more worked team of the two in the finals. They will look to get over that and use their defence to get their second Stanley Cup. The Kings would come into the playoffs as the best team in the league in goals against average. A lot of that has to do with Jonathan Quick but he has had plenty of help from a very good defensive core. They are a group that has the ability to help their goaltender in their own zone while also being able to push the pace in their opponent’s zone. As good as their defence is they continue to struggle to score goals, a problem that has been with the team since their Stanley Cup championship in 2012. The Kings would rank 26th in the league in goals per game in the regular season as they continued their scoring issues. In the playoffs it seems as though everything has been reversed though as they are the 9th ranked team in goals against average and the 1st place team in goals per game. A lot of that has had to do with the teams they have faced as they have been required to increase their output with great offensive teams. If they can continue this pattern in the playoffs they may be able to push their opponents to the edge and show them an offensive power that they have never seen before in these playoffs. The Kings are a tired bunch but they will be looking for an extra gear to put the pressure on the Rangers and win their second cup.

 

finals team comparison

Prediction:

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New York Rangers 4 – 3 Los Angeles Kings
It will be a tough series as neither team was supposed to be here by this time but both are and they will look at two very different strategies as the defensive minded Rangers will come out on top of the offensive minded Kings as they take full advantage of the Kings playing three very emotional series

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