1) So we're down to the Final 2. Not the 2 any writer/blogger we read in the fall had competing for Lord Stanley's Cup. Certainly not the top 2 teams in the NHL in the regular season (or even close to it. We have a 6th -vs- and 8th seed! Albeit the Devils did eclipse the 100 point plateau, and for intents and purposes the Kings were preseason Cup contenders. Its just the combination of the underachieving in the Kings case and the fact that the Devils play in such a stacked division and are easily over looked (in addition to having a minuscule fan base) that this series doesn't have the luster of perhaps a Black Hawks-vs- Penguins or Rangers- vs- RedWings.
2) All that said there is little doubt that both teams deserve to be where they are. The Kings especially earned the right to be in the Finals having dispatched the #1, 2 and 3 seeds in consecutive series (rather easily). This is NOT a typical 8th seed, nor should the term 'Cinderella' be used in their case. They have had the pieces all year to do this, but never congealed or played nearly to their potential until the coaching change. In the Devils case we believe, as we stated in our post this past weekend, that their rise has as much to do with how well they played as to the fortunate matchups they have received. We have long opined that the key to winning in the spring is not only playing well, but "the match up". Had the Penguins or Flyers played the Panthers in the 1st round instead of eachother we bet one of the Pennsylvania teams would be in the Finals. As it turned out the Devils got that match up, then played the beat up Flyers and Rangers in their next 2 rounds to advance.
3) Team by team comparison:
- Forwards: Ironic that the two teams that vied for the services of Ilya Kovalchuk are now playing eachother. Los Angeles has two lines capable of scoring at any moment (Dustin Penner-Richards-Carter and Brown-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams), good size and depth through the rest of the lineup. NJ counters with Alexei Ponikarovsky-Adam Henrique-Ilya Kovalchuk; Zach Parise-Travis Zajac-Dainius Zubrus as their top 2 lines.What defensive pairing for the Devils will be able to handle Brown and Kopitar? It probably won't be Zidlicky. The Kings forwards will be helped more by their defence joining the rush than the Devils. Advantage Kings
- Defense: L.A. has the higher-end skill. Doughty, Voynov, Martinez, they'll join the rush and even get in on the forecheck. The Devils are going to see a much different style from the defence than they've seen so far. There will be a lot of four-man rushes because that's typical of the Western Conference. Those guys won't just be joining the rush, they can actually be a threat. Zidlicky was a good pickup for the Devils and he will help against the L.A. forecheck. He moves the puck and he's quick enough to get back there and beat the forecheck. He's a right-hand shot who can set up Kovalchuk. Advantage LA
- Goaltending: The Devils shouldn't have a hard time adjusting to Quick as he and Lundqvist are stylistically identical. Marty has his own unique style and flops around a bit much. The Kings will make life tough for him with all their potent offence up front. They are going to get more traffic in front of him than New York did. Some are writing that Brodeur's experience and knowing how to handle situations give him an edge. We're not so sure, and Quick has hardly been a shrinking violet in helping propel his team this far. Advantage: Even.
- Coaching: Some over play this facet of a series but the first couple of games in the series are huge. You have to make quick adjustments, because if you lose a couple of periods all of a sudden you've lost a game. Darryl Sutter has been here and has the advantage of a longer tenure in the NHL, while Coch Rosacia (DeBoer), who we have liked since his Fla days, has stood up to more experienced (Cup winning) coaches thus far in Tortorella and Laviolette, so we believe this won't play much of a role. Advantage: Even
- Special teams: Seems this is always the lynch pin to who ultimately wins. Thus far the Kings have had a dreadful PP and great PK, while the Devils PP has been pretty good but their PK has been atrocious. It all comes down to execution: Both teams will know what the other team's go-to play will be on the power play and they will try to take it away.Advantage: Even