Game one of the Stanley Cup finals begin tonight at 8pm EST on NBC with the eighth seeded Western Conference Champion Los Angeles Kings taking on the sixth seeded Eastern Conference Champion New Jersey Devils. The Kings got to the finals by becoming hot at the right time, defeating the President’s Trophy winner Vancouver Canucks in 5 games, swept the St. Louis Blues, and beating the Phoenix Coyotes in 5 games in the Western Conference Finals. The Devils had a bit more of a difficult path to the finals, being victorious over the Florida Panthers in 7 games, beating the Philadelphia Flyers in 5 games and finally eliminating their biggest rivals in the New York Rangers in 6 games to win the Eastern Conference Championship.
Both Los Angeles and New Jersey have offensive snipers and it shows. The Kings have averaged 2.93 goals/game during the playoffs, which is good for third out of playoff teams. The Devils are not far behind with 2.83 goals/game, ranking fourth in the playoffs. Ilya Kovalchuk will need to continue his torrid pace in the playoffs to add to his 18 points that he has already accumulated in order for the Devils to win the Cup. For the Kings, captain Dustin Brown leads his team with 16 points (7G, 9A) in 14 games, which includes 3 game winning goals. These two teams are so close with their offensive capabilities that it’s difficult to pick, but if Kovalchuk continues to go on a tear throughout the playoffs, he can add a huge spark to his line as well as his team. He had 6 points in the Rangers series, but only 2 goals. I think he’ll increase that number against the Kings. Advantage: Devils
Mostly due to Jonathan Quick’s goaltending (which we’ll talk about later), the Kings top all playoff teams in goals against per game with just 1.77 goals. The Devils are listed as eighth with 2.33 goals against. Three out of the top four players in +/- for the playoffs are Kings players in Dustin Brown (+13), Anze Kopitar (+13) and Drew Doughty (+10). Granted the other player is Bryce Salvador (+10), but the Devils also have quite a few players on the wrong end of that number, including Patrick Elias at a -5 and Ilya Kovalchuk is a -4. Is +/- a completely fair stat? Well, no, not really, but it does give a good overall picture of a team’s defensive performance, and this picture is clear. Advantage: Kings
Let’s get this one out of the way. The Kings power play has been awful this postseason. So has the Devils penalty kill. Power play numbers for the Kings make the Canes power play look good. Los Angeles’ power play for the playoffs is 8.1%, which ranks as 15th out of 16 playoff teams. The only team that had a worse power play was the Chicago Blackhawks at 5.3%. Ouch. New Jersey’s power play, on the other hand, ranks as fourth among playoff teams at 18.2%. Still not great, but in a seven game series, a power play goal here and there could prove the difference in the series. The problem with New Jersey’s power play is that they’ll have to go against the Kings’ penalty kill. Ranked as second among playoff teams at 91.2%, the Kings PK balances out their atrocious power play. New Jersey’s kill has had their issues with only a 74.2% success rate, ranking for 13th among playoff teams. Whichever team wins the special teams battle this series will most likely win the Stanley Cup. I like the Kings penalty kill and despite their awful power play, a huge penalty kill can change the tide of a period or even a game. Advantage: Kings
Aside from special teams, goaltending will be the star of the series. Veteran Martin Brodeur is looking for his fourth Stanley Cup Championship ring and many assume that if he wins his fourth, he’ll retire after this year. There’s no doubt that he’ll do all he can to go out on top. He has improved his game gradually throughout the playoffs and has a 2.04GAA and .923 save percentage throughout the postseason. Brodeur also has four assists. On the other side, Jonathan Quick has been stellar this postseason with a 1.54GAA and a .946 save percentage. More importantly, he has only lost twice in fourteen games and has 2 shutouts in that span. It’s the typical veteran/youngster match-up, and in the Stanley Cup finals, you always have to pick the guy who has been there before and I am, but barely. Advantage: Devils
Both coaches have done a phenomenal job of bringing their teams to the cup finals when no one thought either of them would be here at the beginning of April. Darryl Sutter, who was hired by the Kings in December, finished out the regular season with a 25-13-11 record and currently have a 12-2 record in the playoffs. He has done a good job of keeping the lines consistent throughout the playoffs, which creates chemistry between line mates and teammates. Peter DeBoer has been with the Devils since the beginning of the year, but has not coached in the post season in the NHL until this year. Sutter, on the other hand, has a long list of coaching in the playoffs with several teams, including the Blackhawks, Sharks, Flames and now Kings. Considering the Kings were the eighth seed in the west, barely able to make it into the playoffs and now are Stanley Cup contenders, this is a relatively easy one. Advantage: Kings
No matter which team wins, they will be the lowest seed to ever win the Stanley Cup. The previous lowest team was the 1999 Devils, who were a fifth seed. During that playoff season, the Devils beat the Bruins and Penguins (each in 5 games), defeated their rivals the Flyers in 6 games and eventually swept the Detroit Red Wings to win the Stanley Cup. The Kings have not won a cup in their 44 years of existence in the NHL, and have been to the conference finals just one other time in the 1992-93 season, where they were defeated by the Montreal Canadiens in five games.
Now, for our Cardiac Cane Playoff Pick ‘Em for the finals. As a recap, I’m currently leading by one point over Jennifer so whoever wins the pick and number of games will win the bragging rights:
(6) New Jersey Devils vs (8) Los Angeles Kings
KP Kelly – Kings in 6
Jennifer – Kings in 6
Dan – Kings in 5
Enjoy the finals, everyone! There’s less than a month until the draft and less than four months until the first Canes preseason game. Counting down the days! Make sure to check us out on Facebook at CardiacCane. Also, be sure to follow Cardiac Cane writers on Twitter at: @CardiacCaneFS, @caniaccaz and @caniac176