The first round of the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs has provided us with some memorable moments and monumental upsets. With parity in the NHL at a level where an upset isn't really that surprising, a couple of lower seeds have made their case for Cup contenders.
Overall number one seed Vancouver fell to eighth seeded Los Angeles in a remarkably brief 4-1 series. The Canucks entered the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the NHL. Winning eight of nine to close the season was made irrelevant by the Kings. Los Angeles found their scoring touch to eliminate last years' Cup finalist in five games.
Consensus media favorite Pittsburgh also saw their Cup dreams come to a screeching halt at the hands of cross-state rival Philadelphia. The Flyers raced out to a 3-0 series lead before finishing the Penguins in in six games.
Both the Flyers and Kings series wins featured emerging stars and Conn Smythe candidates. Jonathan Quick stopped 164 of 172 shots against the high scoring Canucks, winning all three games in Vancouver. Claude Giroux showed the rest of the NHL why he is the man in Philadelphia, overshadowing and outscoring the duo of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
While the all-Pennsylvania series featured an absolute absence of defense until the final two games, the Kings-Canucks series highlighted just that. The Kings were struggling on offense all year, before finding some timely goal scoring from captain Dustin Brown.
There is a strong and odd connection between the Kings and Flyers that would make a Stanley Cup showdown particularly memorable. Each team has considerable obstacles to overcome in the next couple of weeks.
Here are eight reasons to root for a Stanley Cup Final featuring these two teams.
Hey do you recognize this fresh faced young go-getter with the smart looking Flyers' turtleneck? If you said current Los Angeles Kings Vice President/Assistant General Manager Ron Hextall, you would be correct!
The temperamental Flyers net minder who patrolled the crease and randomly attacked opponents, traded in his crazy for a front office job in Los Angeles. It's hard to imagine how someone with Hextall's wiring can exist in LA. His intensity and commitment were never in question, but it was always perceived that Hextall had a screw or two loose.
Also on the Los Angeles payroll is a fellow by the name of John Stevens. Flyers fans remember Stevens as their head coach from 2006-2009. He is credited with helping the Flyers improve their record by 39 points in 2007-08 and building the team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010. Unfortunately, Stevens was relieved of his duties in 2009 after a slow start and got to watch the team he helped build get to the Finals. Think John Stevens remembers this? I'm guessing he's thought about it once or twice.
I'll refrain from posting the quotes from Ilya Bryzgalov's archives and only note that he has been firing off a few more gems after each playoff game. The second round of the playoffs are unfamiliar territory for Bryz and we can only hope that as the pressure mounts, he starts talking.
The first round was hardly a showcase of his goaltending talents, but it did offer up several appetizers from the sturdy Russian quote machine. The eccentric Flyers backstop has finally seemed to have won over the Broad St. faithful with some electric play down the stretch, including the Game 6 clincher.
If Bryz can get the Flyers to the Stanley Cup Finals, the spotlight gets brighter, the amount of coverage multiplies and he'll most likely get chatty. Fingers crossed!
Philadelphia and Los Angeles couldn't possibly sit farther apart on the ideology spectrum of cities. Philadelphia is personified by blue-collar, hard working folks where the fans hold their teams accountable to a fault. Los Angeles is flash and glam, style and rarely substance. Their fans typically show up late for sporting events, if they even show up at all.
If the Kings happen to make it to the Stanley Cup Finals, the bandwagon will require additional support beams from all of the A-listers who want to get seen at the games. Chances are those Kings "fans" won't be making the trip across the continent to the Wells Fargo Arena to support the Kings.
Philly sports fans, specifically Flyers' fans are some of the most aggressive and boisterous in the league. They love their team win or lose and will let everyone know about it.
Jonathan Quick is the best goalie you've probably never heard of. Phoenix's Mike Smith could probably make a great case for it after carrying Phoenix past Chicago in round one. He'll be put to the test in round two as Quick's Kings face Brian Elliott and the Blues. Playing every game with the mind set that the first goal wins has kept Quick sharp all year.
The Kings certainly have the skill and talent to score more goals, but the main reason they are even in the playoffs is because of Quick. The main reason they aren't getting ready for Game 6 tonight is because of Quick. While he is mortal, and hasn't been past the first round of the playoffs, the rest of the Western Conference field is also competing for their first Stanley Cup.
Conventional wisdom would make the Blues and their high seed, the favorites to represent the West. Don't expect Jonathan Quick and the Kings to blink when they take the ice in St. Louis. They already have the top seeds' scalp in their pockets, and will be playing without the burden of expectations. If the Kings can get more than one goal per game for the rest of the playoffs, we may see them in the Stanley Cup Finals.
That cowboy you see pictured above is the active leading scorer in the NHL playoffs. He's also in the final stages of a Hall of Fame career that has seen him lift the Stanley Cup twice already. While he has limited his mustache growth to "Movember", Jagr's gray beard will be looked to for valuable playoff experience.
Playing the role of "cagey veteran" seemed to be a good fit for Jagr as he flourished on Giroux's wing opposite Scottie Hartnell. While he is far from the 100+ point scorer he used to be, Jagr has been a great mentor to young Giroux and still has the skills to change a game.
To suggest that Mike Richards and Jeff Carter enjoyed their time in Philadelphia is an understatement. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren made the decision last summer to cut ties with their captain(Richards) and sniper(Carter). Richards was traded to Los Angeles for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and a draft pick.
At the time it looked like LA was getting the best of the deal. The emergence of Simmonds as a legitimate power forward (28 goals, 21 assists) and young Schenn getting full NHL time made Holmgren look like a genius. He was able to dump a terrible contract with Richards; nine years at $5.75 million annually.
The same day Richards was traded, his wingman (in more ways than one) Carter was dealt to Columbus for Jakub Voracek and a draft pick. Again on the surface it appeared that Columbus was getting the better deal, except for the bad contract. However, Carter, suffered through a series of injuries and a miserable 39 games in Ohio, and was shipped off to Los Angeles for defenseman Jack Johnson.
Carter who had averaged more than 30 goals over his last four years in Philadelphia, was expected to spark the sluggish LA offense and his former buddy Richards. Each have had their moments since the reunion, but have hardly been the offensive threats they were perceived to be when they were traded out of Philly. A Finals showdown with Philadelphia would bring the pair back to their old playground and give some more sweet photo ops like the one above.
The three amigos pictured here are the primary players received during the Flyers house cleaning day last June 24. Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek surpassed Carter and Richards statistically at a fraction of the price.
By dumping two high profile players and their long term, expensive contracts, GM Holmgren was rolling the dice on these three to pick up some of the slack. Not only did they exceed offensive expectations, they blended well on a team with much better chemistry. Each player knows, accepts and excels with their role on the Flyers.
As former employees of the Los Angeles Kings, both Simmonds and Schenn would probably love the chance to stick it to their former employer.
Claude Giroux has always been on the map for the casual hockey fan. He was the supposed to be the only skill guy left after the Flyers traded Carter and Richards and their "humongous big" contracts out of town. He was kind of a question mark for the Flyers because nobody knew how he would perform when he was expected to carry the bulk of the offense.
Boom! NHL, meet Claude Giroux. Leading and/or contending for the NHL's scoring crown all year, Giroux has turned it up a notch in the playoffs. His dominance of the league's preeminent superstars is building a legend for Giroux that could be at a fever pitch if the Flyers can reach the finals. Adding to his arsenal of offensive skills is a huge heart that was on display during Game 6 against the Penguins.
With a perfect compliment of skill and grit on his line, Giroux has showcased his talents, and is the early Conn Smythe favorite.