With the final four teams nearly set for the 2012 NHL playoffs, it's a great time to make some predictions on which club will win the Stanley Cup.
Two southwestern teams will play in the Western Conference finals, while the Eastern Conference will stay in the northeast.
The Kings will slip by the Coyotes and the Devils will overcome the Rangers to set up the Stanley Cup finals. Then Los Angeles will outshoot New Jersey to win the cup.
Kings over Coyotes in Seven
Two red hot teams are going to flirt with burning out in a long, seven-game finals series.
It'll be the first time a series goes beyond six games in the West this postseason.
The Kings are hot for several reasons, including being infused with the trade deadline addition of Jeff Carter.
The forward played with Mike Richards on a Philadelphia Flyers team that made it to the 2010 Stanley Cup finals. That experience has been essential to the Kings going 8-1 in the playoffs against the conference's two top teams.
More reasons the Kings have sparkled these playoffs are bruising captain Dustin Brown (playoff-best plus/minus of plus-nine) and Vezina Trophy finalist Jonathan Quick (leading the Kings to playoff-best 1.56 goals against average).
Quick faces a fellow competitor in Mike Smith of Phoenix. The two are the best goalies in these playoffs who have played more than three games.
Phoenix's problem comes on offense, since the Coyotes cooled down in the past three games by scoring just three goals total.
The teams will push each other to the brink, but the Kings will be crowned conference champs at the end.
Devils over Rangers in Six
The two split the regular season series, which indicates a tough series. But the Devils have the momentum and rest to take down the neighboring Rangers.
After a rigorous seven-game rumble with the Florida Panthers, New Jersey struggled in a Game 1 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Then the Devils scored nearly four goals a game in four straight wins, which allowed the team to rest.
Meanwhile, the Rangers deal with a pesky Washington Capitals team extending that series.
New York was the top seed in the Eastern Conference coming in to the playoffs, leaving New Jersey in it's shadow despite just three fewer losses during the season.
Devils center Ilya Kovalchuk told ESPN's Scott Burnside that, "You know, nobody give us a lot of credit, but we want to be the underdogs, it’s nice."
Kovalchuk joins captain Zach Parise and center Travis Zajac in leading the charge for New Jersey.
The team also relies on veteran goalie Martin Brodeur, who minded the net the last time the Devils made it to this stage in 2003. That year New Jersey defeated the Kings' fellow Southern California team Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, a result they won't be able to repeat.
Kings over Devils in Six
You have to think the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will be happy to see the Kings take out the Devils for the Stanley Cup.
Though New Jersey downed Los Angeles twice during the season, this Kings team is dramatically different than the one that played the Devils in October.
The acquisition of Jeff Carter and the exceptional chemistry of late for Los Angeles gives them the edge over a similarly hot New Jersey.
After coming in late in the season, Darryl Sutter has switched lines around to create some more offense.
Thus, the goalies will be crucial in this series.
While Brodeur has the experience to outplay Quick, the former's age makes him less spry than the Vezina Trophy finalist.
Quick will perform off the charts, and though he may not win the Vezina, he'll be in the running for the Conn Smythe as the Los Angeles Kings win the Stanley Cup.
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