2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: 5 Players Who Need a Big Final Series
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The Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils playing in the Stanley Cup Final was about as unpredictable as the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
Nobody saw these two teams playing for hockey's most prestigious trophy, just like nobody saw The Beatles going from their traditional softer roots to their psychedelic transition in 1967.
The No. 6-seeded Devils took care of the Florida Panthers, Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers en route to the Stanley Cup Final while the Kings took care of the top three seeds in the Western Conference, needing only 14 games to do so.
Both teams have key players capable of changing a series with one flick of the wrist or one forearm to the chest.
The matchup between the Kings and Devils will feature a very fun battle between the pipes as Martin Brodeur will go against Jonathan Quick.
One of the game's best against one of the up-and-coming goalies in the NHL.
It's a true David vs. David matchup. Which underdog will come out on top?
5. Travis Zajac
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After an Achilles injury cost him four months of the season, Zajac was limited to only 15 games in the regular season.
In the postseason, however, Zajac has been unstoppable.
His seven goals and five assists have been crucial to New Jersey's offense that has been headlined by Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.
Zajac was held to only two points against the Rangers, but netted the winner in Game 4.
If he can play like he did in the opening round against Florida when he had six points in seven games, then Zajac has a chance to make a dent against a Kings team that has shut down every forward that has stood in their way this postseason.
4. Dustin Brown
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It is no secret that Dustin Brown has found a way to agitate his opponents this postseason.
After crucial checks on Daniel Sedin, Andy McDonald and Michal Rozsival, Brown has solidified himself as "the man" on the ice for Los Angeles.
Brown leads the Kings in goals and points this postseason and has been the main target for opposing defensemen.
His grittiness and hard play have been catalysts for the Kings' success in the playoffs. His hit on Rozsival carried over into the postgame handshake, causing arguments in what is meant to be a "congratulatory gesture."
Brown is tied for the team lead in plus/minus with a plus-13 and has done everything the Kings have needed him to do. He's scored goals, defended well and has made the star players from the opposing team obsolete on the ice.
If Brown can continue his dominance in the Stanley Cup Final, he could most likely have a Conn Smythe Trophy as well.
3. Ilya Kovalchuk
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The 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs have finally seen Ilya Kovalchuk become the postseason monster everybody knew he was capable of becoming.
Kovalchuk leads the NHL in postseason scoring with 18 points, including five points in his last three games.
Although he was the No. 1 overall pick by Winnipeg (then Atlanta) over a decade ago, Kovalchuk, up to this point, hasn't really had the opportunity to show the world what he is made of under the most clutch circumstances.
He is definitely taking advantage of it now.
Having said that, Los Angeles has been silencing great forwards all postseason long. Will Kovalchuk become another victim of a stingy Los Angeles defense, or will he step up to the plate in the biggest series of his life?
He is already good. But is he Stanley Cup good?
2. Martin Brodeur
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Martin Brodeur has been the face of the New Jersey Devils for the last 20 years. Shortly after turning 40, the remarkable Brodeur is four wins away from his fourth Stanley Cup.
Simply put: The man has done it all.
One of the best goalies the NHL has ever seen isn't enjoying the playoff success he has enjoyed in the past. It's hard to believe since his GAA in the 2012 playoffs is 2.04.
In 18 games this postseason, Brodeur is seventh in save percentage at .923. He only has one shutout and has let in some soft goals that have had some Devils fans scratching their heads.
Whether he's a seasoned veteran of 40 or a young stud of 25, Brodeur has been the same consistent goaltender throughout his entire career and has led the Devils back to the promised land.
Although Brodeur has seen his fair share of shots this postseason, he will have his hands full when he faces Los Angeles.
Brodeur has only faced more than 30 shots in a game four times out of the 18 games this postseason.
The Kings have put up more than 30 shots in a game seven out of the 14 games they've played. Four times they put more than 40 shots on net and in the Game 5 overtime clincher against Phoenix, Los Angeles shot at Mike Smith 51 times.
This isn't Brodeur's first day on the job, but if he wants to win the Cup for the fourth time in his illustrious career, he is going to have to play shutdown hockey against a relentless Los Angeles attack.
Not to mention his counterpart isn't too shabby either.
1. Jonathan Quick
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All season long, the Kings have rode on the back of Jonathan Quick.
During the regular season, he finished with a GAA of 1.95 and carried an abysmal Los Angeles offense into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
Since the postseason started, the Kings have found their offense and Quick has maintained his dominant play.
Quick leads all postseason goaltenders in save percentage and shutouts and has made phenomenal save after phenomenal save.
With the Kings constantly in the opposing zone, Quick hasn't gotten as much work in the postseason as he did in the regular season, which has made him vulnerable at times.
Phoenix's Ray Whitney sent a slap shot from center ice past Quick during Game 2 of the Western Conference final and one has to wonder if it was because Quick just wasn't ready for it.
Quick has been the focal point of the Kings' success all season long.
The Kings couldn't buy a goal in the regular season and six times they were shut out 1-0. Quick could have easily finished with 40 wins this season if Los Angeles put a few more pucks in the back of the net.
Now all eyes are on Quick and the Kings as they try to prove that there is more to Los Angeles than just the Lakers and the Dodgers.
It all starts with Quick in net.
By the end of the series he could walk away with a Stanley Cup, a Conn Smythe Trophy and a Vezina Trophy. Not too bad of a season.