Are the suits at NBC upset that the New Jersey Devils knocked out the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals and prevented a Stanley Cup Finals between the L.A. Kings and Rangers in the two biggest media markets in this country? I guarantee you they are.
But pure hockey enthusiasts should be thrilled with this matchup because it’s the two highest-scoring teams in this year’s playoffs not from the state of Pennsylvania (and the Pens’ and Flyers’ scoring totals were inflated by that crazy first-round series).
It’s also possibly the final time NHL fans will get to see future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur, although the 40-year-old sounds like he wants to play one more year. Brodeur is going for his fourth Stanley Cup, while the Kings are going for their first. The only time they reached the finals was in 1993 when they were led by some guy named Gretzky and a coach by the name of Barry Melrose. L.A. went down in five games that year to Montreal, which was the last Canadian (and Canadien, I suppose) team to bring the Cup back north of the border.
The Western Conference No. 8 seeded Kings and East No. 6 seeded Devils open in New Jersey on Wednesday night.
Kings at Devils Betting Story Lines
It’s pretty surprising that both teams have gotten here, especially Los Angeles. The Kings canned Coach Terry Murray in mid-December and replaced him with Darryl Sutter. That move, and the big trade for Jeff Carter from Columbus at the deadline, made all the difference, even though L.A. still finished second-to-last in scoring during the regular season at 2.3 goals per game.
But behind goalie Jonathan Quick, the 11/10 Conn Smythe favorite at Bovada, the Kings were No. 2 in goals-against this season and have been practically invincible in the playoffs. They finished off the Coyotes 4-3 in overtime last Tuesday to improve to 12-2 in the postseason. The Kings beat No. 1 Vancouver, the Presidents' Trophy winner, No. 2 St. Louis and rounded it out with a five-game win over the No. 3 Coyotes in the conference finals to become the second No. 8 seed—along with Edmonton in 2006—to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.
L.A. has won an NHL-record eight straight road playoff games this year and became the first team to go undefeated on the road en route to the Stanley Cup Finals. Actually, the Kings have won a record 10 straight road playoff games over two seasons.
While the Kings have yet to trail in a series, New Jersey has trailed in each round. The Devils rallied from a 3-2 hole to eliminate Florida in Round 1, a 1-0 series deficit to dump Philadelphia in five games in the semifinals and then a 2-1 series hole before winning the final three games against the Rangers.
New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk currently leads all playoff scorers with 18 points. Brodeur, who will play in his 200th playoff game Wednesday, ranks only fifth among all goalies who played at least 14 games in this postseason with a 2.04 GAA. Quick is No. 1 at 1.54 and also tops in save percentage.
It is possible a player on each side could return in the finals from a long injury absence. Kings winger Simon Gagne, a two-time All-Star in his first season with L.A., sustained his third concussion in nearly five years on Dec. 26 against the Phoenix Coyotes and hasn’t played since. He has been cleared to return, however. Before the concussion, Gagne had seven goals and 10 assists in 34 games. It’s not clear if Sutter will use him.
For the Devils, defenseman Henrik Tallinder has been out since a blood clot in his lower left leg was discovered in January, but he also has been cleared to play. Don’t look for him in Game 1 because he no doubt will be rusty. With Tallinder cleared to play, the Devils have their full roster available to them health-wise for the first time this season. They began training camp with center Travis Zajac already out with a torn left Achilles tendon and had at least one player on injured reserve the entire season.
The NHL regular season is even less important than the NBA’s, but these clubs did meet twice. On Oct. 13 in Newark, the Devils won 2-1 in a shootout. Brodeur left that game after the first period because of a tweaked right shoulder, so Johan Hedberg got the win. Gagne got his first goal as a King in that game. The teams played again 12 days later in L.A., with New Jersey winning, 3-0. Neither Brodeur nor Quick played in that game.
The Devils’ power play has been way better than the Kings’ in these playoffs, 18.2 percent to 8.1 percent. New Jersey set a record in the regular season by killing off 89.6 percent of the opponent’s power plays. Yet in these playoffs, the Kings are vastly superior on the penalty kill, as they sit second with a 91.2 percent success rate with the Devils 13th at 74.2 percent. Four of the past five Stanley Cup champions ranked in the Top 5 of the 16 playoff teams in penalty killing—last year’s Bruins were No. 6.
Kings at Devils Betting Odds and Key Trends
For the series, the Kings are -170 with New Jersey at +150. Los Angeles opened as a -120 favorite with the total at 4.5 goals in Game 1. The Devils are 6-2 at home during playoffs, with ‘over/under’ at 3-2-3. Kings are 8-0 on road with a 5-3 O/U.
The Kings are 7-1 in their past eight playoff games as a favorite. The Kings are 5-0 in their past five games on at least three days’ of rest. The Devils are 5-1 in their past six games as an underdog. They are 4-1 in their past five games as a home dog. The over is 4-0-1 in the Devils’ past five as a home dog. The under is 4-0-1 in the past five meetings between these teams.
NHL Picks: Kings at Devils Betting Predictions
I think the winner of Game 1 takes this series—and I think the Kings will be rusty after having eight days off between games compared to New Jersey’s five. Plus, if the Devils can end L.A.’s road winning streak, that would have to be a pretty big hit to the Kings’ psyche. And, obviously, the Devils have many more players with playoff/finals experience. So New Jersey is the pick in Game 1, 3-2, and the series, in seven games.