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Which 2014 Stanley Cup Final Opponent Is Better for the Rangers: Chicago or LA?

Dave LozoNHL National Lead WriterDecember 21, 2016

Which 2014 Stanley Cup Final Opponent Is Better for the Rangers: Chicago or LA?

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    The New York Rangers punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup final on Thursday and are still waiting to see whom they will play in Game 1 on Wednesday—the Chicago Blackhawks or Los Angeles Kings.

    The Western Conference Final concludes Sunday night at the United Center with the Blackhawks and Kings playing Game 7 of what has been a fantastic series. The winner will host the Rangers in Game 1 of the final.

    The question for the Rangers at this juncture: Whom are they better off playing in the final? Which matchups benefit the Rangers more? Forwards? Defense? Special teams?

    This slideshow will break down the Blackhawks and Kings in those areas and more.

Forward Depth

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Blackhawks

    Anytime you're icing Brandon Bollig when facing elimination, your depth isn't as good as it could be. Kris Versteeg has fallen so far out of favor that coach Joel Quenneville made him a healthy scratch for Game 6 and dressed a seventh defenseman.

    By definition, a team that feels more comfortable with 11 forwards isn't as deep as the team that goes with 12.

    They have Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, three forwards who bring more to the table than the best Rangers forward, whoever you feel that may be. What the Blackhawks lack in depth, they have in top-end talent.

     

    Kings

    Much like the Rangers, the Kings roll four lines and have a balanced attack. What sets the Kings apart in this area is their size—they have one player shorter than 6'0" (Mike Richards, 5'11") and one player who weighs less than 190 pounds (Justin Williams, 189).

    The Kings' four centers are Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll. That's as formidable as it gets.

     

    Verdict

    Despite the all-world talent of Kane, Toews and Hossa, the Rangers are much better off matching lines with the Blackhawks. The Rangers' Carl Hagelin, Mats Zuccarello and Martin St. Louis are all smaller than the tiniest Kings forward. Size doesn't always matter, but the Kings would very likely wear down the Rangers over the course of the series.

Twitter Accounts

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    @NHLBlackhawks

    It's a very meat-and-potatoes account. You want in-game updates, postgame quotes, the basics, it gives it to you. The accounts appears to be OK with using the word "celly" and bad puns involving one of the team's defenseman, so perhaps injury updates and scoring plays is what it should stick to.

     

    @LAKings

    It's one of the the most popular NHL Twitter accounts, boasting around 371,000 followers. It delivers zingers, jokes and all that other information you'd want from a team account. Whether it's about Ryan Kesler diving or sticking it to the Canucks after winning a series or mocking a rookie goaltender who is getting too much attention, it brings the jokes.

     

    Verdict

    This one is easy. The Rangers (@NYRangers) would get blown away by the Kings, so the best they could hope for is to play the Blackhawks even in the social-media game and maybe steal the series with a well-timed tweet in Game 7.

Defensemen Depth

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    Bill Smith/Getty Images

    Blackhawks

    Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Nick Leddy and Johnny Oduya are all capable of creating offense from the blue line, as each has a goal in the Western final. Niklas Hjalmarsson and Michal Rozsival round out the top six, with Hjalmarsson capable of playing difficult minutes against top forwards.

    Kings coach Darryl Sutter had this to say about those six defensemen during media availability in Chicago on Saturday: "If you’ve got them six hooked onto a wagon, they’re going to pull the wagon all the way to Peoria from here.”

     

    Kings

    Drew Doughty has an excellent shot at the Conn Smythe Trophy, assuming the Kings advance to the final. Jake Muzzin has five goals, Alec Martinez has three and Slava Voynov has two.

    Willie Mitchell is the steady, stay-at-home, physical defenseman. Matt Greene has served mostly as the sixth defenseman with Robyn Regehr out of the lineup.

     

    Verdict

    It's close, but the Kings defensemen are slightly more vulnerable than what the Blackhawks have. The Rangers would have an easier time (relatively speaking) exploiting the slow-footed Greene and Mitchell than the group of gifted skaters the Blackhawks possess.

In-Arena Entertainment

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    Blackhawks

    Every arena has something that happens during whistles and television timeouts that makes you wish you were anywhere else in the world for that period of time.

    In Chicago, that event is a man doing some sort of choreographed dance to "Shipping Up To Boston," a song about Boston written by guys from Boston. This song plays in Chicago, and a gentleman dances to it. This happens every game.

     

    Kings

    The only explanation must be ownership hates their fans, and that's why they use South Park's Eric Cartman screaming "Go Kings Go" on the scoreboard every single game. Look at this thing. Who thought it was a good idea?

    If you're watching a game at home, that sound penetrates your ear drums and could result in convulsions. Of all the great things that Matt Stone and Trey Parker have done in this world, this is not one of them.

     

    Verdict

    The Rangers have to avoid the Kings at all costs here. Two, three or four games of Cartman shilling for the Kings is too much to ask any team to handle. The Rangers have their own dancing guy, so he should be allowed to go toe-to-toe with the Blackhawks' dancing guy.

Goaltending

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Blackhawks

    Corey Crawford has been decidedly not good in the West final. He has a 3.34 goals-against average and .884 save percentage through six games. For the entirety of the postseason, Crawford has .916 save percentage, which is right around the league average.

     

    Kings

    Jonathan Quick has been decidedly not good in the West final. He has a 3.02 goals-against average and .886 save percentage through six games. For the entirety of the postseason, Quick has a .906 save percentage, which is well below the league average.

     

    Verdict

    This is quite the close call, but the Rangers are better off facing Crawford in the final than Quick. Henrik Lundqvist gives the Rangers the huge edge in this area no matter which West team advances, but Quick has a far more impressive body of work in the postseason and in big games than Crawford.

National Anthems

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    Blackhawks

    Jim Cornelison sings the national anthem at United Center. People scream during the entire song. If you enjoy being at an arena and screaming for about 90 seconds, this is your thing. If you enjoy listening to a man sing the anthem, stay home and watch it on TV because otherwise you can't hear Cornelison.

    The rules of conduct during something as allegedly sacred as a national anthem are strange. If you wear a hat, you're a bad person. If you just scream the entire time, you're honoring your country. 

     

    Kings

    There's no allegedly great rendition that leads to every person at Staples Center tweeting about it, but it's usually Pia Toscano doing the singing. Slash has played the anthem on his electric guitar in this postseason as well.

    But like most normal people, the fans listen and cheer at the end. It's quite the novel approach.

     

    Verdict

    Fans at Madison Square Garden try to belt out "Let's go Rangers!" during a lull in John Amirante's performance, but it's usually a muddled mess that you can't distinguish.

    In my expert opinion, Amirante needs to square off with Toscano in a classic matchup of singers who aren't drowned out by 20,000 people.

Special Teams

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Blackhawks

    They are at a very respectable 19.2 percent on the power play in the playoffs while the penalty kill has been good as well, killing off power plays 84.1 percent of the time. 

    In the Western final, the power play is 4-of-19 (21 percent), but the penalty kill has been letting them down. The Kings have six power-play goals in six games.

     

    Kings

    They are 17-of-65 in the postseason (26.2 percent), which is leaps and bounds ahead of where they were when winning the Cup in 2012. Two years ago, the Kings converted on 12.8 percent of their man-advantage opportunities. 

    The penalty kill has not been great, killing off 82.7 percent of penalties. 

     

    Verdict

    The Rangers have the best penalty kill (85.9 percent) of the three teams. The power play has come a long way since an 0-of-36 stretch during the first and second rounds, but it still sits at 13.6 percent.

    With the way the Kings' power play has been clicking, the Blackhawks provide a slightly better matchup for the Rangers.

Celebrity Fans

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Blackhawks

    A few celebrities who have been seen at United Center include John Cusack, Vince Vaughn and Jim Belushi. That last one hurts. 

     

    Kings

    They have Wil Wheaton, Eric Stonestreet, Tom Cruise, Will Ferrell, David Beckham and Larry David. That's pretty, pretty, pretty good.

     

    Verdict

    The Kings rule this category, even with the Rangers having the likes of Sting, Robert De Niro, Liam Neeson and Emmy Rossum seeing their fair share of games at Madison Square Garden.

    The Rangers celebrities would manhandle the Blackhawks celebrities in four games, but the Kings would tear through the Rangers in that regard.

Energy Levels

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    Noah Graham/Getty Images

    Blackhawks

    They needed six games to beat the St. Louis Blues, six more to take care of the Minnesota Wild and will need seven to get past the Kings. That's 19 games for a team that won the Stanley Cup in late June last year, making them the most overworked team of the past 12 months.

    There have been times against the Kings when the Blackhawks have looked spent, but they have summoned the energy to win Games 5 and 6. 

     

    Kings

    No team has played more games (270) over the past three seasons than the Kings, who have gone to a seventh game in each of the first three rounds. No team needing seven games to win the first two rounds has won the Cup, so the Kings are really pushing it right now.

     

    Verdict

    The Blackhawks have been slightly busier the past year. Despite the Kings' workload, they don't look like they are wearing down.

    With the way the Blackhawks have looked at times in this series, coupled with the fact they'll only have two days' rest for the final, the Rangers should prefer the weary-legged Blackhawks.

Final Verdict

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    Scott Levy/Getty Images

    The Rangers will have a hard time winning four of seven in the final no matter who wins the West on Sunday night, but they would much rather face the Blackhawks than the Kings. Forward depth, special teams and an extreme lack of big-name celebrities plays right into the Rangers' hands.

    If the Kings win Game 7, that's at least two more games of Eric Cartman on the Staples Center scoreboard. No one, and I mean no one, should be subjected to any more of that this season.

     

    All statistics via NHL.com.

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