Three rounds, six weeks, seven Game 7s and we have finally arrived at our final destination—the Stanley Cup Final.
The New York Rangers earned their spot by winning the Eastern Conference Final in six games. The Los Angeles Kings arrived a little later, needing seven games to beat the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final.
The last time the Rangers were in the Stanley Cup Final in 1994, Bill Clinton was the President of the United States and there had only been two Die Hard movies released. The last time the Kings were in the Stanley Cup Final, Breaking Bad was still on the air.
Lundqvist's last 3 playoffs he's got .928, .934, .931. Rangers might not have to be the best team to win the Cup, just get goaltending.— Draglikepull (@draglikepull) June 2, 2014
There is an abundance of story lines involving these teams that will be hammered over your head before and during this series, which gets started with Game 1 on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
Here are some facts, tidbits, numbers, anecdotes and all kinds of information that you will hopefully find fun and informative as you get ready for the Stanley Cup Final.
They're not dead. They're just resting.
By eliminating the Montreal Canadiens in six games, the Rangers earned five days of rest before the start of the Final. For a team that won its first two series in seven games and will face a Kings team that needed seven games to win each of the first three rounds, that has to be an advantage.
Or does it?
Since 2005-06, six teams have had at least five days of rest between the conference finals and the Stanley Cup Final. Only the 2012 Kings, who had a whopping seven days of stagnancy after tearing through the West, and the 2007 Anaheim Ducks (five days) went on to win the Stanley Cup.
In the case of the Ducks, they were facing the Ottawa Senators, who had an eight-day layoff after the East final.
Along with the Senators, the 2011 Canucks (six days), 2008 Penguins (five days) and 2006 Edmonton Oilers (seven days) failed to win with the lengthy break.
It's not necessarily about rest backfiring; the Penguins, Oilers and Senators were all the lower-seeded teams in the Final they lost.
There's a lot to be said about recuperating during a lengthy, brutal playoff run, but there's also something to be said about being away from the game too long and losing the rhythm that got a team to the Final in the first place.
Everyone loves an underdog except fans of the favorite
You don't have to go very far to find literature that expresses the opinion that the Western Conference is superior to the Eastern Conference and that the Rangers have little to no chance of winning this series. It's a hard argument to refute, as one viewing of any game of the Western Conference Final between the Kings and Blackhawks shows the elite level and pace at which those games were played.
All due respect to the Rangers, but the Kings and Blackhawks are the better team. They're also the early betting favorite:
Early Stanley Cup odds: Los Angeles -150 over NY Rangers +130 - via BetOnline— RJ Bell (@RJinVegas) June 2, 2014
But maybe, just maybe, the Rangers aren't that big of an underdog.
The Kings (100) finished with just four more points than the Rangers (96) in the regular season, although the Rangers had the 41-38 edge in regulation/overtime wins.
How have underdogs (decided here solely on whichever team had more points) done in the Cup Final since 2005-06? Not all that bad, actually.
The higher-seeded team in the Final is 5-3 the past eight years, but just 2-3 over the past five years. In those three instances of the lower-seeded team winning, the 2012 Kings (seven), 2011 Bruins (14) and the 2009 Penguins (13) all had larger point discrepancies with the teams they defeated.
One thing those three teams have in common? They were all excellent possession teams. In terms of 5-on-5 shot attempts in those regular seasons, the Kings, Bruins and Penguins ranked third, first and fourth, respectively.
The 2014 Rangers finished fifth in five-on-five score close shot attempts this season. Kings coach Darryl Sutter certainly has respect for the Rangers' talent, as evidenced in these comments passed along by Sporting News NHL writer Sean Gentile:
Sutter on the Rangers: "Great goaltending, great defense, great forwards, great special teams."— Sean Gentille (@seangentille) June 2, 2014
It would be an upset if the Rangers beat the Kings, sure. But perhaps not as big an upset as some would have you believe.
Although, the Kings were the No. 1 team in the regular season in terms of aforementioned five-on-five score close shot stat, so everything you just read may have been a huge waste of your time.
Power plays aren't a big deal, really
Thirteenth, 12th, 14th, fifth and seventh.
Those are the final playoff power-play rankings of the past five Stanley Cup winners. Only the 2009 Penguins and 2010 Blackhawks had power plays that clicked at a better rate than 12.8 percent in the playoffs.
The Rangers (13.6 percent) rank 10th while the Kings rank fifth at 25.4 percent.
That appears to bode very well for the Kings, but the past three seasons have proven that a power play is not required to win a Stanley Cup. What's more important is penalty killing and the ability to score at five-on-five, something at which both of these teams excel.
The Rangers are plus-10 in five-on-five goal scoring in the playoffs with the second-ranked penalty kill (85.9 percent); the Kings are plus-8 with the ninth-ranked penalty kill (81.2 percent).
A below-average power play can be negated by quality five-on-five play and penalty killing, but here's the one caveat about those three teams with dreadful power plays that won the Cup: two of them woke up in a major way during the Final.
The 2011 Bruins (5-for-27, 18.6 percent) and the 2012 Kings (6-for-20, 30 percent) were way above their postseason averages through three rounds. The 2013 Blackhawks, however, were even worse, going 1-for-19 while beating the Bruins in six games.
This is just something to keep in mind in case someone on your TV goes on and on about the importance of scoring on the power play during the Final.
Rangers vs. Kings: The regular-season story
Preemptive response: The regular season means nothing.
That doesn't mean the two games these teams played weren't eventful.
The Rangers were hammered to start the season, winning just two of their first eight games. But one win was on the road at Staples Center, as the Rangers earned their first victory of the season by beating the Kings 3-1.
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh scored one of the weirdest goals of the 2013-14 season, as he shot the puck the length of the ice and had it bank off the blocker of Jonathan Quick and into the net.
The second meeting occurred a month later at Madison Square Garden, as the Kings beat the Rangers 1-0. Ben Scrivens, now with the Edmonton Oilers, made 37 saves to give the Kings the win.
Two other players—Marian Gaborik and Martin St. Louis—weren't with their new teams yet, making these meetings even more meaningless than usual.
Final response: The regular season means nothing.
Rangers vs. Kings: The Olympics story
Not only have these teams combined to play 41 of 42 possible playoff games this spring, but many key players on both teams took part in the Sochi Olympics.
The Rangers sent seven players—Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Callahan, Henrik Lundqvist, Carl Hagelin and Mats Zuccarello. Callahan was traded for St. Louis (who played for Canada in Sochi) after the Olympics, so the total remains the same.
Six of the seven players were involved in either the gold- or bronze-medal games, with only Zuccarello having his tournament end early.
The Kings sent six players—Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Slava Voynov and Drew Doughty. Four of the six players advanced to medal games, so there's not much of an advantage in the Olympic fatigue department.
Besides, Greg Beacham of the Associated Press shared this quote from Doughty that perfectly embodies playoff hockey:
Drew Doughty isn't worried about fatigue for the LA Kings deep in the postseason: "The heart doesn't get tired."— Greg Beacham (@gregbeacham) May 29, 2014
In 2010, when the Blackhawks beat the Flyers in the Final, the Blackhawks sent six players to the Vancouver Olympics while the Flyers sent four. The difference between 2010 and 2014 is the Flyers and Blackhawks played 17 and 16 games, respectively, heading into the Final and didn't have to travel to Russia for their Olympics.
Fatigue will be a huge story line for both the Rangers and Kings.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.
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