New York Rangers: Keys to Beating Los Angeles Kings in 2014 Stanley Cup Final
It's no secret that Western Conference teams have had the upper hand against their Eastern Conference counterparts. But regular-season stats will not have much of a bearing, if any, in this final push for the Stanley Cup.
The Rangers have earned the right to battle for Lord Stanley's Cup and should make no apologies for playing in the weaker conference.
The Kings are well-coached, talented, heavy, fast and feature several Stanley Cup winners.
While the Rangers are obvious underdogs, here are some keys to beating the Los Angeles Kings in what should be an intriguing series.
Let King Henrik Rule
Henrik Lundqvist has been outstanding in nearly every game in this spring's playoffs. His .928 save percentage in 20 games is excellent.
He enters this final series as one of the favourites to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.
He is unflappable, and his quiet confidence blends well with this entire team. Alain Vigneault has been another calming presence, particularly in the wake of former bombastic head coach John Tortorella.
The Rangers must find ways to allow Lundqvist to see pucks. The Kings will be doing everything in their power to create traffic and wreak havoc in front of Lundqvist.
Lundqvist will stop the vast majority of shots that he can see, so the Rangers have to counter this attempt to create traffic by forcing the Kings to the outside as much as possible.
This will be much easier said than done, but don't underestimate Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal, all of whom have the physicality, smarts and size to do so. Other New York defenders must follow suit.
Get to Jonathan Quick Early
Jonathan Quick has been very good in some playoff games. But his play has been uneven.
He struggled to hit the .900 mark against the Chicago Blackhawks. He comes into the finals with a .906 save percentage overall.
The Kings have faced some of the league's best up until this point, so that save percentage reflects the caliber of these opponents as much as it does his level of play.
Nevertheless, the talented Quick does have streaky tendencies. The Rangers have to do their best to disrupt his rhythms and create a lot of traffic in and around Quick's crease. He enters this series as the second-best goalie of these playoffs.
Big, physical forwards like Brian Boyle, Derek Dorsett and Derick Brassard could be key in this regard. Obviously, the offensive leaders are important, but making life miserable for Quick in tight could be critical if the Rangers want to pull off the upset.
Play Follow the Leader(s)
Martin St. Louis has been an inspiration to his teammates. He's displayed heart and courage in addition to his offensive talents throughout the playoffs.
He played some great hockey against the Montreal Canadiens, and fans can expect him to be at his best against the Kings. He will be the most talented offensive player in this series.
His five-on-five play will be important, but his play on the power play will also be critical. He's tied for the team lead in playoff scoring with Derek Stepan (13 points) and should also be in the Conn Smythe conversation.
Other veteran leaders like Rick Nash and Brad Richards also need to continue their fine play from the Canadiens series. These two forwards can be game-breakers.
Nash, in particular, has the size and strength to go up against this big and heavy Kings lineup. He's an elite player when he plays at the top of his game.
If these veteran forwards are firing on all cylinders, it will be vital in convincing the younger Rangers that they can challenge the Kings.
Win the Special Teams Battle
Special teams will be key. The Los Angeles power play has been very good and is moving at a 25.4 percent clip entering the Stanley Cup Final.
The Rangers currently sport an excellent 85.9 penalty-killing percentage. It will be a case of the immovable object meeting the irresistible force—something has to give.
Brian Boyle, Carl Hagelin and other depth forwards will be key to the Rangers penalty kill. The Rangers can actually mount an attack while shorthanded.
Conversely, the Rangers power play comes in at 13.6 percent, which is below the league average in this year's playoffs. The Kings penalty-killing unit has 81.2 percent success rate, so the Rangers may be able to squeeze out a goal or two with the man advantage.
Puck pressure from the speedy Rangers will be vital on the penalty kill. They also have to find ways to get Quick moving side to side. Puck movement is paramount.
If they can win the special teams battle, the Rangers will give themselves a chance to win this series.
Ryan McDonagh Must Outduel Drew Doughty
Drew Doughty comes into this series as the most dynamic rearguard still playing. In fact, he may be the best all-around defender in the game today.
He's been logging 27:50 minutes on average, and the Rangers should expect to see more of the same from him.
Ryan McDonagh has been nearly as good in these playoffs. He certainly outplayed 2013 Norris Trophy winner P.K. Subban in the Easter Conference Final, especially offensively.
He was at least the equal of the incomparable Zdeno Chara earlier in the playoffs as well.
McDonagh will need to do the same against the Kings. He is emerging as one of the best defencemen in the game.
He's going to be pressed defensively by this big, fast and punishing Kings lineup. However, if he can outscore Doughty while keeping the Kings at bay, the Rangers will only benefit.
The Corsi numbers are relatively even, per Extra Skater, in the playoffs for these two teams, and McDonagh's play will go a long way in the Rangers not being outplayed by a wide margin at five-on-five.
All stats can be found on NHL.com unless otherwise noted.