The NHL playoffs have provided as much drama as any before, and the excitement should only rise as the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings meet in the Stanley Cup Final.
On its own, the New York-L.A. championship matchup makes this very interesting. Teams from these two cities haven't played each other for a major American sports title since 1981, when the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.
So all eyes and media attention will be on the final leg of the quest for Lord Stanley's Cup, and they'll see two teams loaded with size, speed, discipline and heart. Intangibles have saved both the Rangers and Kings from the brink of defeat, and immense talent has brought each to the precipice of greatness.
This Final will showcase hockey at its finest on the biggest possible stage. When these two teams face off, the result will be an instant classic series.
|2014 Stanley Cup Finals Schedule|
|Game 1||June 4||NY Rangers at Los Angeles||NBC|
|Game 2||June 7||NY Rangers at Los Angeles||NBC|
|Game 3||June 9||Los Angeles at NY Rangers||NBCSN|
|Game 4||June 11||Los Angeles at NY Rangers||NBCSN|
|*Game 5||June 13||NY Rangers at Los Angeles||NBC|
|*Game 6||June 16||Los Angeles at NY Rangers||NBC|
|*Game 7||June 18||NY Rangers at Los Angeles||NBC|
|*If necessary. Source: NHL.com|
|2014 Stanley Cup Championship Odds|
|Los Angeles Kings||100-153||-153|
|New York Rangers||139-100||+139|
Rangers Key to Victory: Henrik Lundqvist
New York's skaters have plenty of talent and depth, but the fate of this team hinges entirely on King Henrik's performance in net.
Jonathan Quick has elite goaltending ability in his own right, but no other goalie on the planet is as consistently great as Lundqvist.
It's so difficult for netminders to stay at the top of their games night in and night out, especially with the raised stakes and competition level of the postseason, but that difficulty is Lundqvist's specialty. As well as both the Rangers and Kings have played of late, it's clear who has gotten more help from the man between the pipes.
|Goalie Stats—2014 Playoffs|
On any given night, Quick is capable of delivering a great performance, but between his dominant games and his ordinary ones, his stats this postseason are merely above average, albeit after going through the wringer of Western Conference opponents.
Lundqvist, on the other hand, has been excellent on a regular basis. As fearsome as L.A.'s offense is, the Rangers can trust their guy to stand strong against the onslaught. He'll have to if New York wants to have a real chance to win.
Kings Key to Victory: Advantage at Center
Anze Kopitar plays the center position at 6'3", 225 pounds and still has the blistering speed to blow by whatever smaller opponent lines up opposite him. He's a matchup nightmare for any team to counter, and that's before you consider the rest of Los Angeles' center corps.
Consider that Mike Richards, the Kings' third-line center, is just 29 and a former All-Star and point-per-game player. Jarrett Stoll has as much skill as any Rangers center, yet he's doing yeoman's work, winning 57 percent of postseason faceoffs on L.A.'s fourth line.
And then there's Jeff Carter, whose nine goals are tied for the most of any center in the 2014 playoffs and second only to teammate Marian Gaborik—the man who Kopitar so often sets up to score.
Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, Derick Brassard and Dominic Moore are all good players, but their competition is superior by a severe margin in this series.
Those Rangers aren't talentless by any means, and they are gritty. But if the Kings dominate at center the way they easily could, things could go south for New York quickly.