Stars win titles.
Hockey is a team-based game, but it's often each team's best players that decide games and series. Getting to the Stanley Cup Final is almost impossible unless you have the skill players necessary to win close games.
The Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers aren't exceptions to that rule. Both teams boast a ton of depth, but a cadre of four or five players often prove the biggest difference-makers.
Looking ahead to the series itself, these four players will likely make the biggest impact for their respective teams.
Henrik Lundqvist, G, New York Rangers
The one position the Rangers own a visibly discernible advantage on the Kings is at goaltender. Although Jonathan Quick has a Conn Smythe Trophy to his name, his performances this postseason have fallen behind those of Henrik Lundqvist.
The difference between the two has been somewhat cyclical, and right now, it's Lundqvist's time. Travis Yost of HockeyBuzz.com tracked the even-strength save percentage of the two goalies:
Lundqvist and Quick at EV over the last three seasons. pic.twitter.com/ahudhNY9KC— Travis Yost (@TravisHeHateMe) June 2, 2014
Lundqvist has been not of this world so far in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Although New York boasts a strong, deep defense, the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner is the straw that stirs the drink.
Hot goaltenders can win series, and right now, nobody's hotter than the Rangers' netminder.
If Lundqvist struggles in the series, though, it will mitigate the Rangers' edge at goaltender and soften up what has been such a great defensive unit.
The Kings are so strong on the attack that they don't need any additional help.
Drew Doughty, D, Kings
Drew Doughty is the best defenseman in the league and has so far built the strongest case to win the Conn Smythe Award. He's amassed a total of 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) throughout this year's playoffs.
No other Kings player has risen the occasion more than the 24-year-old.
One of the most impressive stats from the Western Conference Final was that Doughty played almost 29 minutes a game, many of which were against the Blackhawks' top-six forwards, according to NHL.com.
The Rangers have speed in abundance, so it will be imperative that Doughty uses his skill and quick reactions to limit New York's breakaway chances.
Doughty is a force on both ends of the ice. In addition to blocking shots and nullifying the opposition's best attackers, he can move forward and supplement the attack.
Ryan McDonagh, D, Rangers
Many Rangers fans have seen shades of Brian Leetch when watching Ryan McDonagh on the ice. The New York legend has another player in mind, though: Scott Niedermayer, per NHL.com's Dan Rosen:
The biggest thing we all saw from [McDonagh] early was his skating. I always would compare his skating to Scott Niedermayer. There is a lot of power. He's not a guy that's turning his feet over one after the other, it's just power and speed to be able to track guys down and to be able to close on them quickly. I thought Niedermayer was the same way, and what's interesting is their path has kind of gone the same way.
Leetch added the McDonagh's two-ability was born of his confidence on the ice. The 24-year-old knows he has the ability and the goaltender behind him to allow for runs up the ice.
McDonagh's talent isn't unknown, but it is arguably underrated. He certainly isn't considered to be the caliber of Doughty. The Stanley Cup Final is a great showcase for the Rangers defenseman to be considered one of the best on the planet.
New York will definitely need McDonagh to help snuff out the Kings' best attacks. The better he plays, the more the pressure is also off Lundqvist.
Tyler Toffoli, C, Kings
The Kings have no shortage of skilled veteran forwards with Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik and Anze Kopitar.
Tyler Toffoli is showing that the future is now.
The 22-year-old set the franchise postseason record for most goals and points for a rookie, per NHL Public Relations:
Toffoli makes Los Angeles' second line so effective. He, Carter and Tanner Pearson play like a first line, which can be such an advantage when playing against an opponent's weaker second line of defenders.
While Toffoli isn't the most lethal forward on the Kings, the depth that he provides could help to wear down the Rangers defense.