After an intense journey throughout the 2014 NHL playoffs, the puck is set to drop in Los Angeles as the Kings take on the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Kings vs. Rangers. Powerful offense vs. stingy defense. Tough goalie vs. tougher goalie. The best-of-seven series should be a classic, and it all begins with Game 1 Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.
Which team will win Game 1?
Home away from home
The Kings have home-ice advantage, but that won’t faze the Rangers. New York had the most road wins (25) in the Eastern Conference during the regular season and is 6-4 away from home this postseason, outscoring its opponents by six goals.
New York has shown to be comfortable playing on the road all season long. With the Rangers having won both Game 1s on the road in the playoffs, edging Pittsburgh 3-2 in overtime and demolishing Montreal 7-2, the perceived advantage the Kings might have in L.A. might be smaller than usual.
I expect the Rangers to improve to 3-0 in road Game 1s this postseason, especially considering both teams' recent schedules. The Rangers enter Game 1 with an extra three days of rest after winning the Eastern Conference Final in six games, as opposed to the Kings’ seven-game dogfight with Chicago.
New York should come out with fresher legs and take advantage of a Kings team that may not have maximum energy after playing seven games for three consecutive series.
Although the Rangers have only played one fewer game than Los Angeles, it seemed to have come at the best possible time, says ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun:
Where is L.A.'s energy level now? The Kings have played the maximum seven games all three rounds to get here, all three series physically demanding.
New York played one less game, but the Rangers had a nice break before the Cup finals and haven't played as much of a physical brand of hockey.
Lundqvist in form
The Kings come into the game with an offense clicking on all cylinders, having scored at least three goals in their last six games behind the skilled trio of Marian Gaborik, Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar.
But New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist is playing well enough to stop the Kings’ potent offense. His postseason save percentage (.928) is sparkling, and he is coming off his best game of the playoffs. He stopped all 18 shots in the Rangers’ 1-0 victory in Game 6 over Montreal to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, including this beauty:
The Rangers are not intimated by playing on the road. In fact, they thrive away from home.
They come into Wednesday night’s game a little more rested than the Kings, which will have an effect on the ice. New York has the better goalie in Lundqvist and that will show itself in Game 1.
While it would be asking a lot for Lundqvist to pitch another shutout, he will give the Kings offense problems. Wednesday night will be Lundqvist's Stanley Cup debut, and he won't let it go to waste.
Behind Lundqvist’s stellar play, in which I anticipate he'll face at least 30 shots from an aggressive Kings side, the Rangers will generate just enough timely offense on a leaky Jonathan Quick to squeak out a Game 1 victory on the road and take a 1-0 series lead.
Prediction: Rangers 2, Kings 1
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