It's been a wild ride through the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. After an immense amount of overtime thrillers, upset victories and nail-biting action, only the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings remain standing.
Each team was put through rigorous tests during the long and arduous road to the Stanley Cup Final, and if their journeys provide any indication of what's to come, we could be in for a historic series.
To make things even more interesting, the teams have already begun a back-and-forth battle on Twitter, according to a tweet from Bleacher Report:
Needless to say, you won't want to miss a single drop of the puck in this one.
Vegas oddsmakers have already been hard at work determining which of these teams will be favored in the final series. Let's take a look at those odds, the full schedule of the Stanley Cup Final and determine who will survive this highly anticipated clash.
Stanley Cup Schedule
|1||Wed., June 4||8 p.m.||Los Angeles||NBC|
|2||Sat., June 7||7 p.m.||Los Angeles||NBC|
|3||Mon., June 9||8 p.m.||New York||NBCSN|
|4||Wed., June 11||8 p.m.||New York||NBCSN|
|5*||Fri., June 13||8 p.m.||Los Angeles||NBC|
|6*||Mon., June 16||8 p.m.||New York||NBC|
|7*||Wed., June 18||8 p.m.||Los Angeles||NBC|
Stanley Cup Odds
|Los Angeles Kings||10-17|
|New York Rangers||3-2|
Stanley Cup odds courtesy of Vegas Insider.
The Rangers are seeking their first Stanley Cup in 20 years. That alone is a huge storyline in itself. However, the task at hand isn't an easy one.
The Kings have battled through the far superior Western Conference to get to this point, defeating many of the league's top teams, including the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks.
In all three of those series, Los Angeles was pushed to the brink, facing Game 7s in each. Suffice it to say that the Rangers have an early advantage given the team's fewer games played and extra rest before the final series.
Can the Kings overcome fatigue to earn their second Stanley Cup in three years?
Well, if we've learned anything about Los Angeles over the playoffs, it's this: The Kings have an extraordinary amount of mental toughness.
Los Angeles began the playoffs down 3-0 to the Sharks and battled back for an improbable victory. Later, the Kings dropped behind the Ducks 3-2 but remained resilient to win that series in seven games as well. Finally, a back-and-forth battle with the defending champion Blackhawks resulted in the Kings' favor as well, winning in a Game 7 overtime thriller.
Here's a look at how the Kings fought their way into the finals, courtesy of a tweet from Hockey Vines:
And just like that, the LA Kings will be playing the Rangers for the Stanley Cup! https://t.co/w1If5bL428— Hockey Vines (@TheHockeyVines) June 2, 2014
This team's depth and veteran experience have been well on display. Lori Schmidt of 97.1 The Fan tweeted a staggering statistic:
Wow! This note from the NHL: "The Kings now have a combined 97 games of Game 7 experience, with a record of 90-7."— Lori Schmidt (@LoriSchmidt) June 2, 2014
Expect that trend to continue through the final series.
As for New York, the team's biggest strength is undoubtedly Henrik Lundqvist.
Lundqvist has been absolutely stellar through the playoffs, leading all goalies in save percentage (.928). His acrobatic maneuvering was crucial to the Rangers' success against the Montreal Canadiens.
With Jonathan Quick slightly struggling in goal for the Kings—he's been rather inconsistent through the playoffs—Lundqvist gives New York a big advantage here.
How good has Lundqvist been? This good:
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault knows what's in store for his team and remains confident, according to an interview with Justin Tasch of the New York Daily News:
Even though a lot of people aren't going to give us any chance, I like our chances. So throughout these playoffs, and it's not gonna change now, we've been the underdog. But what we've done is we've focused on how we play and what we need to do on the ice, and that's definitely what we’re gonna do here come Wednesday.
The Kings have been a defensive-oriented team this season; however, a recent burst on the offensive end of the ice has made Los Angeles one of the most well-rounded playoff teams this year.
Who takes the Cup?
Despite Quick's struggles, Drew Doughty remains one of the best defensemen in the league. Combining his prowess on that end of the ice with an offense that lit up the Blackhawks for 28 goals in their last series, and it's clear why the Kings are favored heading into the finals.
Expect the Rangers to hang tough against a very talented team from the West; New York can certainly get things going in the right direction early by taking advantage of a winded Kings team.
But when it's all said and done, Los Angeles will prevail in the end, reaffirming the Western Conference's dominance this season.
Prediction: Kings in six.