Los Angeles Kings Keys to Beat New York Rangers in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final
The Los Angeles Kings are four wins away from hoisting their second Stanley Cup in three years.
Since coach Darryl Sutter took the reins of the team in December of 2011, the Kings have made their mark as a moderately successful regular-season team that lights it up in the playoffs. They've reached the Western Conference Final all three years and are now in their second Stanley Cup Final.
No wonder they're favored to beat the New York Rangers!
This year's edition of the Kings might be the best one yet, but nothing comes easy in a league where parity rules, especially when a championship is on the line.
Here's a look at the keys for the Kings if they hope to best the Rangers and capture the Cup.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com.
Don't Let Up
The Los Angeles Kings have courted danger throughout these playoffs, needing a full seven games to dispatch each of their first three opponents.
They took a step forward when they rode a wave of momentum to a 3-1 series lead against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final, but the Hawks were able to even the series before L.A. delivered its knockout blow.
After an intense, emotional series, the Kings' DNA suggests that they'll be wired to let up again at the beginning of their series against the Rangers.
If Los Angeles can maintain the intensity it brought against the Chicago Blackhawks, it'll have a chance to send a clear message to the Rangers and their fans: The experts and the oddsmakers were right—the Stanley Cup belongs in the West.
Keep Being Offensive
The formerly defensive-minded Los Angeles Kings have become a lot more entertaining in these playoffs now that they've become goal-scoring machines.
Trade deadline acquisition Marian Gaborik is leading the way with 12 goals and reminding his teammates that scoring is fun!
The Kings are averaging an impressive 3.48 goals per game so far in the playoffs, which is a big improvement on their 2.85 mark from 2012, and a comfortable advantage over the Rangers' 2.70.
They're getting better, too. Los Angeles scored 28 goals in seven games against Chicago in the Western Conference Final for an average of four goals a game.
Henrik Lundqvist could prove to be the toughest goaltender the Kings have faced this year, but with Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik and Justin Williams holding down four of the top five spots in the playoff scoring race, L.A. should get plenty of opportunities to test the man who beat out Jonathan Quick for the Vezina Trophy in 2012.
Ride the Power Play
Of course, one of the reasons for all that goal-scoring is a hot power play that's clicking at 25.4 percent in the postseason. Jeff Carter's tied for the playoff lead with four power-play goals, and the Kings were an impressive 6-for-19 against Chicago, a success rate of 31.6 percent.
The Rangers are a worthy foe on the penalty kill, though. They're ranked second in the postseason at 85.9 percent efficiency, having given up just nine power-play goals in 64 times shorthanded. Despite the presence of power-play specialist P.K. Subban, the Montreal Canadiens scored just twice with the man-advantage on 23 chances in the Eastern Conference Final against the Rangers.
The Kings will need to get some early power-play chances in the Final to see if they can break Alain Vigneault's defensive system and Henrik Lundqvist's masterful netminding. The first step will be to get the Rangers into the penalty box.
Beat 'Em in the Alley
The New York Rangers haven't been afraid to use the body in the postseason. They rank second in hits in the 2014 playoffs with 587, but they haven't met an opponent like the Kings.
Los Angeles leads the hit parade by a mile, with 898 hits through 21 games.
The leading bruiser? Captain Dustin Brown, who provides the muscle on the top line with Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik. He has 104 hits in 21 games, already eclipsing the 93 hits he dished out through four rounds to lead the league in 2012.
Brown is joined in the top four by teammates Jarret Stoll, with 80 hits, and Slava Voynov with 69.
The Rangers' top hitter, Dan Girardi, ranks fifth with 63 hits, and Brian Boyle also lands in the top 10 with 53—tied with Dwight King and behind more Kings players: Trevor Lewis, Kyle Clifford and Jake Muzzin.
The Kings' physical tone wore down the San Jose Sharks even while they lost games early in Round 1. They've gotten less aggressive in each series through the playoffs, but even damped down, they'll be a tornado compared to what the Rangers have seen in the East.
Quick Regains Conn Smythe Form
When the upstart Los Angeles Kings rose from the Western Conference's eighth seed to win the Stanley Cup in 2012, the team's most important player was Jonathan Quick.
Quick allowed just 29 goals in 20 games in 2012, for a 1.41 goals-against average.
This year, with one round to go, Quick has played just one less minute than he did in the entire 2012 Cup run but has allowed more than twice as many goals. With 59 goals-against on 628 shots, Quick's average is a lofty 2.86 headed into the Stanley Cup Final.
The Kings wouldn't be at the dance if Quick wasn't doing the job in elimination games, but his play trended in the wrong direction in the Chicago series, where he allowed 23 goals in seven games.
Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter has talked in the past about how hockey is a "game to three"—in other words, the first team to score three goals will probably win. At Media Day on Tuesday, he told reporters that he's holding true to that rule of thumb (from NHL.com):
When you go back to that number; if you give up more than two goals a game, you're looking for trouble all the time. It's a tough number to reach. If you look at the regular season, we finished with the best goals-against in the League, just over two [per game], and that's a mark that's really hard to hit. That's always a good goal for your team.
Quick let just seven pucks get past him in the entire 2012 Stanley Cup Final against the New Jersey Devils. If he can zone in on a similar performance against the Rangers, the silver chalice will return to Tinseltown once again this spring.
Doughty Takes the Next Step
At just 24, Drew Doughty appears to be on the cusp of becoming the next great NHL defenseman.
Doughty already has a Stanley Cup and two Olympic gold medals in his trophy case. He was arguably Team Canada's best player in Sochi this year.
He has been named a Norris Trophy finalist just once, in 2010, and missed the cut for ranking among the top regular-season blueliners again this year, but he's making up for it in the playoffs.
Doughty is now the top-scoring defenseman in the 2014 postseason with four goals and 16 points. He's a plus-five in nearly 28 minutes of action per game and he's getting better as the playoffs go along—both in his play and his leadership.
"You look at every great team in history, they've always had that great defenseman, whether it's [Niklas] Lidstrom, [Sergei] Zubov, [Chris] Chelios, go right through the list," said Kings' general manager Dean Lombardi at the Stanley Cup media day on Tuesday (from NHL.com). "We all know how important those guys were. He's got a ways to go to catch those guys, but that's his goal, to be in that class someday."
A great Stanley Cup Final will take Doughty one step closer to realizing that goal.