The New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings kicked off the 2014 Stanley Cup Final in grand fashion Wednesday, but there is no question that this series is far from over.
L.A. prevailed in overtime of Game 1 thanks to a goal from perennial playoff performer Justin Williams. That certainly puts the Blueshirts behind the eight ball a bit; however, they have proven quite capable of mounting comebacks during the postseason.
Also, the Kings aren't particularly used to playing from ahead as they had to make comebacks of their own in the first two rounds. They very nearly blew a 3-1 series lead against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final, so they may not feel particularly comfortable in this position.
With that in mind, this promises to be one of the most intriguing Stanley Cup Finals in recent memory. Check out the latest schedule, odds, predictions and more as the Rangers and Kings vie for Lord Stanley's Cup.
Remaining Stanley Cup Schedule
|Stanley Cup TV Schedule|
|2||Rangers at Kings||Saturday, June 7||7 p.m.||NBC|
|3||Kings at Rangers||Monday, June 9||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|4||Kings at Rangers||Wednesday, June 11||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|5 (if necessary)||Rangers at Kings||Friday, June 13||8 p.m.||NBC|
|6 (if necessary)||Kings at Rangers||Monday, June 16||8 p.m.||NBC|
|7 (if necessary)||Rangers at Kings||Wednesday, June 18||8 p.m.||NBC|
Stanley Cup Odds
|Odds to Win 2014 Stanley Cup|
|Los Angeles Kings||10-17|
|New York Rangers||3-2|
Stanley Cup Predictions
Kings to Win in 6
Saying that the Kings will hoist the Cup after winning Game 1 isn't exactly going out on a limb, but there are a number of factors that seemingly give Los Angeles a distinct advantage over the Rangers. Chief among them is the playoff experience that the Kings have accrued in recent years, most notably their Stanley Cup triumph two seasons ago.
The Rangers have some players who are familiar with this situation, including former Tampa Bay Lightning teammates Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards, but it is foreign to most of the roster. Ignorance about the enormity of the situation can sometimes be a good thing, but the fact that Los Angeles has been there and done that before seems to be a huge boost for the team's confidence.
That much was clear when the Kings won Game 1 in overtime, but experience played a role even before that. After erasing a two-goal deficit, the Kings dominated the third period to the tune of 20 shots to just three for the Rangers.
That left Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault searching for answers, according to David Leon Moore of USA Today.
I liked the way we played in the first two periods. I thought it was a hard-fought first 40 minutes by both teams. Not quite sure what happened there in the third. Not sure if it was them being that good or us stopping moving the puck and skating and going north/south.
They definitely took it to us in the third and they were able to get a bounce on the winning goal and put it in the back of the net.
New York simply seemed to fold after the Kings mounted their comeback, which is something that can't happen in the Stanley Cup Final. Los Angeles has to have the decided mental edge after taking over Game 1 and peppering goalie Henrik Lundqvist at will.
This could very well be a short series with the Kings winning in four or five games, but look for the Rangers to find a way to win a couple before L.A. puts them away in six.
Justin Williams to Win Conn Smythe
Williams has been a solid player in the NHL for a long time. He has over 200 regular-season goals in 14 seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, Carolina Hurricanes and Kings, but he seemingly turns into someone else once the playoffs start.
Although he wasn't always an elite playoff performer, Williams truly stepped up when the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup in 2005-06. He registered 18 points during that postseason run and hasn't looked back. Williams is currently in the midst of the best playoff run of his career with 20 points in 22 games, as well as the overtime winner against the Rangers in Game 1.
It's impossible to measure the clutch factor of a player, but Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review believes Williams has it in spades:
The funny thing about it is that Williams had a fairly pedestrian regular season with 19 goals and 43 points. In fact, it was his worst output over a full season since 2001-02. As evidenced by this statistic courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info, though, Williams is capable of turning it on when the lights shine brightest:
Los Angeles boasts several players deserving of playoff MVP honors. Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik and Drew Doughty are all in the running as well, but Williams has scored the biggest goals and has the all-around production to supplement his clutch play.
Because of that, Williams will be the one lifting the Conn Smythe Trophy when this series is all said and done.
Rick Nash's Struggles Will Continue
The Rangers likely wouldn't have even made the playoffs without the contribution of star winger Rick Nash, who scored 26 goals in 65 regular-season games. Despite his obvious struggles in the postseason, however, New York has thrived and made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
In order to win it all, though, the Rangers desperately need production from the 6'4" power forward. With just three goals and 10 points in 21 playoff games, Nash has been a virtual non-factor. He didn't score his first playoff goal until Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens, and that goal was virtually meaningless since New York already had a big lead at the time.
Nash has shown signs of life since his putrid start to the playoffs, but he is scoreless in four of his past five games and didn't do much of note in Game 1 against the Kings. Nash has gone through a lot of hard times throughout his career as he made just one playoff appearance in nine seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
This is by far the deepest Nash has ever gone in the postseason, and that certainly isn't lost on him, according to Craig Custance of ESPN The Magazine:
It's difficult to say whether the stage is too big for Nash or if he is simply in a slump, which is something all players experience. If he doesn't snap out of it soon, though, the Rangers are toast.
A team can only thrive for so long without one of its top offensive contributors performing, and that will ultimately come back to bite New York.
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