Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Conference Final Review and Stanley Cup Prediction

The teams have been set for the Stanley Cup finals as the never say die Los Angeles Kings take on the New York Rangers.

Let's take a look at how we got there.

In the Eastern Conference, I predicted the Rangers would defeat the Montreal Canadiens is 6 games, which they did. The Habs chances in this series were dealt a serious blow with the loss of Carey Price to a knee injury in the first game. Showing absolutely no confidence in back up Peeter Budaj, the Canadiens called up their AHL goalie, Dustin Tokarski to tend the pipes, and I thought he played well. The play of Tokarski was not the reason the Canadiens lost this series. In fact, his .946 save percentage was stellar.

Instead, the offense of the Canadiens struggled against the Rangers. Notably, Thomas Vanish Vanek, who was acquired at the trade deadline and expected to provide an offensive boost, disappeared. but it was not Vanek alone, but the entire offense of the Habs that had trouble finding the net. The lack of offense meant that the Canadiens were going to have to be exceptional on defense and in the net, and they were not. The lack of production from Brian Gionta, Brendan Gallagher, Lars Eller, Max Pacioretty, and most of the forwards doomed the Habs.

Part of the scoring problems for the Canadiens was the outstanding play of Henrik Lundqvist in net for the Rangers. Lundqvist was outstanding, making numerous big saves and turning away the challenges that Montreal tried to mount offensively.

The Rangers got balanced offensive scoring, and importantly for them, Rick Nash started to find his offensive game. Additionally, the Rangers rode the emotional lift that Marty St. Louis has given the team, playing through the playoffs after the untimely death of his mother, France. The Rangers have rallied around St. Louis and have channeled this emotion into a solid team game.

In the West, The Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks played a classic series, going to overtime in game 7 to determine a winner. I predicted that the hawks high powered offense would overwhelm the Kings in 6 games. Instead, the Hawks had to battle back from a 3-1 deficit before they fell in overtime of game 7.

The Kings offense was surprisingly potent, tallying 27 goals against the Hawks. The balanced offensive attack presented problems for the Blackhawks and especially Corey Crawford. Jonathan Quick faced the same problem against the Hawks, especially after head Coach Joel Quenville put the line of Andrew Shaw, Patrick Kane, and Brendan Saad together. Their speed posed problems for the Kings in the latter part of this series.

The Kings are nothing if not resilient, having won all three of their playoff series in 7 games to reach the finals. The Kings resiliency was on display in the deciding game 7 as they fell behind 2-0 and never lead in the game until the game winning goal by Alec Martinez. The Kings played with a level of confidence that is amazing, born of their play throughout the playoffs. Even down early, the Kings never wavered in their attack and continually battled backed in the face of daunting circumstances.

The Blackhawks only had two home losses in the playoffs, both to the Kings. The Hawks are a formidable team, and bounce here or there could have swung the series in their favor. However, the Kings were relentless and refused to yield to the Hawks.

The Stanley Cup finals shapes up to be a great matchup. for the Rangers to win, Lundqvist will have to continue his outstanding play. The Rangers will have to use their speed to create matchup problems for the Kings. If the series gets into a grind it out affair, the advantage goes to the Kings.

Jonathan Quick has shown flashes of brilliance, but he has also been pedestrian at times. If quick is pedestrian, the Rangers will win the series. The Kings are going to have to continue to receive balanced scoring from their forward group. How balanced have they been? Four of the top five point producers in the playoffs are from L.A.

The Rangers will look to continue to ride the emotions that have taken them to the finals. The Kings will look to continue their storied run to the Cup. It will be a battle of wills between two skilled teams that will go the distance.

My prediction:

Kings in 7

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