It wasn’t long after the Los Angeles Kings booked their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals before their upcoming opponent played the “underdog” card.
“Throughout these playoffs, and it’s not going to change now, we’ve been the underdog,” said New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault this afternoon when asked about his team’s upcoming series. In some ways, he’s right, too. The Kings have home ice, and have defeated better teams throughout the postseason.
However, New York has something L.A. has yet to deal with during their Cup run: a top-of-the-league goalie.
Henrik Lundqvist comes into this series as the odds-on Conn Smythe favorite right now. Despite some hiccups in the Rangers’ last series against the Montreal Canadiens, he’s been the biggest difference-maker for his team. If anyone increases New York’s chances of defeating the Kings, it’s Lundqvist.
Going up against such a talented goaltender will be quite a culture change for Los Angeles, especially with what they’ve dealt with in net this postseason. Neither the San Jose Sharks nor the Anaheim Ducks started the same goalie in every game of their respective series against the Kings. None of the Sharks’ options performed that well, and while Ducks rookie John Gibson showed a ton of promise, he was absolutely obliterated by L.A. in Game 7 of their series.
Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford stayed between the pipes for all seven games against the Kings, but he had a series to forget. Despite Crawford having a save percentage north of .925 in the first two rounds of the playoffs, he saw it drop to .878 against Los Angeles. In the first two rounds, he allowed 26 goals combined, the exact same amount he gave up seven games against the Kings.
So no, L.A. has not seen anyone like Lundqvist yet, and that’s a reason why you can’t pencil their names in as champs out of assumption. Not only has the Swedish netminder been one of the best goalies of the postseason, he’s played much better than Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick.
Quick is one of the league’s most talented goalies, but you can hardly say he was a big reason why Los Angeles advanced past Chicago. Yes, he made his fair share of clutch saves to keep his team alive, but his playoff save percentage is the lowest it’s been since his 2010. He’s allowed 59 goals so far during the Kings’ run, a postseason career high. He’s also been pulled twice in three series.
What this means for the Rangers is, if Lundqvist can consistently play at the top of his game, New York can be dangerous for Los Angeles. If the Kings take the ice against a lights-out Lundqvist, any goal they allow could be a back-breaker.
However, this is also Lundqvist’s first ever Cup Finals. While we have no idea how he will perform on the NHL’s grand stage, we’ve seen Quick here before, and he was phenomenal, allowing just seven goals in their six-game defeat of the New Jersey Devils.
New York needs Lundqvist to perform just as well during his first Cup Finals as their opponent’s goalie did in the same scenario. There are more than a few things the Rangers have going for them which can keep them in this series, but none bigger than the man they have in the crease. L.A. has yet to face such an imposing goaltender this postseason, and it’s a reason why New York has a good chance to raise the Cup.