It’s that time of year again.
When the most entertaining postseason in professional sports reaches it’s final round, and two teams are just four wins away from the world’s greatest trophy: the Stanley Cup.
The NHL Stanley Cup Finals kick off with two franchises coming in from different paths. The Los Angeles Kings have grinded their way through three straight seven-game series, each ending on the road, and each ending with a win. The New York Rangers were faced with elimination in their second round series, down 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but have dominated for the most part since, losing just two of their last nine games. The Kings are playing for their second Cup in three years, the Rangers for their first since 1994.
Things are definitely shaping up for a great final round, which opens up in Los Angeles tomorrow night. And if there’s anything that will be the biggest determining factor in Game 1, it’s goaltending.
New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist has become easily one of the best netminders of this postseason, as a Game 6 shutout of the Montreal Canadiens sent him to his first Cup Finals ever. Standing in the opposite crease is Kings goalie Jonathan Quick who, despite winning a Cup two years ago, has been anything but reliable. His 59 goals allowed this postseason are the most he’s given up in his entire career. It’s also 20 more than Lundqvist has let past him this playoffs.
Though the Kings are known more for their defense, coming into the postseason as the league’s stingiest team with an average of 2.05 goals allowed per game, Quick’s struggles have drastically affected this. To be fair, L.A. has stepped up, potting 28 goals in seven games against the Chicago Blackhawks. However, this will be much more difficult with Lundqvist in net. If Los Angeles has any interest in hoisting the Cup, they’ll need much more consistency from their goalie.
Offensively, it’s another tale of two teams, only this time it stacks against New York. While key players like Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards and Derek Stepan are contributing, overall the Rangers aren’t scoring a ton. The Kings, on the other hand, have the top two scorers in the postseason — Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter — as well as Marian Gaborik, who leads the playoffs in goals. Defenseman Drew Doughty has kept things flowing with the power play, helping the Kings cash in on 25% of their man advantages. The Rangers, on the other hand, only have a 13.6% power play success rate.
In the end, the winner of this series will be the team that can best use their strengths to their advantage. The Kings are scoring at a much higher clip, so New York needs Lundqvist to be at his absolute best. If he can stand on his head throughout this series, the Rangers won’t need to put a ton of pucks in the net to pull off the necessary four wins.
For Los Angeles, this series gives them the chance to become a modern-day dynasty. For New York, it’s about bringing their city it’s first Cup in 20 years. It all makes for one very intriguing final round, and it all starts tomorrow night.