A coast-to-coast final has the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings set to battle for the Stanley Cup. Both teams have overcome obstacles and persevered through times in the playoffs that seemed to be the inevitable end.
The Rangers rallied in the second round after trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins three games to one. The Kings were in a 3-0 ditch in the first round, before they ripped-off four straight wins to oust the San Jose Sharks.
Needless to say, each team has beaten their fair share of odds, but what’s going to be the key to the final? The Kings are considered the unanimous favorite to win, but both teams have similar strengths, including great goaltending, skilled defense and depth at the forward position.
Considering the team’s similar strengths, this series may fall to whichever team plays better special teams. You can’t make it to the finals without a solid power play and a good penalty kill. You will almost never make it if both things aren’t going well.
In New York’s case, the power play has been sporadic and mostly ineffective, but their penalty kill has been superb throughout the playoffs. On the other side, LA has excelled more on the offensive side of special teams. The Kings have 17 power play goals in the playoffs in comparison to 11 for the Rangers.
It will be interesting to see who gains the special teams advantage as LA’s great power play faces New York’s strong penalty kill. The Kings have converted at a clip just above 25 percent on the power play, while the Rangers have only given up three power play goals since the first round.
Each team must make the most of their man-advantage opportunities, considering the level of goaltending each team holds. Henrik Lundqvist has been sensational in goal for the Rangers, and sometimes when a goalie’s hot, a power play is the only way to beat them.
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick doesn’t enter the finals playing as well as Lundqvist, but he always comes up large on the biggest of stages. Quick has 59 goals against this postseason and holds an uncharacteristically high 2.86 goals-against average. Those numbers are unlike Quick, but expect him to have a good series regardless of what’s happened up to this point.
Both teams need to avoid taking bad penalties, something that always hurts momentum. The Kings will rely on their power play to score goals as they have throughout the playoffs. Nearly a quarter of LA’s goals this postseason have been on the power play.
The Rangers will do the opposite, and rely more on their penalty kill to bail them out of tight situations. The Rangers need their penalty kill more than they need a power play, because they’re capable of getting plenty of scoring at even strength. Not to say that New York doesn’t need a power play, but their penalty kill will be more important against a Kings team that’s filled with playmakers.
When it comes to a potent Kings offense on the power play against New York’s penalty kill, something’s got to give eventually. Whichever team performs better on special teams will also likely be the team that wins it all.