Seeing the Kings in the finals is no real surprise, but the Rangers? I bet you would have cashed in big if you bet on them to make the finals back in September.
First, a look back at the semi-finals. I got both predictions wrong, so now I'm 9 for 14 in the playoffs. Like the Canucks, I choke in the later rounds :(
Rangers v. Canadiens
I flipped a coin, and ended up picking the Canadiens in 7. It's the coin's fault, obviously.
A few things did the Habs in, and led to the Rangers taking the series in 6 games.
- Goaltending: Carey Price went down in the first game to an injury that ended his playoffs. Dustin Tokarski, the third-string goaltender, was given the reins after that. While Tokarski did well for himself, he didn't steal games like Carey Price was able to. Lundqvist has been, by far, the best goalie in these playoffs.
- Coaching: I think that Michel Therrien is not a very good coach, and the advanced stats back that up. In game six, the Canadiens were constantly on the defensive, and the Rangers looked like the desperate team. Alain Vigneault knows how to better use his players, and his team looked fresh and confident.
- Thomas Vanek: What a disappointment as Vanek completely disappeared in this series, with just 2 assists and a -4 in 6 games. Instead of owning up to his indifferent play, Vanek blamed his new linemates for a 'lack of chemistry', and his coach for his own lack of production. Vanek was good the first two rounds, but then decided, for whatever reason, that he was done playing hard. Not the kind of guy I want on my team, when the chips are down.
Image borrowed from dennis-kane.com, a fine Habs blog.
Kings v. Blackhawks
While I picked the Hawks to win this series in 7 games, it was pretty much another coin-flip scenario. I figured the Hawks would be a bit fresher and a bit deeper.
In the end, it came down to a bad bounce in Game 7's overtime to give the Kings their ticket to the Cup Finals. It was a great series, and, apologies to the Rangers, truly showcased the two best teams in the league.
1. Justin Williams is clutch. Just look at his production in playoff Game 7s. He is the best Game 7 playoff scorer, ever! Yes, even better than Gretzky and Glenn Anderson. If this was Final Fantasy 7, Williams would be doing 7,777 damage each hit!
- 7 games
- 7 goals
- 7 assists
- 7 wins
2. Jonathan Quick is actually the weak link in the Kings armour. With a 90.6 SV% in these playoffs, Quick ranks well below average. Luckily for him, Corey Crawford was not that great for the Hawks, either.
3. Duncan Keith does not get enough press for being one of the dirtiest players in the league. He got away with concussing Daniel Sedin a few years ago, got caught slashing Jeff Carter on the head, and even got called out by Don Cherry for his slashiness. If Keith weren't a 'star' player, you can bet he'd be punished a lot more severely. I suppose this makes Keith a modern-day Chris Pronger.
LOS ANGELES KINGS v. NEW YORK RANGERSThe Los Angeles Kings have to be the "Team of Destiny". Not only did they overcome a 3-0 series deficit versus the Sharks in the first round, but they've now won three straight Game 7s to get to the finals. Things just seem to be going their way.
Most pundits expect the Kings to walk away with the Stanley Cup, and I am not going to disagree. The Kings have been one of the strongest teams for the past few years, better overall depth, and I think their larger forwards will give the Rangers problems. The Canadiens are a small team, and the Rangers had a fairly easy time containing the Montreal attack.
That said, the Rangers have a decent shot at pulling the upset, for a few reasons.
- Goaltending: Henrik Lundqvist has been stealing games left and right, and compare his 92.8 SV% to Quick's 90.6%. Quick has been overrated for awhile now, while King Henrik was been, somewhat quietly, one of the elite goaltenders for some time.
Lundqvist is also so damn handsome. It's not fair!
- Fatigue: Western Conference teams have far more travel, and the New York teams have always had some of the easiest travel schedules in the league. While the Kings have had the nice luxury of playing two California teams during these playoffs, the season-long travel schedule can really be a factor for LA.
- Fatigue, again: The LA Kings have had three straight brutal 7-game series, and have made things tough on themselves. The Rangers, on the other hand, came through the Canadiens series relatively unscathed, apart from Derek Stepan's jaw. The Rangers will be better rested before the series starts, and this might come into play down the road. Remember, Western Conference hockey has tended to be faster-paced and more physical than Eastern Conference hockey. Just watch a regular season game and notice the difference.
Prediction: LA Kings in six.