Devils' Case for the Stanley Cup
Second of a two-part preview of the 2012 Stanley Cup finals.
History: The New Jersey Devils boast three Stanley Cups (1995, 2000, 2003) and plenty of experience. Although goalie Martin Brodeur is the only player on the roster to win all three titles, Patrik Elias has captured the last two. According to Puck Daddy, the Devils are the best No. 6 seed in Eastern Conference history, and one of only three to crack the century mark (the others being these same Devils in 2004 and the Rangers in 2006, both of which had 100 even). Furthermore, while the team's trapping system has changed, its building blocks of defense and goaltending have not.
Road to the Finals: Defeated Florida Panthers, 4-3; defeated Philadelphia Flyers, 4-1; defeated New York Rangers, 4-2. The Devils, after surviving a scare in the first round, got stronger as the playoffs progressed and more comfortable with their playing style. N.J. has averaged 2.83 goals per game and allowed 2.33 goals per game. The Devils are playing their best hockey of the season right now.
Leading Scorers: Ilya Kovalchuk (seven goals, 11 assists); Zach Parise (seven goals, seven assists); Travis Zajac (seven goals, five assists); Bryce Salvador (three goals, eight assists).
Why They Will Win: The Devils were better than their seed indicates — finishing as the ninth-best team in the league during the regular season and one of 10 teams to surpass the 100-point plateau. Their offense is balanced and deadly, their defense is stellar, and Brodeur has found the fountain of youth after a few sub-par seasons. They can match the Kings stride-for-stride, goal-for-goal, and give L.A. a challenge unlike anything they've faced from the Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues or Phoenix Coyotes. The Devils need to force the Kings to rely on players who are not on their top two offensive lines for goal scoring. They need to get ahead of the Kings and do something that no L.A. opponent has been able to do thusfar in the playoffs: win game one. The Devils also need to take the advantage on the power play, where the Kings have been anemic (8.1 percent), while New Jersey has been successful 18.2 percent of the time.
Why They Won’t Win: The Kings are most likely the best team in the league right now. If you add up the regular season point totals of their opponents, the Kings have had tougher competition (317 points for the Canucks, Blues and Coyotes vs. 309 for the Panthers, Flyers, and Rangers) in reaching the Stanley Cup finals — and took fewer games to reach 12 wins (while staying undefeated on the road). The Devils haven't faced an offense like the Kings' and also have less rest than the Western Conference champs. L.A. goalie Jonathan Quick has been stellar with 1.54 goals against average and .946 save percentage. While the Devils hold an advantage on the power play, the Kings' have a huge advantage over the Devils on the penalty kill (91.2 percent vs. 74.2 percent, respectively).
Intangibles: Experience is the Devils' biggest advantage, with Brodeur and Elias leading the way. They'll help the players on the roster making their first appearance in the Stanley Cup finals. Brodeur also is playing his best hockey in a long time, and the offense has been rolling. The Devils earned some rest by dispatching the Rangers in six games, too.
How the Series Might Go: New Jersey and L.A. play a similar puck-possession system, so the margin between the two teams is even smaller than in previous series. Both offenses and goalies are sure to dazzle, so the difference will come from the special teams battle (L.A.'s great penalty kill vs. New Jersey's solid power play) and the non-star players who provide magic at big moments.
Prediction: Kings in six games.