Kings' Case for the Stanley Cup
First of a two-part preview of the 2012 Stanley Cup finals.
History: The L.A. Kings are in rarefied air for many reasons. It's only the second Stanley Cup finals berth in franchise history. Second, they're only the second No. 8 seed to ever reach the finals (the other was the 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers, who lost in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes). Thirdly, this is only the fourth time that a team from California has reached the finals; the other two berths were by the rival Anaheim Ducks, who won the Cup in 2007 and lost in the 2003 finals to the New Jersey Devils. The Kings are undefeated on the road this postseason (8-0), becoming the first team to go unbeaten away from home on the way to the finals. Finally, this is the lowest combination of seeds (the Devils are the No. 6 seed) in the Stanley Cup finals since the NHL switched to the current format for the 1994 postseason. (It's hard to determine official conference seeding before then.)
Road to the Finals: Defeated Vancouver Canucks, 4-1; St. Louis Blues, 4-0; Phoenix Coyotes, 4-1. The Kings eliminated the top three seeds in the Western Conference, something last achieved by the 2003-04 Calgary Flames. Along the way, the Kings are 12-2 — boasting two fewer losses than teams eliminated in the first round and four fewer losses than the Devils. In fact, of the 16 playoff series played so far, seven have reached at least six games — meaning the Kings have fewer losses in three rounds combined than some teams did in one series.
Leading Scorers: Dustin Brown (seven goals, nine assists); Anze Kopitar (six goals, nine assists); Mike Richards (four goals, seven assists); Justin Williams (two goals, nine assists).
Why They Will Win: The Kings have that rare ability to combine an amazing offense with a stifling defense. L.A. has averaged 2.93 goals per game so far, while allowing just 1.57 goals per game — the only team in the league to give up fewer than two goals per game. While their power play is inept (8.1 percent), their penalty kill is deadly (91.2 percent). Not to be discounted is the fact the Kings have only played 14 playoff games — four fewer than the Devils. Rest will give them the same great advantage that they've had in previous rounds, when they've won the first two games (all on the road) in each series. Being able to do that against the Devils might possibly clinch it for them, although the Devils are 6-4 on the road (including two victories against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden).
Why They Won't Win: The Devils are the only other team in the playoffs that have the ability to match the Kings' offensive dominance. N.J. has averaged 2.83 goals per game, which is head and shoulders above everybody other than L.A. (not counting the numbers from the ridiculous Battle of the Keystone State between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh). The Devils have a relatively stingy defense (2.33 goals allowed per game, eighth), but then again, so did Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix. The Devils also have the ability to match the Kings' style of play, something their predecessors didn't, which could get L.A. off their game. The Devils are certainly the Kings' biggest challenge of the postseason.
Intangibles: While we've already discussed the Kings' ransom of rest and road play, let's not forget about their goalie. Jonathan Quick boasts an impressive 1.54 goals against average and .946 save percentage, the best in the league among teams that advanced beyond the first round. Finally, momentum is clearly on their side and, in the playoffs, that's not to be underestimated.
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. But if L.A. continues its road mastery, it'll win the first Cup in franchise history. And, given the ease in which the Kings plowed through their previous competition, it's hard to see their fate changing.
Prediction: Kings in six games.