We know one thing for certain before the puck even drops in this series: For the first time since the NHL adopted this playoff format in 1994 we’ll see a No. 6 seed or lower hoist the Stanley Cup when all is said and done.
Two unlikely teams will face off for the NHL’s championship, with the No. 6 seeded New Jersey Devils having home-ice advantage over the No. 8 seeded Los Angeles Kings. But being unlikely does not make these teams unworthy. From depth and star power up front, to quality defensive play to stellar goaltending, both finalists have shown throughout the post-season why they belong in the final two.
So who will walk away as the winners? We’ll find out in seven games or less. For our money, however, we’ll take the…well, read on to find out.
NEW JERSEY 2-0-0 (5 GF, 1 GA)
LOS ANGELES 0-1-1 (1 GF, 5 GA)
PLAYOFF POWER PLAY
NEW JERSEY 12-for-66 (18.2 percent, 5th in NHL)
LOS ANGELES 6-for-74 (8.1 percent, 15th in NHL)
PLAYOFF PENALTY KILLING
NEW JERSEY 46-of-62 (74.2 percent, 13th in NHL)
LOS ANGELES 52-of-57 (91.2 percent, 2nd in NHL)
2012 PLAYOFF MVP
NEW JERSEY – Martin Brodeur: Brodeur has won everything in his career but a Conn Smythe Trophy, but if he keeps playing the way he has through the first three rounds, there’s a good chance he’ll fill that particular void in his trophy case. He has allowed some soft goals, but has otherwise been spectacular…and defying age at 40 years old.
LOS ANGELES – Dustin Brown: Brown leads the Kings in goals, points, hits and inspirational play. His questionable hit on Michal Rozsival in Game 5 of the Western Conference final was not considered a suspendable offense, so he’ll be available for Game 1. Particularly early in every series when the Kings have taken control, Brown has set the tone with big goals and physical play.
WHY THEY’RE HERE
NEW JERSEY – Because they might be the best four-line team in the NHL at the moment. Unlike the New York Rangers, whom they dispatched in the Eastern Conference final, the Devils don’t count on any one player to do the heavy lifting. The result is any one of their worker bees or stars is comfortable contributing in any situation. They’ve got arguably the best goaltender in the history of the game and he’s in some kind of zone and, unlike any Devils team before it, are known more for their offensive thrust than their defensive play.
LOS ANGELES – By dismantling their opponents with surgical precision and killing their spirits in every series before they even had a chance to know what hit them. Conventional wisdom suggests every team has to hit some form of adversity in the playoffs, but the Kings have yet to do that because they’ve taken a 3-0 lead in all three series they’ve played. Like the Devils, they’re getting contributions up and down the lineup and have finally morphed into the team everyone thought they could be when the season began.
Well, this is a tough one to figure out. The Devils have been brutal on the penalty kill and the Kings have been anemic on the power play. Of course, the Boston Bruins were embarrassingly bad on the power play in last year’s playoffs and still managed to win a Stanley Cup. Obviously, something has to give here. Advantage: Even.
Both teams are getting a considerable offensive push in the playoffs, but the Kings are just over a month removed from being the second-worst offensive team in the NHL. The Devils have been getting contributions from the first to fourth line and not only are their lesser lights scoring goals, but they’re scoring enormous goals. David Clarkson, three game winners in the playoffs? Who knew? Advantage: New Jersey.
These aren’t your father’s New Jersey Devils, but their defense isn’t as bad as some people would like to make it out to be. It certainly has no star power to it, but it has managed to get the job done in these playoffs so far. Bryce Salvador already has more points in the playoffs than he had in the regular season. The Kings defense corps has been a force at both ends of the ice. Brad Doty, er Drew Doughty, has emerged as a Conn Smythe candidate for the Kings. Advantage: Los Angeles.
Both goaltenders could easily be the leading candidates for the Conn Smythe going into the final, but Jonathan Quick of the Kings didn’t have to even be that good in the Western Conference final. Brodeur is putting together an incredible story in this year’s playoffs and continues to cement his Hall of Fame credentials. The fact that he was clearly better than the probable Vezina winner and finalist for the Hart Trophy in the conference final, plus his playoff experience, is the tipping point. Edge: New Jersey.
No team gets to the Stanley Cup final without top-level work behind the bench and the Kings and Devils are no exception. Both Peter DeBoer and Darryl Sutter have used their entire rosters throughout the playoffs. DeBoer using his fourth line to go head-to-head against the Rangers top line turned out to be a stroke of genius. Sutter, on the other hand, has been a huge factor in the Kings going from underachiever to Stanley Cup contender. Edge: Even.
The Devils have won three of the four OT games in which they’ve participated. Adam Henrique, who scored the OT-winner in Game 7 of the first round and finished off the Rangers with the OT winner in Game 6, is fashioning quite a reputation as clutch scorer. It should come as not surprise from someone who has won two Memorial Cups and was MVP of the Ontario League playoffs in 2010. In 2009, he scored the overtime winner in the semifinal to propel the Spitfires to the championship game.
With two teams that in may ways are mirror images of one another, it should be a wildly entertaining Stanley Cup final. Martin Brodeur has been here four times before and won three times. The Kings have an enormous amount of playoff momentum, the Devils have playoff history. New Jersey in six.
THN senior writer Ken Campbell will be on the road for each game of the Stanley Cup final and will file daily reports.