When asked shortly after his team’s victory in Game 7 of the Western Conference final what he thought of the New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter was his usual succinct self.
“Great goaltending,” he said. “Great defence. Great forwards. Great special teams.”
Sutter then said his team was “up against it” in this Stanley Cup final. Judging by gambling odds available and the Kings’ recent playoff history, it would be foolish to call them underdogs.
No, Los Angeles is the best team in the 2014 Cup final. And while New York has the series’ best goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist, the Kings’ talent advantage should give them their second championship in three years.
Since catching fire down the stretch in 2011-’12, the Kings have been playoff monsters, eliminated only by last year’s champions, the Chicago Blackhawks. Fourteen players are back from the last Cup team, and while this group hasn’t been as dominant as that one, it did become the first in NHL history to win three Game 7s to reach the final.
That led to plenty of talk from players after Sunday night’s overtime victory in Chicago about resiliency and heart. More than anything, the Kings have talent.
There’s leading scorer Anze Kopitar, who could be the Conn Smythe Trophy winner not too long from now. There are Canadian Olympians Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter, whose playoff performances match only their gold-medal success in Sochi.
And of course there’s Jonathan Quick, who also isn’t his 2012 playoff self but didn’t suddenly become an average goaltender. He and his teammates beat three of the top five teams in the West to get to this point.
Lundqvist is the Cup final’s X-factor. The 32-year-old Swede, who won a gold medal at the 2006 Olympics, has been stellar in putting up a 2.03 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.
The Rangers are four wins away from their first title since 1994 because of Lundqvist. And if he manages to steal a couple of games, there could be another parade down Broadway.
To do that, though, the team in front of Lundqvist will have to help him stop Marian Gaborik (12 goals), Justin Williams (18 points), Tyler Toffoli (13 points), Dustin Brown (12 points), Tanner Pearson (12 points) and Jake Muzzin (12 points).
That Kings depth will be hard to deal with.
Pick: Kings in 7.
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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version reported the wrong goals-against average for Henrik Lundqvist