The Stanley Cup finals are here at last, after 82 regular-season games and three rounds of playoffs, and the matchup is as unlikely they come. The sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils will take on the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings.
Here’s a look at how the series breaks down.
No. 6 (East) NEW JERSEY DEVILS (48-28-6) vs. No. 8 (West) LOS ANGELES KINGS (40-27-15)
HOW THEY GOT HERE: New Jersey beat No. 3 Florida 4-3, No. 5 Philadelphia 4-1, and No. 1 New York Rangers 4-2. Los Angeles beat No. 1 Vancouver 4-1, No. 2 St. Louis 4-0, and No. 3 Phoenix 4-1.
2011-12 SERIES RECORD: Devils 2-0 (one win in shootout).
PLAYOFF HISTORY: None. This is the teams’ first meeting in the playoffs.
NEW JERSEY: The Devils are in the Stanley Cup finals for the fifth time and are looking for their fourth title. New Jersey captured the Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003, with its only finals loss to Colorado in 2001. … Martin Brodeur has been there for all the finals appearances, and could call it a career at age 40 once this series is over—win or lose. Forward Patrik Elias has been in all of New Jersey’s trips to the finals, except for the first in 1995. … Brodeur injured his right shoulder against the Kings on Oct. 13 and missed six games. He didn’t earn his first win of the season until Nov. 5. Backup goalie Johan Hedberg earned both of New Jersey’s wins over the Kings. … Captain Zach Parise leads the Devils with seven playoff goals and is second with 14 points. He led the way in the conference finals against the Rangers when he had six points (3 goals, 3 assists) in the series. This could be the last hurrah for Parise with New Jersey as he is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
THREE DEVILS TO WATCH: All of these guys have broken out in the playoffs.
Defenceman Bryce Salvador. After scoring no goals and posting nine assists in 82 regular-season games, Salvador has three goals and eight assists in 18 post-season contests.
Fourth-line centre Ryan Carter. Carter has scored four goals in 17 playoff games, including first-period tallies in Games 5 and 6 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Rangers. New Jersey won the final three games of the series.
Centre Travis Zajac. Limited to only 15 regular-season games because of a torn Achilles tendon, the Devils’ No. 1 centre returned to action in late March. He has found his game in the playoffs, and has excelled by tying for the team lead with seven goals. He also has five assists in 18 games.
LOS ANGELES: The Kings have reached the finals for just the second time in team history. Los Angeles is still looking for its first Stanley Cup championship, having lost in five games to Montreal in 1993. … The Kings have won an NHL-record eight straight road playoff games—the first team to do it in one playoff year—including three at Phoenix in the Western Conference finals. Los Angeles, which has outscored opponents 30-13 in its road games, has won 10 straight away from home—a record for multiple years. The Kings are the first team to take an undefeated road record into the finals since the conference format started in 1994. … The Kings are the second No. 8 seed to get to the finals under the current post-season format and the first to eliminate the top three seeded teams in the conference in succession. … Los Angeles has excelled behind Vezina Trophy finalist Jonathan Quick, who is 12-2 with a 1.54 goals-against average and .946 save percentage in the playoffs. … On offence, the Kings are paced by their top line of captain Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams.
THREE KINGS TO WATCH: This trio could make a difference for the Kings.
Left wing Simon Gagne. Gagne could be a Kings wild card, having been medically cleared to play for the first time since a concussion sidelined him on Dec. 26. It might take another injury for a lineup spot to open up for Gagne, who made it to the Cup finals two years ago with Philadelphia.
Dwight King. The rookie forward has five goals, including two game-winners in the Western Conference finals. King, the 109th pick in the 2007 draft, was recalled from the minors on Feb. 10 and had five goals and nine assists in 27 regular-season games.
Willie Mitchell. The 35-year-old defenceman, who is the Kings’ oldest player, is in the Stanley Cup finals for the first time.
THE PLAYERS’ TAKE:
“Well, I’ve got five kids now. So, I need to be here.”—40-year-old Devils goalie Martin Brodeur on why he is still playing.
“Most of his ribs at us are more of the sarcastic type than the stern force, yelling at us. He will just say, ‘Is this game too hard for you tonight?’ or something like that, just to get you angry. He knows what makes hockey players angry.”—Kings forward Justin Williams on Darryl Sutter’s coaching style.
In New Jersey, while Garden State rocker Bruce Springsteen will be on tour in Germany, Spain, Portugal and Italy during the finals, there’s always a chance Jersey’s other legend, Jon Bon Jovi, shows. He made an appearance in Round 3 vs. the Rangers.
In Los Angeles, expect to see plenty of stars in what they’re now calling “Hockeywood.” Already, Zac Efron, Matthew Perry, Colin Hanks, David Beckham, Rachel McAdams, Alyssa Milano, and Kurt Russell have been bit by Kings Fever, and took in games at Staples Center. Who’s left?
OUTLOOK: The Kings show how they got this far in a highly competitive series, but Brodeur and Devils get the best of Quick and capture the Cup in California. Devils in 6.