Two Cents' Stanley Cup preview
The Stanley Cup finals get underway Wednesday night with the Devils hosting the Kings. Here's our Two Cents' preview:
Who won the season series?
The Devils won both meetings in typical Devils fashion: 2-1 in a shootout in New Jersey and 3-0 in Los Angeles, but pay no attention to those results. The games were played way back in October. They were different teams back then. New Jersey was 12-12-1 through Dec. 3, then went 36-16-5 the rest of the way. The Kings were 15-14-4 when coach Darryl Sutter took over and stormed back into the playoff race with a 25-13-11 record. Also, Johan Hedberg was New Jersey's goalie of record in both games. Unless something goes drastically wrong for the Devils, Hedberg will not play in this series.
How did the teams get here?
The Kings were the eighth seed in the West, yet plowed through the top three seeds -- Canucks, Blues and Coyotes -- with just two losses. They haven't been threatened at all, taking 3-0 leads in all three series. On the other hand, the Devils came this close to getting knocked out in the first round. They had to go to overtime to win both Games 6 and 7 to escape the opening round against the Panthers. Since then, they have pretty much cruised, dispatching the Flyers in five games and the top-seeded Rangers in six.
A history lesson
Okay, so Barry Melrose wasn't always a goof. Before he stumbled through 16 games as the alleged coach of the Lightning, he led the Kings to their only Stanley Cup final back in 1993 -- the Lightning-s inaugural season. Wayne Gretzky was the star of that team that lost to Jacques Demers' Canadiens.
Meantime, the Devils have been a model franchise pretty much since goalie Martin Brodeur started playing full time in 1993-94. They've qualified for the playoffs 16 times in 18 seasons. They've won three Cups (1995, 2000, 2003) in that span and reached the final another time (2001).
But this might surprise you: despite all that history, the Kings have four players who have won a Cup , while the Devils have only three.
For the first time in Stanley Cup final history, both teams have captains born in the United States. New Jersey's captain is Zach Parise, a native of Minneapolis. Dustin Brown, raised in Ithaca, N.Y., wears the "C'' for the Kings.
Brown leads the Kings in playoff scoring with 16 points (seven goals, nine assists), which is third overall . His plus-13 rating is tied for tops in the postseason with teammate Anze Kopitar. Meantime, Parise is tied for the team lead with seven goals and his 14 points are second on the team to Ilya Kovalchuk’s 18.
Whoever wins will be the second American captain to lift the Cup. Michigan native Derian Hatcher won the 1999 Cup with the Stars.
The road warriors
The Kings are 8-0 on the road in the playoffs, outscoring their opponents 30-13. Since the league went to the conference-based playoff format in 1993-94, the Kings are the first team to be unbeaten on the road headed into the final. Two more road victories and they'll tie an NHL record.
Who has the better goalie?
Hard as this is wrap your brain around, you might have to take Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick over New Jersey's Martin Brodeur at the moment. Crazy, right? Brodeur is a four-time Vezina Trophy winner and three-time Stanley Cup champ. He has played in 24 Cup final games, winning 15, with a 1.91 goals-against average. He will become the fifth goalie ever and the first since Jacques Plante in 1970 to appear in a Cup final game after his 40th birthday. But he isn't showing his age: He's 12-5 this postseason with a 2.04 GAA.
Quick, a finalist for this season's Vezina, is 26, just eight years older than one of Brodeur’s kids. But he has been the story of these playoffs, leading the postseason in goals-against average (1.54) and save percentage (.946). Quick has allowed as many as three goals only twice in 14 playoff games.
Who might be an under-the-radar star?
Dwight King (fitting name, right?) could be the Kings' secret weapon. The rookie has five postseason goals, including two winners in the Western Conference final. Meantime, keep an eye on New Jersey's Bryce Salvador. He is second among defensemen in scoring with 11 points (three goals, eight assists). His 11 points are the most ever by a player who scored fewer than 10 points in at least 70 regular-season games. He had just nine points (with no goals) in 82 games this regular season.
Who will win the series?
Neither team is a juggernaut on paper. The Devils are the first sixth seed to reach the final since the 2004 Flames. By the way, that Flames team, which lost to the Lightning, was coached by Darryl Sutter. And Sutter is the coach of this year's Kings, which join the 2006 Oilers as the only No. 8 seeds in the final. But you don't want to play either team right now. Flip a coin. I'll go with the Kings in six.