LOS ANGELES -- For the first time in history, hockey will see a Los Angeles-New York Stanley Cup Final. This historic matchup features two teams that might have underachieved in the regular season but exerted their wills over the league's best in the postseason and each now look the part of conference champions. Here's how the 2014 Stanley Cup Final between the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers stacks up.
Getty ImagesChristian Petersen
The Rangers do have one star forward in Martin St. Louis (left), but the offense is extremely balanced. They spread the scoring out without a true top line. St. Louis and Derek Stepan each have 13 points with St. Louis and Carl Hagelin leading New York with six goals each. The defensive-minded Kings suddenly morphed into an offensive juggernaut in the playoffs, averaging a league-leading 3.48 goals per game. Marian Gaborik (right) has sniped his way to a league-leading 12 goals, while his linemate, center Anze Kopitar, leads all playoff scorers with 24 points. Head coach Darryl Sutter likes to debate the position of Jeff Carter's line -- Carter (22 points), along with rookies Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, brought an aggressive energy against Chicago.
Ryan McDonagh (left) is the key to the Rangers' defense, the second-stingiest throughout the playoffs (2.25 goals against), and head coach Alain Vigneault gives him the green light to make the plays he sees necessary. The Blueshirts were consistently using three pairs of D-men but were forced to make a chance when John Moore was handed a two-game suspension for an illegal hit on the Canadiens' Dale Weise in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final, forcing him to sit out the first game of the Stanley Cup Final. What McDonagh is to the Rangers, Drew Doughty (right) is to Los Angeles. He may be even more valuable to the Kings as the league's leader in ice time is the heart and soul of the team. He's a calming influence on the ice and his now infamous quote after Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals, "Your heart doesn't get tired," shows the mentality of Doughty and the effect it has on the rest of the team.
Henrik Lundqvist might be the most important player on the ice for the Rangers. He stays deep in the net and inspires the guys in front of him to play. King Henrik has rewarded their trust by leading all playoff goalies with a 9.28 save percentage. He exerts tremendous control over the defense in front of him and benefits from strong shot-blocking. It's no secret that Jonathan Quick has struggled in the playoffs. He has made some exceptional saves, sacrificing his body and making acrobatic maneuvers to catch pucks but he’s also given up some dribblers between his legs and his goals against average mark has reflected some of the easy goals: 2.86 over 21 games.
The New York penalty kill was what won the Blueshirts the series against Montreal. The Habs managed one power play goal in 17 tries. Rumor has it, Mike Babcock asked Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault to put Rick Nash on the penalty kill before the Olympics since he was slotted to play on the Canadian team's PK unit. It's paid dividends as Nash, McDonagh and the rest of the PK group is killing off more than 90 percent of penalties. Which is essential, since the Rangers spend about 10 minutes per game in the box. The Kings cracked the top penalty kill in the league when they scored six power play goals against the Blackhawks. However, their kill has been somewhat inconsistent over the final 14 games.
Vigneault (left) is in his first season with the Rangers and has always been respected for his ability to maximize the potential of his no-name players. This team was nothing at the beginning of the season -- so bad their captain, Ryan Callahan, wanted out at the trade deadline. They swapped Callahan with Tampa Bay for St. Louis and even he didn't come on strong until late in the season. The playoff that no one expected has been nothing short of remarkable and the credit has been due to Vigneault for keeping the team together. Sutter (right), the hard-nosed, old-school, grinder-type coach that fizzled out in so many postseasons before, has his team back in the Cup finalS for the second time in three years. His deep-rooted belief in his system is much like Vigneault's in that each coach trusts the players they have in each role. It's the second trip to the Stanley Cup Final for each head coach.
The Rangers are the underdogs and they know it. St. Louis channeled the emotions of his mother's death into a brilliant postseason and the Rangers rode it to the Final. The Kings might be tire -- all three series have gone into seven games -- and the Rangers are fresh. But the Kings are the toughest team in hockey and have the adrenaline and momentum on their side. It's a squad that plays together as one in all facets, locked in for all 60 minutes.
Kings in six. You can't expect them to sweep or win in five -- that's just too easy -- but the Western Conference is far deeper than its counterpart and the way the Kings dispatched three of the top teams in the league shows that they're ready to return the Stanley Cup to the Southland.