They have been in the NHL together since 1967 yet for the first time during those 47 years the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers will meet in the Stanley Cup Final, starting on Wednesday. The bi-coastal opponents offer a clash of both culture off the ice and styles on it.
Here is a comparison of the two teams in tale-of-the-tape fashion:
Alain Vigneault, Rangers: Some say if Roberto Luongo could have made a key save in 2011, Vigneault’s Vancouver Canucks would have defeated Boston in seven games to have won the Cup. Luongo didn’t, so Vigneault lacks that on his resume. Nonetheless, what he did this season with the Rangers was remarkable. In terms of personality, he is the polar opposite of the volatile former coach John Tortorella, whose task-master style grated on the players, notably star goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Vigneault brought more of an up-tempo style on the ice and a laid-back one off of it. With a veteran team, the results clearly were positive.
Darryl Sutter, Kings: This is his third trip to the Final, having won the 2012 Cup with the Kings. He also brought Calgary to the 2004 Cup Final, which the Flames lost in seven games to Tampa Bay. With his mumbling, somewhat odd communication style with the media, he represents perhaps a latter-day Casey Stengel. Yet he is truly effective as a coach and gets the most out of his players. The blueprint for strong goaltending, a mobile defense and big, fast physical forwards is enough to keep the Kings in any game. Throw in the skill the Kings have with Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams and it’s no wonder they’re competing for their second Cup in two years.
Edge: , simply by virtue of the Cup on Sutter’s resume and one more trip to the Final than Vigneault.
Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers: He has won more games, both in the playoffs and regular season, than any goalie in the Original Six franchise’s history. He leads the playoffs in save percentage (.928) and is second in goals-against average (2.03), just a hair behind Boston’s Tuukka Rask (1.99). Lundqvist earned his native Sweden an Olympic gold medal in 2006 and a silver in 2014. This is his first Cup Final, and his lights-out play is a big part of why the Rangers are here in the first place.
Jonathan Quick, Kings: Ask any NHL general manager which goalie they would like to start their franchise with and Quick would appear on a short list of two or three. He was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 2012 as playoff MVP and was the United States’ goalie at the 2014 Olympics, where his team lost 1-0 in the semifinals to eventual gold-medal winner Canada – as good of a result as any team in the tournament against the Canadians. Nonetheless, Quick has struggled through these playoffs. At 2.86, he ranks ninth in GAA among playoff goalies with at least 400 minutes played and seventh in save percentage at .908. In the regular season, he posted numbers of 2.07 and .915.
Edge: , as Lundqvist is playing better in the postseason.
Rangers: Rick Nash, who was paid $7.8 million this past season and expected to be perhaps the Rangers’ top goal-scorer, has three goals in 20 games. Right wing Martin St. Louis, the oldest player in the series at 38, is tied for the team lead in playoff points at 13 with center Derek Stepan and defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Another relative underachiever in terms of his paycheck is center Brad Richards, who has five goals and six assists in 20 games. Richards earned $9 million this past season. Fourth-liners like Dominic Moore and Brian Boyle have proved very effective for the Rangers. At 6-foot-7, Boyle will be key for a smaller Rangers’ forward corps against the Kings. St. Louis stands 5-foot-8, Mats Zuccarello 5-foot-7 and Carl Hagelin 5-foot-11. However, Hagelin and Chris Kreider (four goals in 10 playoff games) provide the Rangers with dangerous speed.
Kings: In Kopitar, Gaborik, Carter and Williams, they have four of the top five leaders in playoff scoring. In Jarret Stoll, they have the top faceoff man left in the playoffs. In Mike Richards, they have a former finalist for the Selke Trophy, given to the league’s top defensive forward. Carter is 6-foot-4, 212 pounds, Kopitar is 6-foot-3, 224, Dwight King is 6-foot-4, 230 and captain Dustin Brown, a punishing hitter, is 6-feet, 207. The Kings are like a heavyweight boxer that lands body blow after body blow, weakening their opponent.
Rangers: Besides being tied for the team playoff points lead, McDonagh has averaged 25:11 of ice time, tops on the Rangers. When at his best, he can be a game-changer. His partner, Dan Girardi, was thought of well enough a few years back that some said he should be considered for the Norris Trophy, given to the league’s top defenseman. Girardi is a stay-at-home type and those rarely garner the winning Norris votes. Marc Staal is a former All-Star and Kevin Klein is underrated and solid defensively. Anton Stralman can be up-and-down.
Kings: Drew Doughty is a world-class defenseman, evidenced by his performance at the 2014 Olympics and these playoffs. His four goals were the most for Canada at the Olympics and his six points tied for the team lead (not just among defensemen but all players). During the playoffs, he is tied for the lead in scoring among all defensemen with 16 points and averages 27:50 of ice time per game, the most of any player in the Final. His partner, Jake Muzzin, has scored five goals and Alec Martinez, who has four goals, of course sent the Kings to the Final with his Game 7 overtime winner. Slava Voynov brings mobility and has scored clutch goals in the past. If the injured Robyn Regehr (6-foot-3, 222) can return, he will bring size and experience (he played on Sutter’s 2004 Calgary team).
Edge: , but not by a lot.
Rangers: They are functioning at a dismal 13.6 percent for the playoffs (10th among 16 teams), although they improved in the conference finals after a poor first two rounds. This is where they need Nash and Richards to produce. If McDonagh gets going, he can act as a catalyst, as he did in the conference finals against Montreal. The Rangers also have allowed two shorthanded goals, tied for the second-most in the playoffs.
Kings: They rank fifth in the playoffs, scoring at a 25.4-percent rate. Carter has four power-play goals, tied for the most in the playoffs. Doughty’s eight power play assists lead the playoffs and Kopitar ranks fourth with five. The Rangers really don’t want to take too many penalties against the Kings.
Rangers: The Rangers have the second-best penalty-killing unit in the playoffs at 85.9 percent. (They trail only Philadelphia, their first-round opponent, and that was because the Rangers’ power play was so inept against the Flyers.) Much of their penalty-killing success is because of Lundqvist and his brilliance. Boyle is an excellent shot blocker and will take away passing and shooting lanes. Nash, known more for his offense, is a surprisingly effective penalty killer and also a big body.
Kings: At 81.2 percent, the Kings rank ninth in the playoffs, which obviously is not great. If Quick can get back to form, that will help their penalty killing more than anything. Regehr led the Kings in shorthanded time on ice in the first round before getting hurt so he would help in that regard, if he can return. Kopitar, a Selke finalist this year, and Stoll are quality penalty killers.
Rangers: By defeating Montreal in six games, they have not played since Thursday and will be well rested by the time Game 1 comes around.
Kings: By going to overtime of Game 7 in the conference final, they could be exhausted, both physically and emotionally. This hurt Montreal in Game 1 of the conference final against the Rangers in the form of a 7-2 defeat. The Kings own home-ice advantage but have proved a powerhouse on the road both in 2012 when they won the Cup and this year as well.
Rangers: Last year at the deadline, the Rangers sent Gaborik to Columbus for defenseman John Moore and forwards Derek Dorsett and Derick Brassard, all three of whom have proved important role players for the Rangers. Moore, a good-skating, third-pair defenseman, will be coming off a two-game suspension. Brassard has five postseason goals. The Rangers also made the blockbuster with Columbus to get Nash in July 2012.
Kings: This year at the deadline, the Kings acquired Gaborik from Columbus, who leads all players with 12 playoff goals. In February 2012, before the Kings won their first Cup, they got Carter from the Blue Jackets.
Edge: in a no-brainer.
Rangers: Lundqvist has won five straight Game 7s, including two this year. He is 4-1 lifetime with a 1.00 GAA and .936 save percentage in the decisive games. St. Louis and Richards won the Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004 in a Game 7.
Kings: Justin Williams’ 14 points are the most all-time in Game 7 situations. Under Sutter, the Kings have won their past four Game 7 situations. This season the Kings became the first team in league history to win three Game 7s on the road in the same year. Alas, they’ll play at home if they reach Game 7 in the final round.
Edge: A draw.
in six. Their size and scoring will be too much for Lundqvist and the Rangers.