In what the NHL described as “A Season Like No Other”, the Stanley Cup Final will feature a Final like no other. For the first time since the 1981 World Series, a team from Los Angeles takes on a team from New York for the right to be called champion. The last time the Kings took on the Rangers in a playoff series was in 1981, when they met in a best-of-five Preliminary Round series. The Kings were the 4th seed and the Rangers were the 13th seed. Led by Ron Duguay and Anders Hedberg, the Rangers dispatched the Kings in four games. The most memorable moment of the series occurred in Game 2, when inside The Fabulous Forum, a bench-clearing brawl broke at the end of the first period. It all began when Greg Terrion tried to fight Duguay, but during the scrum, Barry Beck sucker-punched Rick Chartraw. That incident led to two power play goals; one scored by Larry Murphy, and the other by Marcel Dionne 46 seconds later. By the end of the period, all hell broke loose, as Beck, Ed “Boxcar” Hospodar, Jerry “King Kong” Korab, and Jay Wells were all ejected from the game. The game set numerous playoff records: most combined penalties in a period, most penalties by one team in a period (NYR, 24), most penalty minutes by one team in a period (NYR, 125), and Hospodar set a record with the most penalties and penalty minutes in a playoff game (6 penalties; 39 penalty minutes). Nick Fotiu almost caused the fight to spill into the Forum stands.
33 years later, the Kings and Rangers meet for the first time in a best-of-seven playoff series, let alone, with the Stanley Cup on the line. For both teams, the road just getting to the Final was tough. Both played the maximum of fourteen games through the first two rounds, and for the Kings, they became the first team to win three Game 7s en route to the Final. Heading into this championship series, both teams have something to prove. All year, we talked about the Chicago Blackhawks could potentially become a dynasty if they repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. Talks about “dynasty” now shifts toward the LA Kings, who are looking to win a second Stanley Cup championship in three years. For the Rangers, they wanted to prove the changes they made were for the better, and that Ranger fans wouldn’t have to wait another 54 years to see their beloved Blueshirts parade down the Canyon of Heroes once again.
In their two head-to-head matchups, which happened early in the season, both teams split the series, with the visiting team winning each game. The Rangers beat the Kings in the Kings’ home opener at Staples Center on October 7, 3-1. Brad Richards had two goals, Rick Nash had two assists, and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 28 of 29 shots. Their last meeting occurred on November 17, when the Kings ended a four-game road trip that rolled through Western New York and the Tri-State Area. Tyler Toffoli scored the lone goal of the game and Ben Scrivens stopped all 37 Ranger shots for a 1-0 Kings win at Madison Square Garden.
In the Final, these two teams look dramitically different, with each team picking up a key player at the Trade Deadline. Martin St. Louis was dealt from the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Rangers after he and President and General Manager Steve Yzerman had “inconsolable differences” (Yzerman not selecting St. Louis to the Canadian Olympic team and shifting the Lightning’s team focus to Steven Stamkos). Marian Gaborik was dealt from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Kings in a move reminiscent to a few seasons ago, when Jeff Carter was dealt from Columbus to LA. On paper, The Kings look to be the prohibitive favorite, with four of the top five leaders in scoring (Kopitar, Carter, Gaborik, Williams), including the top-scoring defenseman (Doughty) wearing black, white, and aluminum. However, if the Kings want their second Stanley Cup championship in three years, the Kings are going to have to beat THE KING: former Vezina Trophy winner and 2006 Olympic Gold Medalist Henrik Lundqvist. Through 20 playoff games, Lundqvist is 12-8 with a 2.03 GAA and a .928 save persentage. In his previous eight seasons in the NHL, Lundqvist has never made it to the Stanley Cup Final. Yet, in this postseason, he has managed to surpass Ranger legend Mike Richter in nearly every goaltending statistic in the Ranger record book. If the Rangers want to win their first Stanley Cup championship in 20 years, they are going to have to find a way to beat the most resilient, battle-tested team in hockey. There are two records that could be broken in the Stanley Cup Final. The first one is most games played in one playoff season (26 by the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers and the Darryl Sutter-coached 2004 Calgary Flames). The other one is most games played by a Stanley Cup championship team (25 by the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes and the 2011 Boston Bruins; a team that won three Game 7s and one of those casualties was the Alain Vigneault-coached Vancouver Canucks). In 2012, the Kings had one of the shortest runs in playoff history playing only 20 games. No team has ever played the maximum amount of games (19-20 games in MLB, 28 games in the NBA, and 28 games in the NHL) en route to a championship. If you’d ask me what my prediction is for the Stanley Cup Final, it’s all in the numbers.
Prediction: LA in 7