Zawaski: Stanley Cup Final Preview
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By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) This isn’t the Stanley Cup Final preview most of you wanted to read, but as the sting from the Blackhawks’ heartbreak subsides, excitement builds for what should be a fantastic Final.
Let’s take a look at the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers and how they stack up heading into tonight’s opener.
Head to head
The teams split their two regular-season matchups, with the Rangers winning 3-1 in Los Angeles in October and the Kings winning 1-0 in New York in November. The Rangers’ Corsi for was 119 (49.6 percent) compared to the Kings’ 121 (50.4 percent). New York held a 65-59 advantage in shots.
Los Angeles: Blackhawks fans are familiar with the Kings at this point. It all starts with their big line of Anze Kopitar flanked by Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik. Kopitar, a Selke Trophy candidate, isn’t just a defensive specialist. He leads all playoff scorers with 24 points. Gaborik leads the league in playoff goals with 12. If you’re someone who values the hit stat, you’ll find Brown right at the top. His 104 hits lead the league by a large margin. Chicago’s Bryan Bickell is second with 80. The Kopitar line has a little bit of everything and is easily the best remaining line in the playoffs.
The second line — or “That 70s Line” — terrorized the Blackhawks early in the Western Conference Final. Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson combined for 15 points in Games 3,4 and 5.
The Kings are deep down the middle, with Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards rounding out their bottom two center spots.
Winger Justin William has been a playoff assassin. He’s fifth in playoff scoring with 18 points and has been dubbed “Mr. Game 7.” In Game 7s, Williams has a 7-0 record, and he has seven goals and seven assists in those seven games. That’s an NHL record.
New York: The biggest deal at this year’s trade deadline was the “captain for captain” trade that took place between the Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning. The Rangers traded Ryan Callahan to the Lightning for Martin St. Louis, who’s gone on to lead the Rangers in playoff scoring. His mother passed away when the Rangers trailed the Penguins in that series 3-1. That will be a storyline throughout the Cup Final.
The other big names on the New York roster are Rick Nash and Brad Richards. Both have contributed to the Rangers’ run, but Derek Stepan, who is tied with St. Louis with 13 points, has been the better player. He’s a 23-year-old playmaker who’s getting better with every passing game.
Other Rangers forwards to keep an eye on are Mats Zuccarello and Carl Hagelin. They combined for 36 regular-season goals and supply the scoring depth needed to win a championship.
Los Angeles: The Kings’ defense is perhaps their greatest asset. Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin make up the top pair. Doughty is an excellent defender and can move and score the puck as well as any defender in the game. His 16 points lead the league in scoring among defensemen. He averages 27:50 of ice time per game, and he plays in every situation. Muzzin has emerged into a dependable defender who plays physical hockey. His hit on Marcus Kruger was one of the biggest in the playoffs.
The second pair of Slava Voynov and Willie Mitchell make a nice combination of offense and defense. Voynov is a puck mover, while Mitchell is a plodding, old-school stay-at-home type.
Alec Martinez and Matt Greene make up the final pair. Martinez scored the series-clinching goal vs the Blackhawks.
New York: The Rangers’ top pair features Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. McDonagh is one of the best young all-around defensemen in the game. He scored 43 points in the regular season and has 13 more in the playoffs. Girardi reminds me of a poor man’s Niklas Hjalmarsson. He’s a shot blocker who can play a shut-down role. He’s not overly physical but can hit when necessary.
Marc Staal and Anton Stralman make up the second pair. Staal is the least accomplished of the famous Staal brothers and has struggled with injuries his entire career. When he’s healthy, he’s solid, but at this point, his career has to be called a disappointment.
Los Angeles: Jonathan Quick will backstop the Kings. While Quick isn’t exactly the goalie he was a few years ago, he still has the ability to make huge, series-changing saves. His puck tracking, positioning and rebound control are solid. Quick was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 2012, but he’s taken a step back in the last two seasons. His playoff stats this season are incredibly ordinary. His 2.68 goals against average and .906 save percentage are near the bottom of the playoff leaderboards. He can still steal a game, but he can no longer win a series.
New York: Henrik Lundqvist is the best goalie in the world. If the Rangers are going to have a prayer in this series, he’s going to have to steal a number of games. His .928 save percentage is tops among goalies who weren’t eliminated in the first round. His 2.03 GAA is second only to Boston’s Tuukka Rask. He is the Rangers’ best hope.
Goaltenders aside, the Kings are worlds better in every category. I’m not sure how the Rangers even hang in this series. I’ve said all along: The team that won the West will win the Cup. That’s why the Blackhawks’ Game 7 loss was such a kick in the pills.
Kings in 5.
Jay Zawaski covers the Blackhawks and NHL for CBSChicago.com and 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.