This isn’t going to sit well with Rangers fans, so I’m going to explain myself to them before getting into the reasons why I’m picking the Kings to win the Cup.
It’s not because because I’m upset over the New York Rangers eliminated my favorite team, the Montreal Canadiens. While I was disappointed, the Rangers earned it. Hell, I was among those who quickly dismissed the baseless, stupid conspiracy theories claiming Chris Kreider deliberately injured Carey Price. So let’s get that out of the way right now.
And no, I’m not “anti-Rangers”. Earlier in the playoffs I picked them to defeat the Flyers and Penguins, so put away the tin foil hat. They didn’t have an easy path to the Final. The Flyers pushed them to the limit. The Blueshirts rallied back from a 3-1 deficit to eliminate the Penguins, who were among the NHL’s best teams during the regular season. The Canadiens finished ahead of the Blueshirts in the standings and won two of three during their regular-season series. They played one less game reaching the Finals than the Kings. While the Kings path to the Finals was tougher (eliminating the Sharks, Ducks and the defending champion Blackhawks), the Rangers’ journey was no cakewalk.
I certainly respect the Rangers’ depth of talent and how it was deployed by head coach Alain Vigneault. They’ve got an all-world goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist, who leads all playoff goalies in save percentage and is second in goals-against average. That’s well ahead of Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick. Their blueline core – anchored by Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal – is every bit as good as the Kings’ defense. They’re among the playoff leaders for the lowest goals-against, shots-against and have one of the best penalty kills. Their Fenwick for is 50.5%, just behind the Kings’ 50.6 %. While the Kings have a Corsi-for of 52.9%, the Rangers are right behind them at 50.4%.
The Rangers also possess experienced leadership in Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis, who both won a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay a decade ago. They have a strong team bond, personified by how they rallied around St. Louis when his mother passed away earlier in the playoffs. They’re a fast team which rolls four lines as well as any of the top clubs. They also have a few extra days rest before the Cup Final compared to the Kings.
No, the reason I’m picking the Kings is I believe they’re the better team.
The bulk of the Kings roster consists of players who were part of their Cup run in 2012. There’s a very tight bond there, one which won a championship together, experienced the heartbreak of coming up short in last year’s Western Conference Final and became only the fourth team in NHL playoff history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit to win a series. While the Rangers have only three players with Cup rings in their dressing room, the Kings are loaded with previous Cup champions. That depth in championship experience should carry weight in this series.
Unlike two years ago when the Kings relied on strong goaltending and defense to win a championship, they’re doing it this year with the playoffs’ most potent offense. Five Kings – Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik, Justin Williams and Drew Doughty – are among the playoffs top-ten scorers. Tyler Toffoli and Dustin Brown are in the top-20. Kopitar is the overall points leader (24) while Gaborik lead in goals (12).
No Rangers can be found among the top-ten scorers, while St. Louis, McDonagh and Derek Stepan are in the lower-half of the top-twenty. The Kings have 11 players with double-digit point totals, compared to eight for the Rangers. The Kings lead the playoffs with a whopping 3.48 goals-per-game, compared to 2.70 goals-per-game for the Rangers.
It can be considered a clash of offense versus defense, but don’t forget the Kings throughout the regular season were the NHL’s top defensive team, giving up the fewest goals-against per game (2.05) and the second-fewest shots-against (26.2). They can adjust to a low-scoring style if required. If you want to play it wide-open or tight-checking, they’re adaptable.
What gave the Kings a significant offensive boost was the acquisition of Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline and the rise to prominence of young wingers Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. Gaborik, considered washed-up, regained his offensive spark playing alongside Kopitar, one of the best two-way players in the league. That chemistry carried over into the playoffs, giving the Kings a lethal one-two offensive punch. Toffoli and Pearson were teamed up with center Jeff Carter to form a dangerous second line. The Rangers, for all their depth, can’t match the Kings’ firepower.
The Kings can match the Rangers’ speed, and have the edge in physical play. The Kings delivered 898 hits through 21 playoff games this spring, compared to the Rangers’ 587 in 20 games. While that type of play can be wearing on the Kings, they showed no sign of physical fatigue against the Blackhawks in the Conference Final. While I’m certainly not belittling the Rangers’ achievement this spring, they haven’t faced the kind of physical pounding they’re going to get from the Kings.
The Rangers are a worthy opponent for the Kings. Indeed, if the Kings take them lightly, the Blueshirts can pull off an upset. With a goalie like Lundqvist at the top of his game, they stand a very good chance. Ultimately, however, I feel the Kings’ scoring punch, Cup Final experience, physical play and the ability to play a grinding shutdown style gives them the advantage. The Kings should win the Stanley Cup in six games.