By Jay Webster
It’s going on June, but over Stateside they are still playing ice hockey as the puck drops on the Stanley Cup Finals Wednesday night. If you saw the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils as the last two teams standing, put your hand up… Didn’t think so.
The NHL playoffs are always about getting hot at the right time, and having a goalie who is locked in, two traits epitomised by the Kings and Devils.
The Kings were a pre-season favorite to play for the Cup, but they suffered through a brutal season in which they struggled to score goals, fired their coach, and almost didn’t even make the playoffs.
Dead last in the NHL in scoring, despite a team loaded with offensive weapons, the Kings fired coach Terry Murray and replaced him on the bench with Darryl Sutter.
What really turned the corner for the Kings, however, was the acquisition of Jeff Carter in a go-for-broke move at the trade deadline in late February. The move paid off and the goals started to come, and Los Angeles was able nail down the eighth and final play-off spot in the Western Conference on the season’s final day.
Former Philly team-mates are on fire
Once the play-offs started, the Kings became a new team. They brushed off the No1 seed Vancouver Canucks in five games, then swept the second-seeded St Louis Blues, before taking down the Phoenix Coyotes in five games in the Western Conference Finals. It’s an incredible run that has seen the Kings outscoring their opponents 41-22 and win all eight play-off games on the road.
The top two lines for the Kings have been on fire. Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams have combined to post 15 goals and 42 points in the play-offs. On the second line, Carter has settled in nicely with former Philadelphia team-mate Mike Richards and ex-Anaheim Duck Dustin Penner.
After becoming a poster boy for the King’s regular season woes, Penner has rediscovered the form that helped him lift the Cup with the Ducks back in 2007. Fittingly, it was his over-time goal in Game 5 against Phoenix that sent the Kings into the Finals.
Three-time champ still has it
Jonathon Quick has been the personification of a hot goaltender, compiling a 1.54 goals-against-average and .946 save percentage throughout the playoffs. The 26-year-old youngster will square off against a 40-year-old legend in New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur. The three-time Stanley Cup champion has showed that he’s still got it, leading the Devils to the Finals for the first time since 2003.
Like the Kings, the Devils weren’t expected to be here, but they have gotten contributions from all four of their forward lines, getting goals from 15 different players in the playoffs. Led by Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, the Devils will look to slow down the Los Angeles juggernaut.
The Kings have never won the Stanley Cup in their 44-year history, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals just once, back in 1993 when ‘The Great One’ Wayne Gretzky led a team that fell to the Montreal Canadiens. With their performance so far in the playoffs, this might just be the year the Stanley Cup comes to the City of Angels.