Who will win the Stanley Cup?
THOUGHT THE Rangers were in trouble, but then Dan Carcillo's suspension was reduced.
While Philadelphia fans might be sick of the Flyers' alumni chasing another Stanley Cup, the Rangers are in danger of getting bitten by a doomed trade of their own.
Henrik Lundqvist is the better goalie in this series, but not by a large enough margin to carry the Rangers to the title. Jonathan Quick isn't bad, and the Kings are on one of the wildest playoff rides ever, with three Game 7 road victories and an erasure of the Sharks' 3-0 series lead in the first round.
Kings in 5
THE ODDSMAKERS say overwhelmingly that the Kings will win the Stanley Cup, and I get it. They rallied past San Jose, outlasted their local rival, the Anaheim Ducks, knocked off the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks in a series most, including me, saw as a more appropriate Stanley Cup final, pitting two of the more recent champions against each other.
To get there, the Kings also beat two goalies, Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford, with their names already etched on the Cup. The Rangers? They got to play their first three games against the Flyers' backup, went up against the mercurial Marc-Andre Fleury in the second round, played against Montreal's backup Dustin Tokarski in the Eastern Conference finals. Yes, Fleury has his name on a Cup, too, and Tokarski had his moments, but if Steve Mason or Carey Price were in the nets the whole time, would they be here right now? I wonder.
Which brings up Henrik Lundqvist, whose stream of steady, solid seasons puts him in that category reserved for the likes of Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy. Lundqvist has a bad game here and there, but never, it seems, two in a row. Ask an NHL-er how important that is for a team's psyche.
Jonathan Quick is in that category, too, but he looked downright average for most of that Chicago series and in the two series before that. Chicago's snipers can do that to the best, of course, but Quick has allowed plenty of goals this postseason that had nothing to do with precision or power.
Anyway, both teams play with a defense-first philosophy, but it seems to me the Rangers have been the more consistent team with that approach. So I'll buck the odds and pick the team with the goalie who is playing better.
Rangers in 7
VEGAS SAYS the Kings are favored over the Rangers. Anybody who watched the fast, fierce series between the Kings and Blackhawks says the Kings are favored. So how could the Rangers win?
Well, the Kings would rather play a low-scoring and controlled game - the Blackhawks forced them to play up-and-down, and they survived, but it was not the Kings' preference. Take that, and take the way the Rangers have excelled at times at puck possession in these playoffs, and add in the most important point - that the Rangers have goaltender Henrik Lundqvist - and there is the Rangers' path.
But will they find it? Nah.
Kings in 6
FOR THE first time since the 1981 World Series, teams from the two largest cities in the United States will clash for a major professional sports championship. It is, in no uncertain terms, a dream matchup for the NHL - with the ringing of the cash register slowly rocking commissioner Gary Bettman to sleep each night this week.
The impact of these two cross-coast teams will be felt by the Flyers. In a pragmatic sense, the additional cash flow in this year's league budget will allow Ron Hextall to spend more in the future. In an emotional sense, the series for Lord Stanley's chalice will hit close to home.
Not only did the Flyers come within one goal in Game 7 against the Rangers in the first round, but New York also will be facing Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Justin Williams on an LA squad gunning for its second Cup in 3 years. The Kings, having knocked off the defending champion Blackhawks in overtime of last round's seventh game, are on the brink of dynastic chatter.
The Kings are the heavy favorite - and rightly so. They've plowed through a significantly better conference, overcoming almost every possible obstacle along the way.
The Rangers are the third mostly average team to climb out of the East in five seasons. (Yes, that includes the Flyers in 2010 and New Jersey in 2012.) Credit to New York for handling its opponents - but the road hasn't been all that daunting. After the Flyers, Pittsburgh was ripe for the picking. Montreal's Dustin Tokarski played well, but Carey Price he is not.
It was the Kings who dispatched the Devils' surprising run in 2012. I like them to do the same to the Rangers - with Jonathan Quick capturing another Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Los Angeles can win with any style: speed, toughness, defensive struggle or shootout. That doesn't mean it won't be entertaining, though. This series will be good for a lot of things - air miles, celebrity sightings - and yes, even good for the game.
Kings in 6