LA going for 2 in 3.  NY going for 2 in 20.  Well, that’s still better than most of the league.The playoffs have led us to this epic showdown!  Original Six New York, versus first expansion Los Angeles.  One used to have Messier, one used to have Gretzky.  One has Lundqvist and one has Quick.  One will have the cup and the other will go home empty handed.  Who will it be?  Well, let’s dissect the series shall we?  But first, some tiny apologies.

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2014 Stanley Cup Final

Team I owe an apology to: LA

I knew you would go the distance and I knew you were damn near indestructible, I just thought the ‘Hawks were minusculy better.  Yes, I think I just made up a word there.  So not a big apology, but far be it from me to ever doubt you again………or is it?

Team that owes me an apology: Chicago

Again, nothing major here.  You were at home though, blew a 2 goal lead and had the lead on 3 separate occasions, but hey, you lost a game 7 in overtime to the Kings, the only team that will survive the apocalypse.  Truly the only things left at the end of the world will be the Kings, cockroaches, Spam and Twinkies.  At least then most of the world will know who they are.

This_Is_The_End

They survived another game 7 on the road!  How is this even possible?  I don’t care how many times you’ve scored Gaborik, you better not touch my Milky Way!

Stanley Cup Finals

On the 20th anniversary of their last Stanley Cup title, the Rangers will try for their 5th championship in their 88 year history.  The Kings are returning to the finals for the 2nd time in 3 seasons.  Despite being the BEST team in LA for the last few years, still nobody seems to know who these guys are.  Will another SC change that?  Probably not, but then again, the Kings probably wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Good

The Rangers team D continues to impress in these playoffs.  Owning a playoff best 2.70 gaa, they’ve allowed only 45 goals against in the postseason, the lowest total of any team to reach the conference finals and 15 less than the usually stingy, LA Kings.  Of course you have to credit a lot of these totals to Henrik Lundqvist.  King Henrik is making his case for Conn Smythe MVP honors.  After a shaky outing in game 5 of the previous series, Lundqvist stopped all 18 sots he faced in game 6, to help send his team to the finals.  He boasts a stellar 2.03 gaa and an equally impressive  .928 save %.  Also, if you ever find yourself on safari, bring Henrik along.  He can apparently  stop rhinos with his chest.  And you thought Happy Gilmore was tough.  Perhaps not as impressive, and nowhere near as sexy, as his shampoo commercials though.

Contrary to their offense in the regular season, the Kings continue to score with consistency and relative ease.  They have 9 players with double digit point totals, and 5 of them, including defenseman Drew Doughty, have at least 16 points or more.  They feature playoff leaders in goals, assists, points and plus/minus, while scoring 73 goals for.  That not only towers above their closest competitor Chicago, it trumps NY’s goal total by 24!  Kopitar leads the league with 19 assists and 24 points, while resurrected career award winner Marion Gaborik, leads in goals with 12.  But let us not forget the terrific play of Jeff Carter, who is 2nd overall in each of those categories, with 9 goals, 13 assists and 22 points respectively.  LA has seemingly learned the secret to scoring, confirming what Mel Brooks has known for decades.  It’s good to be the king.

hldp

My name is King Henrik, what’s yours?  Ohhhh, Giselle!  We shall be married in the morning!  Yeah, tell that to his wife.  It took her almost 13 years to nail him down.

The Bad

It’s safe to say that while the NY power play began to finally show signs of life against Montreal, they still finished the series with a 19.2% efficiency rate, and only managed 2 goals after the game 1 pounding they delivered.  Overall they’ve managed just 11 goals on 87 opportunities, again scoring the majority of those in the previous series.  It’s also worth mentioning that they’re tied for most short handed goals allowed with 2.  The Kings pk hasn’t been as good this season as in previous years, 81% is less than stellar, but they’re pk has faced 3 of the top offensive teams in the league and is both quick and aggressive.

I’m gonna mention Quick here, now before anybody goes nuts, just hear me out.  Quick has been far from “bad”, and as I’ve mentioned, they have played 3 top notch scoring teams.  Still, he’s given up more goals than he ever has in his playoff career, and his save % is the lowest it’s been since his first playoff series in 2010.  But it’s unfair for Quick to bear all of this brunt.  The LA defense, while making their presence felt in the O zone, has been but a shadow of their former stingy selves.  They’ve allowed more goals than any other playoff team (60), and have the worst goals per game average of any team that survived the opening round.  Again, it can’t be overstated that they’ve played San Jose, Anaheim, and Chicago, all teams featuring high powered offenses,  but it isn’t as if they haven’t faced many these teams before in the playoffs, and finished with at least slightly better totals.

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Hey, honey.  Don’t let my name fool you.  In real life, I’m anything but.

X Factor

A lot of people scoffed at the hiring of Alain Vigneault as the Ranger head coach, myself included.  Much of this had to do with the Vancouver hiring of John Tortorella, which seemed to be the NHL equivalent to a bad episode of Wife Swap.  The cartoon boing, really?  But my reservations about Vigneault simply had to do with the Ranger roster and how he could handle a team that’s more grit and less finesse.  I had the same concerns about Tortorella in Vancouver just, as Willy Wonka would say, strike that and reverse it. Well the joke is on all of us doubters because after one season, while Torts finds himself seeking another job, Vigneault is seeking Lord Stanley.  In the span of a season, he’s managed to not only get the Rangers to sure themselves up defensively, he’s brought together a locker room that was both divided and undisciplined in previous seasons.  Perhaps his best contribution however, was the rolling of 4 lines and the emergence of guys like Dominic Moore, Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett.  Thus creating the scoring and gritty depth usually needed to make a long playoff run.

I don’t like to repeat x factors all the time, but the Kings leave me little choice.  In my opinion, there is a major factor working for them, and a major factor working against them.  Let’s start with the latter.  I mentioned in the last series that I was worried about the toll be taken on the conditioning and bodies of the Kings.  They’ve now played 21 playoff games, all against very talented and physical opponents.  No human being can endure this type of stress forever and you began to see major signs of it in game 6 and game 7.  In the 3rd period of game 6, LA was trying to protect a lead and win the series on home ice.  They were absolutely dominated in the period, having major troubles getting the puck out of their own end and showing very visible signs of fatigue on the ice.  The result was a Chicago win and the set up for game 7.  Overall I thought Chicago carried play in game 7.  Once again, as the 3rd period started, the ‘Hawks seemed to have much more jump and a lot more life, keeping the Kings pinned in their own end for long stretches.  This continued into overtime but, as we all know, once again LA found a way to win.  And that’s my other point, how in hell do you kill this team?  They have now won 7 straight elimination games and have become the first team in NHL history to win 3 game 7’s on the road!  That’s not just nuts (refer to above), it’s absolutely crazy!  Well, at least she doesn’t have the chainsaw.  At any rate, nobody has been able to put LA down yet and, despite some fatigue, I’m not sure if the Rangers can do it either.

Vigneault-excited

I wanted out of Vancouver this badly!

Verdict

I doubt many had predicted NY to make it to the finals before the playoffs started, but with the new alignment and the upset of Boston, the path was laid out rather nice for them.  That’s not at all to suggest that they haven’t earned their spot, because they most certainly have, but I don’t think that anybody can look at the road traveled by these two teams and claim that the Kings had the easier route.  Often times having to play top level competition can help a team be that much faster and stronger.  Then again, as mentioned above, other times it can wear a team to the point of exhaustion.  The Rangers deserve a ton of credit for making it this far and if their solid defense can stifle the  new offensive juggernaut that is LA, they will have a great chance to take this series.  Also, if LA just can’t hang anymore physically, I’m not sure how many times they’ll be able to hang around and get that final bounce to go their way.  With that being said however, I have to ask once again, how the hell do you beat this team in a 7 game series?  It just seems damn near impossible at this point. Congrats LA King fans, those seemingly loyal few, you just earned another cup title.   And hell, why break with tradition?  LA in 7

dpconan

Ahh, so it’s not just their official Twitter that’s good with the snappy comebacks.  It’s sad though, I used to watch Conan too when he was on network TV.

Well that’s all for now folks.  I hope you enjoyed my trek though the playoffs and here’s some well wishes for an entertaining final.  Until next time, you have been warmed.

(Note from the author:  Sports incite great passion and emotion in all of us, which is why they are so popular the world over.  I encourage you to share your opinions in the comments section, on Twitter or Facebook, but please do it responsibly.  I have no agenda with Bench Warming other than to share my love of sports and perhaps get a few people to grin from time to time.  Thank you for stopping by and I hope you enjoy reading this column as much as I enjoy writing it.)

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