“One thing that’s real evident to me, and it should be to our whole group, is we’re not going to beat this team if we do not all bring our A-game. It is that strong of an opponent that we’re playing against.”
This is something we knew from the get-go, that the Rangers would need to play near perfect hockey to beat the Kings in an extended series. The first period –minus the Derek Stepan turnover– was almost perfect hockey, and the type of game the Rangers will need to play for a full 60 minutes to beat the Kings. Naturally, they got away from that in the second/third periods, and lost the game in overtime.
Well, the Rangers lost Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals. But all is not lost, there are still six more games left to play, and the Kings still need to win three of them. This was never a best of one, and there’s a lot of hockey to be played. However, the Rangers need to make some adjustments if they are to keep up with the Kings in a long series. I love me some bullet points:
The Rangers need to stick to what worked in Game One: Using their speed on the forecheck to force turnovers and generate chances. Sooner or later those will find their way to the back of the net. Jonathan Quick made some great saves early on to keep it a two-goal game, and he’s really the reason why it didn’t get out of hand early on. Use the speed, and good things will come.
That said, Daryl Sutter did a great job of adjusting his team on the fly. It became very obvious that the Rangers were picking apart the Kings 2-1-2 forecheck for some solid chances. As the game wore on, the Kings adjusted, keeping four guys back to stymy the rush and nullify the speed advantage held by the Rangers. Alain Vigneault will need to make the same adjustments.
Carl Hagelin was great all game, and he’s showing why the Rangers refused to include him in any trades. He was their best weapon, and very few Kings players can keep up with him. Chris Kreider is the other Ranger with great speed, and he needs to start using it again, like he did in Game One against Montreal.
Justin Williams capitalized off a pretty gruesome Dan Girardi turnover to give the Kings a victory in Game One. The Kings also came back from down 2-0 in the first period, scoring once in the first and once in the second to tie the game, before Williams won it in overtime. It wasn’t all bad for the Rangers, who used their speed and were all over the Kings in the first period. The problem was that the Kings adjusted, forcing the Rangers into a dump-and-chase game, which the plays into the Kings’ favor.
Benoit Pouliot scored on a breakaway, and Carl Hagelin scored on a mini-breakaway/lucky bounce. Both used their speed to burn past a Kings defense that was not expecting the Rangers to be as quick as they were. But it was a turnover by Derek Stepan that got the Kings on the board, and then it was the Girardi turnover that sealed it for the Kings.
Six days after winning the Eastern Conference, the Ranger are in Los Angeles to take on the Kings in Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s been a bumpy road to get here, and their opponent is a great one, but these Rangers will always stand a chance as long as Henrik Lundqvist is in net. If there’s a game to take in LA, it’s this one, as the Kings are on two days rest, one of them being a travel day.
Fans are so deliriously happy with the New York Rangers that the two biggest sources of outrage leading up to Game One were over
A) the NHL Shop’s handling of mistakenly priced $63 jerseys that eager fans tried to buy by the truckload, only to have their orders canceled,
B) the secondary market ticket prices north of $1,500 for games at Madison Square Garden that prompted some fans to ponder whether it was a more sensible option to fly cross-country to see the team on the road in Los Angeles at a “discount” price-tag exceeding $1,200.
That’s the kind of frenzy New Yorkers are in right now over the team’s hockey team, 20 years removed from its last appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The undeniable truth of the matter is that the Rangers are facing a superior team. The Los Angeles Kings won a Stanley Cup two seasons ago and have been to the Western Conference Finals in each of the last three seasons.
To get here, they had to defeat the gauntlet of San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago, who combined for a regular season record of 151-63-32 (in comparison to the combined record of the Flyers, Penguins and Canadiens of 139-82-25). The eye test confirms that the Kings are indeed a powerhouse, and advanced metrics near universally point to Los Angeles as the best possession team in the league.
On Wednesday evening, the Rangers will play their first Stanley Cup Final game since 1994. Twenty years worth of anticipation, a big-market, celebrity-fueled war between New York City and Los Angeles. And, at the center of it all, a marquee goaltending matchup for the ages. Since I have done my Preseason Top 30 Goaltenders list, Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick have ranked number one and two, respectively.
Most people associate Quick’s playoff pedigree with his 2012 Cup/Conn Smythe winning performance. As a general rule, his playoff performances have been stellar, amassing a 2.27 GAA and .922 save percentage over five playoff seasons (although it is slightly skewed because Quick played almost 30% of his playoff appearances during 2012). This year, however, Quick has been rather pedestrian (we’ll get there in a minute). In fact, there are a number of pundits who are calling a clear goaltending advantage to New York. Let’s break down Quick’s style and figure out why that is.
Here we are, on the eve of the Stanley Cup Final. I’ll save the storylines for everyone else and say this one thing: if you asked me if we would be here only 3 weeks ago, I’d ask you what you were smoking. On to the Final predictions…
Dave’s Pick: Rangers in 7. The Rangers will win if and only if they can exploit the edges they have in goaltending, defense, and depth. The Rangers roll 18 skaters regularly, with their 4th line getting 10-12 minutes. The Kings’ 4th line gets half that, so they rely on their top-nine forwards. The Rangers have a more rounded defense as well, rolling three pairs boasting three top-pairing defensemen in McDonagh, Staal, and Girardi. It’s going to be a dogfight, and it definitely won’t be the massacre that the media is saying. When the teams are this closely aligned (although the Kings dominate puck possession better than the Rangers), you have to give the edge to the better goalie. Hank will be the difference maker.
If the opportunity to win the Stanley Cup wasn’t motivation enough (it is), several Rangers have additional motivation to step up and perform against the Los Angeles Kings starting Wednesday night.
Mats Zuccarello, Benoit Pouliot and Derick Brassard have been the Rangers most consistent forward line all season, and all three go into the Cup Final looking to earn extended stays with the Rangers. Zuccarello in particular can be considered a foregone conclusion. For the little Norwegian, it’s now about how big can he make his next deal and that is a strong motivator.
Brassard and Pouliot’s talent and relative success should make them both Rangers beyond this summer, but a strong Finals series would also give them a strong position to negotiate from. Worst case scenario, they’re entering hockey’s biggest shop window. Pouliot in particular would like to earn a multi-year deal from someone.
The Chicago Blackhawks did everything we asked of them by forcing a Game Seven. The game will be played tonight at 8pm EDT in Chicago, and it looks like the Hawks have a big advantage over the LA Kings by playing Game Seven at home after winning two straight to force this best-on-one. If the Hawks win, they will have two days off before the Rangers come to town for Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals on Wednesday. If the Kings win, they will likely fly home on Monday, giving them 1 1/2 days off (traveling isn’t really relaxing in my book) before the Rangers come to town.
The Kings have Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Marian Gaborik, Jonathan Quick, Drew Doughty, and Anze Kopitar. The Hawks have Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, and Corey Crawford. I don’t really know who I would want to face. Crawford is the weaker goaltender, but he’s weaker in the sense that Carey Price is weaker than Henrik Lundqvist.
We deliberately avoided posting the schedule for the Stanley Cup Finals until the Rangers clinched. Most of us have played at some level, and we are a superstitious bunch. Now that the Finals are a reality, here’s the schedule:
Game 1 Wednesday, June 4 @ Chi/LA
Game 2 Saturday, June 7 @ Chi/LA
Game 3 Monday, June 9 @ NY
Game 4 Wednesday, June 11 @ NY
*Game 5 Friday, June 13 @ Chi/LA
*Game 6 Monday, June 16 @ NY
*Game 7 Wednesday, June 18 @ Chi/LA
Game times are TBD, but I’d venture a guess that games in NY and Chicago will begin at 8pm EST. Games in LA will begin at 9pm EST. Just my guess.