And then there were two…the 2012 Stanley Cup Final
Eastern Conference Champions vs Western Conference Champions – New Jersey Devils vs Los Angeles Kings.
It’s been a weird and wonderful NHL season. How weird and wonderful you ask? Well, did anyone think we would have a Stanley Cup Final that had the eighth seed in the West taking on the sixth seed in the East?! I don’t think anyone can honestly say they had that on the radar.
Even more surprising are the teams that occupy those seeds – The New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings. Long gone are the popular choices for a Stanley Cup crown – the Flyers, Bruins, Penguins, Canucks and Blues. All higher seeds with much more impressive regular season campaigns…all playing golf for many weeks at this point.
Give the Kings and Devils their credit – they have done what no one thought possible – they have made it to the Stanley Cup Final. And, now all they need to do is finish off an improbable run, and beat all odds to reach a lifelong dream. No pressure then!
The Devils are appearing in their fifth Stanley Cup Final overall. If they can vanquish the Kings, it will be their fourth title, and first since 2003. Martin Brodeur has plenty to prove in the New Jersey net. He recently turned 40 (May 6), and has been hearing the critics for the past few seasons, claiming he was past his best days. Well Marty has turned back the hands of time this postseason. He’s playing well behind a determined side, and his numbers (2.04 GAA, .923 Save %) are bolstering his legacy as a true playoff warrior. Another gem for Jersey in these playoffs is the commitment of Ilya Kovalchuk. His huge contract with New Jersey has made it almost impossible for him not to be a target for the media (over $100 million will do that), but he has been a rock for the Devils in this run. He leads all postseason performers in scoring (18 points, 7 goals, 11 assists), and has shown that he can play in all zones. He’s earned the trust of coach Peter DeBoer, and more importantly perhaps – the respect of his teammates.
For the Kings, this is their first Stanley Cup appearance since 1993. Back then they had a guy named Gretzky leading the charge, and they were coached by my ESPN colleague Barry Melrose. This 2012 side is very different from that ’93 group. This is a much deeper and balanced squad, and they have a goaltender in Jonathan Quick, who is probably the playoff MVP thus far (1.54 GAA, .946 Save %). The guy in black and silver that has been the most impressive for me though, is captain Dustin Brown. He has done it all for LA – 16 points, 3 game-winning goals, 2 short-handed goals, as well as blocking shots and playing a very physical game each and every night. He has been a consummate leader, and has let his work on the ice do the talking for him. LA are a perfect 8-0 on the road – a ridiculous statistic that shows what kind of zone they are in. They are the only team in NHL playoff history to reach this point without a road defeat, and are 12-2 overall, again a ridiculous number – only 2 losses to get the final?! They have knocked off the first seed (Canucks), the second seed (Blues) and the third seed (Coyotes), on this magical ride.
So who lifts Lord Stanley in two weeks time or less?
Murph’s Pick: the Los Angeles Kings in 6 exciting and emotional games.
Why? The Kings are fairly healthy now – and have had little opposition along the way. They’ve had plenty of rest in a tournament that teams usually have no time to recover. They’ve earned those rest days though, by dominating some very good teams, and have shown that they can score goals in bunches. The Devils were immense in taking out the number one seeded NY Rangers in the Eastern Final, and deserve all kinds of credit. I just think that the Kings have more offensive firepower, fresher legs, and a goalie that has appeared unbeatable on some nights against some great teams.
Well, again it’ been a weird and wonderful NHL season. One has to have the feeling that the Stanley Cup Final will continue that weird and wonderful trend! Enjoy the games wherever you are, and follow me on twitter @MurphOnIce as I take you behind the scenes of Games 1 and 2 from the Prudential Center in New Jersey.