Originally posted on Red Light District Hockey  |  Last updated 5/29/12
"I told Adam Henrique I watched his Game 6 goal multiple times because I didn't know how he got so open. He said, 'I didn't know either.'" - Dave Lozo, NHL.com During the broken play that eventually ended the New York Rangers' season, rookie pivot Adam Henrique found himself alone and in the middle of the crease with the puck on his blade. Even though all five Rangers collapsed below the hash-marks, the puck still made its way past all parties and into the back of the net.Henrique, whose three postseason goals came in game-deciding tilts, has a flair for the dramatic in these playoffs. But he will be hard-pressed to score such a 'gimmie' against the battle-tested Kings. To answer Lozo's question bluntly, the Rangers didn't eliminate the body. As a shot-blocking club with an emphasis on defense, their instinct, as a whole, was to stop the puck. Rangers All-Star d-man Dan Girardi adequately kept Devils' forward Alexei Ponikarovsky from getting a shot off the initial rebound, but after that, his team completely broke down defensively.Let's roll the tape... Ponikarovsky would still retrieve the puck, and place Girardi in no-man's land-- he was neither in position to block the shot nor to take the forward out of the play. And with Ponikarovsky's shot on goal, the Rangers, quite ineffectively, scrambled.Ryan McDonagh would immediately lay down in front Henrik Lundqvist while both Ponikarovsky and Ilya Kovalchuk dug away at the puck with impunity. Girardi found himself off to the side of the net while Brad Richards decided to simply stand in the goal. Meanwhile, Marian Gaborik took his own swipes at the puck and rookie Carl Hagelin tried to save the play.But it was too late-- the puck squirted through it all and onto Henrique's stick, where he simply buried the puck. Why? Because when the scramble came, the Rangers panicked. Instead of taking the body-- a trait Girardi and McDonagh exemplified all season-- they broke down and went after the puck.When the Devils host the Los Angeles Kings tomorrow evening, they won't be as fortunate.The Kings boast one of the heaviest hitting blue lines in all of hockey. Although led by the dynamic Drew Doughty, the real obstacles have to be defensive specialists Matt Greene, Rob Scuderi, and Willie Mitchell. Not only do these three block shots with the best of them, they hit even harder. And to top that off, all of them enter the Cup Finals with a ton of playoff experience-- something, for all of their accomplishments, you couldn't say about Girardi and McDonagh.The following clip comes from Game 5 against the Phoenix Coyotes, a critical win for the Kings. Darryl Sutter and company found themselves down 1-0 in the first period but the team remained poised, played tight defensively, and came back to win the game. As you can see, Coyotes forwards Kyle Chipchura and Boyd Gordon try to generate some offense behind the net. Gordon receives the puck and attempts a wrap around, trying to beat both Jonathan Quick and a tenacious Willie Mitchell. Not only does Mitchell make it hard for the pivot to get his shot off, he also completely eliminates him from any chance at getting a rebound.The hockey term is crease-clearing defenseman. Mitchell fits the bills, as does most of the team's blue line not named Voynov or Martinez. The Kings have done a great job of eliminating, or at least limiting, scoring opportunities-- see more evidence here, here, and here. If we tried to quantify the Kings' defensive merits statistically we could conclude that they aren't quite as good as the Rangers' defense. Their blocked shots and hit totals are certainly lower, but the Kings also played six fewer games. Moreover, when you consider that the Kings scored at a higher clip (2.93 to the Rangers' 2.15), and play better, more poised defense, the Devils will assuredly have a harder time establishing their forecheck. Tomorrow's 8 pm EST puck drop at the Prudential Center should kick off one interesting Stanley Cup Final. One thing we can expect: no 'gimmie' goals from the Kings' defense. After all, that's Quick's job.Photo credit: Getty Images
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