(Graphic courtesy of RLD Hockey)
We've come to the final stage of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is now a race to four wins between the Los Angeles Kings and the New Jersey Devils. After notching 12 victories each, the two teams will be leaving everything they have on the ice in hopes of getting their names recorded in the history books.
Join us as we conclude our PDL picks for the 2012 playoffs. Who do you have winning the Stanley Cup? Weigh in below!
Earlier this week I mentioned that a chunk of NHL experts have yet again labeled the Los Angeles Kings as the underdog heading into the Stanley Cup Finals. I understood this logic in the first round against Vancouver. I understood this logic in the second round against St. Louis. I could even make an argument on how this idea again was plausible in the third round against Phoenix. However, this theory of LA being an underdog ends now.
The Los Angeles Kings enter the Finals as the 8th seed from the West while the New Jersey Devils enter as the 6th seed from the East. Now that it's been mentioned, through this figure out of your head as it doesn't mean a thing in the Finals. What does matter is how the two clubs have played prior to arriving in the Finals. The Devils have been an extremely solid team, beating the likes of Florida, Philadelphia and New York. The Kings have been an unstoppable force, tearing through the best teams the West can offer. The Devils have been just as successful but haven't been as dominant as the LA Kings have been in the first three rounds.
Both teams have won 12 games to reach this point. I give the Kings the edge purely on how they have won those games. Rarely have the Kings strayed from their motto of hard work and relentless effort that seemingly no team can beat. If they can maintain this chemistry and momentum, the Devils will be just another "favorite" that crumbles at the hands of the Los Angeles Kings.
Los Angeles in six games.
I haven't had exactly the best of luck in predicting the outcomes of these playoff series, but hey, what's one more shot? I have a 50/50 chance of getting it right this time.
Both teams have made the Stanley Cup finals seemingly against the odds. A #8 seed? A #6? History says they shouldn't be here, but history is about to eat crow. You can't base what's going to happen 100% on what has happened... sure, there are odds that you can look at, but those are just numbers, and it's the people that make it happen in the playoffs.
Both teams have been on a roll, though the Devils have had to work a bit harder than the Kings to get to the finals. LA has only lost two games, and none on the road. That's nearly unthinkable and they're basically unstoppable. Jonathan Quick has been the best goalie bar none in the playoffs, and when the Kings' offense needed to get something done, they've been able to do so. They bumped off every division winner in the Western Conference, but now they're facing a team who was labeled an underdog as well, and one with a goalie who's done all of this before. Ability and experience are on the Devils' side, while the Kings' have the hot hand. You can look at goal scorers all that you want to, but this series -- like the Kings' other three -- will be decided on goaltending. Martin Brodeur isn't going to fold up like everyone else. This won't be quick and it sure as heck won't be painless.
I'm going with the Devils in seven.
Kings in five games.
I picked them early - tapping them to take out the top-seeded Canucks. I have been less than enthusiastic about the Devils. It boils down to goaltending, which animates my pick.
Quick has been otherworldly against teams that can score and those that can grind it out and those with a keeper almost as stout as he. In other words, he's dispatched all comers with a minimal of fuss. Once upon a time, the goalie he'll face in the Finals was that kind of keeper. He put away high-powered offenses making them appear weak in comparison. But Martin Brodeur hasn't been that goalie in the better part of a half decade. Quick is swiftly becoming that guy. And his youth makes him a fine candidate to reign as the Lord of the Rinks for many years to come.
LA's just enough offense that stumbled all regular season has provided more than enough ammo in their 14 contests this post season. While the Devils have frequently bailed out their defense by packing a bigger and badder punch, the goalies they have beaten haven't been playing on the same level as Quick. They'll test the Kings defense, but with how
Quick and company have been playing not even Ilya Kovalchuk at full power is going to consistently sneak the puck past enough.
At the start of the playoffs, if you told me that the final two teams would be the Devils and the Kings, I might've called you crazy. Yet, here we are on the eve of game one between two of the hottest teams in the past few weeks. One reoccurring statement you'll find in many predictions is that this series will come down to goaltending. While that is true, it won't be the only thing that will decide this series.
On paper, the New Jersey Devils should win this series. Martin Brodeur will be the most important player on the ice for the Devils and he has all the experience he needs. As we saw in the New York Rangers series, the New Jersey net minder knew exactly when to control the pace of the game and when to let the game flow freely. However, the thing that bothers me the most was the Devils' inability to sustain pressure late in games. It seemed that the Rangers would have an all-out assault in the offensive zone with 5 minutes to go during the games the Rangers were losing.
The Los Angeles Kings continue to play a complete team game. Their dedication to defensive positioning has led them out of the first three series fairly easily. Their only two losses in the playoffs have come against teams fighting for their last breath. Dustin Brown and the rest of the forwards haven't taken their foot off of the forecheck pedal and have worn down their opponents. This will be the toughest squad LA will face in their race to the cup, but I don't see the runaway train stopping anytime soon. The Los Angeles Kings are an incredibly balanced team.
Kings in six.