North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Stanley Cup Final prediction

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That was a hell of a layoff, wasn’t it? The New Jersey Devils haven’t played since last Friday and the LA Kings haven’t since last Tuesday, a nine-day break. If one’s the kind of person who believes in things like momentum or they’re on a roll or whatever, you better not bust those phrases out after game one since you can’t have momentum when you haven’t moved in almost a week.

Still, these playoff have been all sorts of fun and I’m not really looking forward to them ending. The last round was somewhat anticlimactic, with series that didn’t feel especially close, but there was still some great moments. To wit: game six of the Rangers/Devils series, where the Rangers had chances in overtime but just couldn’t get it to happen. I hate to break everything to a simple line like this, but it genuinely feels like New York just ran out of gas: this was a great regular season team who admittedly did struggle in the first two rounds. It took them seven games to get past both the Capitols and Senators and those were two teams way below them statistically. Like the OT in game six showed, they just didn’t have the horses to keep pace with (let alone pass) a team like the Devils.

And what then to make of the Coyotes? They fell back to Earth pretty quickly in the Western Final, being held to two goals or less in the first three games and Mike Smith was lit up by a team that’s not especially noteworthy on the offensive end; after all, it was Jonathan Quick’s goaltending that’s gotten LA to the final (but more on that in a second). They looked like a different team than the one that crushed Nashville and even the one that held Chicago back in the first round. It felt different than the Eastern Final, though: they just ran into a team solidly better than them. Sure, the Kings were an eight seed, but how many people really think it was a tremendous upset?

Anyway there’s only one series left, so here’s my last prediction for the NHL Playoffs.

Stanley Cup Final: (6) New Jersey Devils v. (8) Los Angeles Kings


I have a feeling that when people, years from now, look back at these playoffs, it’s going to look like a series of upsets and upsets with two teams meeting in the finals that nobody would really call the two best teams in the NHL. After all, the final pits a eight seed against a six seed: this is not exactly a final anyone would have expected back at the All-Star break.

Thing is, these playoffs have shown the Kings to be best team in the west, with Quick looking like the best playoff goalie since Martin Brodeur’s heyday. His 1.54 GAA is 33rd best of any goalie in the playoffs, ever and that, his Save Percentage (.946) are better than anything Brodeur had in his trips to the Finals and is right up there with legendary Cup runs by Bernie Parent (1.89 in 1975), Ken Dryden (1.55 in 1977) and Dominik Hasek (1.77, ..939 in 1999). And like them, he seems impregnable: more than any goalie I can think of since Hasek, he just feels like someone who’s on all the time.

True, he hasn’t quite been tested like Dryden, Hasek or even Brodeur were in their best years – one hesitates before calling the 2012 Phoenix Coyotes a team on the same level as, say, the 1975 Buffalo Sabres – but still, these Kings have upset every team they’ve faced, including the two best teams in the NHL this regular season. And what’s more, they’re doing it quickly: they’ve lost twice this postseason, once to Vancouver and once to Phoenix.

Meanwhile, the Devils have pulled upsets of their own: they beat the Rangers in six, winning the last three in a row, and made short work of a high-scoring Flyers team. Although Brodeur is getting a ton of credit – and with his best stats since his 2003 Cup run, it’s not wholly undeserved – don’t look past the rest of the team: Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk and Travis Zajac each have seven playoff goals and Kovalchuk’s 18 points leads all playoff scorers. This is a much fuller team than the Devils are known for; they’re usually winning in a high scoring game, not in a 1-0 overtime finish. But still, look at their goal differential: LA has a +19, New Jersey +9. While it’s true the Devils can score, they’re also being scored upon.

And to me, that’s a crucial difference: not only the Kings have lost just two games, but they’ve shut down some very good offenses along the way. If this is a short series, and my gut tells me it will be, it plays right into the Kings favor: they might not score often, but they keep the score low and don’t need more than two or three goals. Indeed, they’ve scored ten fewer goals than the Devils and still have a much larger goal differential.

Los Angeles in five. 
Conn Smythe winner: Jonathan Quick


Last round: Two of two! Even nailed the number of games!

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Written by M.

May 30, 2012 at 5:39 pm

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