Stanley Cup Finals
Kings vs. New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center, 5 p.m. PT
Five storylines to track:
1. Not just another playoff game – If the moment hasn’t hit the Kings yet, it very well could some time today. L.A. breezed through the first three rounds of the playoffs like a sports car on the autobahn, barely noticing the competition as it sped by. With the realization that they’re now at the doorstep of the Holy Grail for only the second time in franchise history, will the Kings suddenly stiffen up and forget what got them here? The first period could be a clear indication. New Jersey has come out strong in these playoffs, scoring 23 of their 47 regulation goals in the first 20 minutes.
2. Big names, big games – Both sides have their share of stars on the roster, but who will step up on the biggest stage in hockey? It’s safe to say, based on the attention he received during Tuesday’s media session, that Kings second-line center Mike Richards is the most popular player on a North American scale. He’s Canadian, spent the first six years of his career playing on the East Coast for the Philadelphia Flyers, and now fits right into the Southern California fabric. Ilya Kovalchuk of the Devils may have something to say about stealing the limelight, however. He might be the most skilled player on the ice for both teams, though he’s not the media darling that Richards has become.
3. Young gun vs. old guard – The goalie matchup figures to take center stage right from the opening drop. Kings netminder Jonathan Quick has been the better player all season, but Martin Brodeur of the Devils has been here before… a few times. Both have stepped up their games in the postseason, but Quick is still a half goal better in the all-important goals-against column. At 40 years of age, will Brodeur’s reflexes stand up against the pressure of the Kings? He has played only one period against L.A. this season and that was back in October. Quick, on the other hand, is overdue for an off night. He hasn’t allowed more than three goals in a playoff game this spring and has given up two consecutive goals only twice in 14 playoff games. Those just happen to be the only two games the Kings lost.
4. On the road again – The Kings are on virgin ground when it comes to road success in the NHL playoffs. They’re the first team to win eight straight playoff games on the road to start the postseason and the first to win 10 straight overall. The Kings have won the first two games away from Staples Center in each of the first three rounds, and they’re starting out on the road once again. Like any record-breaking streak, it has to end some time. The Kings just hope it’s not tonight.
5. Lagging behind – After benefiting greatly from secondary scoring early in the postseason, the third and fourth lines for the Kings are a bit overdue. Jarret Stoll hasn’t scored since his overtime series-clinching goal in Game 5 against the Vancouver Canucks, and Trevor Lewis and Brad Richardson haven’t scored since the opening-round series either. Jordan Nolan also has just one goal in the postseason, and fourth-line center Colin Fraser is still looking for his first. Dwight King has been phenomenal in the last two rounds, scoring five goals, but the Kings can’t expect a rookie to carry all the weight of the bottom six.