Can the Broadway Blueshirts beat the Kings?
LOOK BETWEEN THE PIPES
I was also willing to write off the Blueshirts, at several different points this season. I immediately harbored doubts when they got off to an atrocious start to the season under new coach Alain Vigneault. I counted them out, too, after a Game 4 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs. And I picked against them when they drew the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference finals.
Each time, I was proved wrong.
And now that surely everyone else will be picking against them, I'm willing to fulfill the contrarian role now. I think they can win. I think they have a legitimate shot to upset the Kings in the Stanley Cup finals.
There is one reason in particular I have faith the Rangers can bring home their first Stanley Cup since 1994, and his name is Henrik Lundqvist.
He is better, or at least playing better, than Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. There is no denying that.
And while Quick's goaltending battle against Chicago's Corey Crawford made for spectacular television and high-scoring hockey, it must have also restored faith for the Rangers that they do indeed have a chance, with the irrefutable edge in net.
The Kings have the advantage pretty much everywhere else. Best defenseman in the game? Drew Doughty. Check. Top playoff goal scorer? Marian Gaborik. Check. One of the game's most dynamic two-way centers? Anze Kopitar. Check. An incredibly deep roster replete with experience and skill? Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Justin Williams. Check, check and check.
But Lundqvist, who leads the league with a .928 save percentage and ranks second with a 2.03 goals-against average this postseason, is more than capable of stealing some games.
Add in the fatigue factor for L.A. -- three straight seven-game series -- and the sort of intangible magical quality the Rangers have managed to bottle this spring, and I think they can pull it off.
It will take the team's very best. It can't afford to lay an egg like its 7-4 Game 5 debacle in Montreal. But if the Rangers can maintain a stingy defensive structure, exploit the speed and balance throughout their lineup and get the type of royal goaltending performance King Henrik has provided so far, I like their chances.
WHEN TALENT MEETS DESTINY
I could talk about the Kings rolling four lines with strong center play from Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards. I could talk about the Kings having four of the top five points leaders in the playoffs in Kopitar, Carter, Marian Gaborik, who has a league-leading 12 postseason goals, and Justin Williams, who leads with a plus-11.
I could talk about Jonathan Quick, this season's William M. Jennings Trophy winner and the 2012 Conn Smythe winner. I could talk about Drew Doughty establishing himself as the best defensive player on the planet during this postseason and the rapid growth of rising stars like Tanner Pearson, 21, and Tyler Toffoli, 22, who make up two-thirds of "That 70s Line" with Carter.
All of those are solid reasons to pick the Kings to win this series, but the truth is the biggest reason I'm picking the Kings is the very unscientific reason of destiny. It's impossible to have watched the Kings during this postseason and not think this team is destined to hoist the Stanley Cup.
They came back from a 3-0 series deficit in Round 1 to beat the San Jose Sharks in seven games. They came back from three straight losses and a 3-2 series deficit to beat the Anaheim Ducks in Round 2. And they came back from a 2-0 hole in Game 7 to beat the Chicago Blackhawks. They became the first team to win three Game 7s en route to the Stanley Cup finals and did it all on the road against three of the top seven teams in the league this season.
If there's one thing the Kings have taught us during this playoff run, it's that anything is possible, but it just doesn't seem likely that the Kings' historic postseason run could have any other ending than Los Angeles winning the Stanley Cup again.