From their colors to their coasts, the Devils and Kings couldn’t be more different, yet in other areas, these teams have quite a bit in common, especially their underdog status.
Nobody expected the No. 6 seed Devils, or worse, the No. 8 seed Kings to be around in June playing for the Stanley Cup, but alas, here we are, with Jersey and L.A. as the last teams standing.
Historically speaking, the edge goes to the Devils who are gunning for a fourth championship (they won it all in 1995, 2000 and 2003) as they have now made the Final five times since 1995. Not too shabby. In fact, the 1995 Devils, as a No. 5 seed, are etched in the history books as being the lowest seed to ever win the Cup. One way or the other, a new group of men will take that title within the next two weeks.
The Kings record books are barren in comparison as the Gretzky-led Kings’ loss to the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 marks the only Final appearance for L.A.
Both teams have players with Cup Final experience on their resumes, but the Kings young nucleus of Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar and team captain Dustin Brown is completely lacking in that department while the Devils’ on-ice and locker room leader Martin Brodeur, is one of the most experienced players in the history of professional hockey.
The Kings’ inexperience has been nearly invisible since their unexpected playoff run began as L.A. ripped through the Western Conference with a 12-2 record after beating Vancouver Canucks in five games, sweeping the St. Louis Blues and disposing of the Phoenix Coyotes in five games as well. All three of L.A.’s series-winning games came on the road as the Kings are 8-0 away from home.
The Devils’ road to the Cup Final has been tougher, needing a full seven games to take care of the Florida Panthers in the first round, followed by the Philadelphia Flyers in five games and the top-seed New York Rangers in six games. Of course, Brodeur - who turned 40-years-old during the Conference Semifinals - has been outstanding in net for the Devil while rookie Adam Henrique has impressed, scoring two series-winning goals, both coming in overtime periods.
The Devils won the regular season series beating the Kings in both games, the first, by a score of 3-0 (both teams played with backup goaltenders) and the second by a final score of 2-1 in a shootout. Both teams use size and aggression when battling for the puck and on the forecheck. It should be interesting to watch these two go against each other considering their similar style in that respect.
Perhaps the most interesting match up isn’t even a true match up at all, as Brodeur and Jonathan Quick are the brightest-shining stars of the bunch. Old Man Marty has a 2.04 GAA in the playoffs while Quick’s stat line looks outstanding with a 1.54 GAA. While neither guy has the flash or looks of a Henrik Lundqvist, both men have had their fair share of exquisite, body-bending saves throughout the playoffs. In fact, the Kings players themselves will admit that they wouldn’t have made the playoffs if it weren’t for the consistency of Quick throughout the regular season, especially in that last month.
Both goalies have had plenty of help in the playoffs as the Devils are averaging 11.27 blocked shots per game while the Kings are keeping the crease clear for Quick at a rate of 14.07 blocked shots per contest. Drew Doughty and Willie Mitchell are playing with brutal physicality on the blue line for L.A. and Anton Volchenkov and Marek Zidlicky are doing the same for New Jersey.
As for the offense, the Devils are lucky, boasting four solid lines and guys like Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise who have played big-time in these playoffs. As for the Kings, most agree that the team’s top six forwards are the ones to worry about, but L.A. has had 15 different players score at least one goal and another 15 log at least one assist in the playoffs. That’s ridonkulous.
Special teams has been interesting for both teams in the post season. The Devils are scoring on the man advantage 18.2% of the time while the Kings are at a measly 8.1% on the PP. Perhaps the more important number comes on the flip side of the coin. The Devils are 74.2% on the penalty kill while L.A. is a whopping 91.2% on the PK. Jersey has logged two shorthanded goals while the Kings have scored five while killing penalties. The Devils can really do some damage if they can poke holes in the Kings special teams play.
At the end of the day, my heart says Kings. Then again, I’ve picked against the Devils in every series, and they’ve made a liar out of me each time. I think the extra rest for the Kings, as well as their special teams unit and the play of Dustin Penner might just put L.A. over the top and crown the Kings Stanley Cup Champions for the first time in franchise history.