Rangers fans don’t get many opportunities to watch the Kings out on the West Coast during the season. But Metro is here to help.
From the names you need to know — like Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick — to how the Rangers can step up and win their first Cup since 1994, we break down the top storylines for the Stanley Cup.
1. Quick vs. the King
The 2014 Stanley Cup has more battling kings than an episode of “Game of Thrones.” Henrik Lundqvist might very well meet his match in Connecticut native Jonathan Quick. And the 28-year-old has the one piece of hardware Lundqvist does not — a Stanley Cup. Quick won a Cup in 2012 by besting the Devils. None of the trio of the Flyers’ Steve Mason, Penguins’ Marc-Andre Fleury and Canadiens’ Dustin Tokarski are nearly as good as Quick.
2. Old friend
The Kings acknowledge they would probably not be in the Cup Final if not for Marian Gaborik. Los Angeles traded for the winger at the deadline and he has 12 goals and seven assists in 21 postseason games. Rangers fans were torn on the deal which sent Gaborik, a talented underachiever, to Columbus in April 2013. But the return of Derek Dorsett, Derick Brassard and John Moore has paid off for the Rangers this season.
3. Get to know Drew
Ask any Rangers fan who the best defenseman in the NHL is and they’ll likely tell you Ryan McDonagh. He’s certainly in the conversation, but so is Kings star Drew Doughty. The 24-year-old plays a similar game to McDonagh — at 6-foot tall he’s not an enforcer — but he is even better on offense. He has 12 assists this postseason. Oh, and he already has a Stanley Cup and two Olympic gold medals to his name.
The Rangers know they have a decided speed advantage over the Kings. Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello, Carl Hagelin and Martin St. Louis are all total burners on the ice. After Montreal’s P.K. Subban made the Bruins look silly in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Kreider did the same to Subban in the finals. Kreider may be the most important player in the series, because he brings size as well as speed.
5. … vs. strength
Why is Kreider’s size going to be important? Because everyone acknowledges the Kings have a tremendous advantage in strength. Doughty may be more of a two-way defenseman, but Willie Martinez (6-foot-3), Jake Muzzin (6-foot-3) and Jeff Schultz (6-foot-6) are all built like tanks. How little guys like St. Louis (5-foot-8) and Zuccarello (5-foot-7) negotiate that size will be huge (pun intended) for the series.
6. Sutter yourself
Kings head coach Darryl Sutter is the very definition of a hockey lifer. He spent eight years with the Blackhawks as a solid forward in the 1980s and has had a vagabond coaching career which began in 1992 with his Blackhawks. He never had much success in the playoffs until he took over Calgary in 2002 and lost in the Stanley Cup the following year. After sitting out five years, he took over the Kings midway through the 2011-12 season — and won a Stanley Cup. Now, he has a chance to become a legend with two Cup wins.
7. The vet
Rick Nash’s lack of a Stanley Cup opportunity has largely been overshadowed by Lundqvist’s pursuit of his first Cup. He’s been overshadowed in his play as well. But after a 14-game goal drought at the start of the playoffs, he has 10 points in 20 playoff games, which isn’t bad. It’s just not star-worthy.
The biggest star in the NHL is unquestionably Sidney Crosby. So why was the best player in the postseason Anze Kopitar? The Kings center is about as under-the-radar of a tremendous player as you’ll get in any sport. Kopitar is the leading scorer in the playoffs (24) and not just because he’s played 21 games. Kopitar finished fourth in the league in plus/minus this regular season (plus-34). And the bad news for the Rangers is he’s actually off his regular season pace in goal scoring this postseason.
9. A good night’s sleep
Earlier in this interminable postseason, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault complained about the brutal scheduling in the first two rounds. Meanwhile, the Kings were staging a miraculous comeback from down 3-0 to the Sharks. No team feels entirely refreshed in early June, but the Kings are the first team to go to a Game 7 in the first three rounds and make the Stanley Cup. The Rangers have only played one fewer game though. Whoever looks fresher could determine the winner.
10. Speed of lightning …
Vigneault brought out the underdog speech on Monday, so fans already know the tactic for his pregame speech. He’s not wrong — Vegas has already installed the Kings as plus-150 in the series — but this shouldn’t be a landslide. The theme may be more of a commentary on Vigneault and how much his team believes in him, versus former coach John Tortorella. There’s no question the Rangers have bought in so far.
Follow Metro New York Sports Editor Mark Osborne on Twitter @MetroNYSports.