By Will Martin
The powers that be in New York City knew coming in that there were going to be two ideal scenarios for the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Finals. One where you would have a matchup of Original Six teams had the Blackhawks won Game 7 June 1 against the Los Angeles Kings.
It took overtime and one heck of a comeback by Team Sutter. Two years removed from a trophy hoisting to end a 45 year drought this matchup between Markets #1 and #2 has the makings for an absolute classic.
I’ll even go a step further on this. Do not be surprised if you see some amazing ratings for this title round when you consider that the NBA has a rematch of two teams that provide quite an ambivalence to want to watch. You have quite a few scenarios with the Rangers and Kings in this matchup. The fact these two teams are facing off against one another for the first time since 1981 is quite telling.
Of course fans of baseball have fond memories of what the L.A. team did to the N.Y. team later that fall. Fans of the NBA will take the time machine back to 1970 and ponder a Finals when Willis Reed on bum leg came out to play and defeat the Lakers in a classic. Let’s also go back 51 years and remember the four game sweep the Dodgers had on New York. New Yorkers will rebound with Reggie Jackson’s three swings in 1977 or Graig Nettles and Ron Guidry saving 1978 in Game 3 down 2-0…
The 2013-2014 L.A. Kings took a tough road to get here. How about winning three Game 7’s on the road, including one where they trailed the Sharks 3-0 in a series to prevail?
The Rangers make their first trip back to the big stage since 1994 when Mark Messier led the way to also ending a drought that went back to 1940.
You also have some players who once played for the other team, like Martin Gaborik.
“A great teammate, a great guy,” forward Brad Richards said. “He’s playing well. We’re going to have to keep an eye on him. He’s a very dangerous player, opportunistic. He can score at any time.”
“He was a great guy; phenomenal,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “He was always working hard here with us and scored a lot of big goals. He has tremendous skill and is a great skater. He’s going to be a big handful for us. He didn’t waste time here at the rink. He was working on sticks or equipment or in the weight room. There was always something he was doing.”
Ranger Brian Boyle is also very familiar with Los Angeles having played a few years as a King before going to New York in 2009. Brian got to play alongside players like Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, and Drew Doughty.
“I learned a lot from them,” Boyle said. “There are some good guys on that team who have gone on to do great things. That was a long time ago. I was stupid. I didn’t know anything. I was just trying to make it.”
And what was it like to be able to play on the West Coast away from familiar territory?
“I grew up a lot,” he said. “I was never away from home. I went to prep school, then Boston College, and when I was in the minors. I was playing an hour north of where I grew up. To get away from home a little bit was an experience. To go through the challenges when I was away from home was an experience that I think ultimately has made me better. I’m 29 now. I was 22 when I signed with them. A lot of things are different.”
Stars fans will see some familiar faces with defenseman Willie Mitchell and Center Brad Richards each having spent time in Dallas years back. In what will be billed as a ‘Speed Versus Depth’ angle for the the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals here’s what I believe might and will happen when things commence on June 3 in Los Angeles.
For starters you have to like the emotional makeup of the Kings with three Games 7’s won on the road. Dustin Brown perhaps said it best.
“This series, and I can only speak for myself, was probably the most emotional seven games I’ve ever played. One, the caliber of the two teams and also how the games were won and lost on both sides. Leads, third-period leads, leads early, leads late … it was emotional.”
Goalie Jonathan Quick 2-1-0 all time against the Rangers with six goals allowed while Henrik Lundqvist possesses a 3-4-1 career record against the Kings allowing 20 goals in eight games. The road team won each game in their two regular season meetings before the Turkey was caught.
The Kings line of Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter, and Tanner Pearson have been rock solid in the last two playoff rounds. One of four lines that provide Coach Darryl Sutter more depth than the New Yorkers can chortle on.
The Rangers have a good line of their own with Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, and Carl Hagelin. The first two names mentioned have a history playing together a decade ago in Tampa Bay with the Lightning. With Coach Alan Vigneault the scoring has been more balanced top to bottom as eight skaters have at least ten points in the playoffs while St. Louis has 13.
Defensively Ryan McDonagh and linemate Dan Girardi have worked well together as a unit on the blue line. The same can be said for Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin for Los Angeles. Add to this mix two coaches who prefer to let the play dictate the action and not to play the vocal game of getting inside your head.
This should be a seven game set in which defense will be the story this game. Look for Quick and Lundqvist to play unconsciously between the pipes and for the road team to take the first few games before the nerves and chess moves unveil some interesting clues in the the shooting lanes.
I think the player of the series will be Drew Doughty for the Kings. Where New York is concerned these eyes believe Rick Nash will possess the trump card on the wing. Two teams who rarely see one another in the biggest markets in the U.S.
Gary Bettman is smiling inwardly and so are the networks. My gut says we may be about to see a classic for the ages. Just like 1970, 1977, 1981, and 1963 in those other sports finals. This playoff matchup is so rare the last time New York and Los Angeles met in a playoff MTV was still a few months away from being a reality.
Let’s see if the ratings override the fantasy matchup of a #1 versus a #2…
Game 1: Wednesday June 4 at Los Angeles Kings 7:00pm
Game 2: Saturday June 7 at Los Angeles Kings 6:00pm
Game 3: Monday June 9 at New York Rangers 7:00pm
Game 4: Wednesday June 11 at New York Rangers 7:00pm
Game 5: Friday June 13 at Los Angeles Kings 7:00pm (if necessary)
Game 6: Monday June 16 at New York Rangers 7:00pm (if necessary)
Game 7: Wednesday June 18 at Los Angeles Kings 7:00pm (if necessary)