Tuesday, May 29, 2012

2012 Stanley Cup Final preview

By Rick Morris
The Los Angeles Kings blow into this Final on a historic run, dropping only two games and taking out the top three seeds in their path through the Western playoffs.  Of course, they are a fairly fraudulent #8 seed, only falling to that spot because of a long stretch of underachievement during the season.
New Jersey comes in as the #6 seed from the East, earning home ice for the first time this postseason.  In an Eastern Conference that is fairly balanced at the top, they are not a huge surprise to have battled to the Final notwithstanding their playoff slotting.
The Kings’ moves to become “Philly West” by acquiring Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne in the past year, in the end, augmented their excellent existing core as anticipated (and gave them an additional degree of Final experience, as the Flyers won the East in 2010) and established the team however belatedly as a legitimate powerhouse.  Captain Dustin Brown has been terrific lately and the offensive crown jewel, Anze Kopitar, is quite a reliable force.  But it’s arguable that the team’s strong depth of top forwards is less important than the two defensive stoppers, who are making quite an argument for being considered the best in the world at their positions: defenseman Drew Doughty – already an Olympic hero with the Canadian gold-winners of 2010 – and goalie Jonathan Quick, who had an incredible breakthrough season.  The Kings are a true all-around force, quite arguably better balanced than either of the last two Cup champions.
Meanwhile, the Devils won their first East crown in nine years behind the kind of spring they haven’t seen in quite awhile from their all-time greatest player, goaltender Martin Brodeur and the playoff breakthrough of one of the game’s most explosive stars, Ilya Kovalchuk.  The Devils can’t match the Kings’ top-level forward depth, but Patrik Elias and 2010 USA Olympic standout Zach Parise (probably the prize free agent of the summer of 2012) are good for the neighborhood of a-point-a-game punch.
Even without Gagne, likely sidelined with his lingering concussion issues, the Kings have the advantage in depth, although many commentators have rightly pointed out that New Jersey is better at the fourth-line level.  But the overall depth, combined with having the goalie who is definitively in his prime, should help the Kings to continue their roll.  By not winning in five games or less, Los Angeles will by definition have their toughest series, fittingly, in the Final.  But in the end, they will prevail on the home ice of Staples.  Los Angles in six games (7-7 record through the playoffs), Jonathan Quick as Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

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