Neutral Zone Wrap
by Evan Berofsky
Assuming no one saw this coming. A six seed taking on an eight seed, but it's not as if either finalist finished way behind heading in to the postseason. Let's just call this the usual wackiness that happens this time of the year. For those who don't normally follow hockey, these playoffs have been as easy to predict as guaranteeing which team Rick Nash will end up with this summer. (Hint/spoiler alert: It won't be Columbus.)
Congrats to both the Devils and the Kings for reaching hockey's pinnacle. And to that one guy's dog who filled out the only correct playoff bracket on this planet. But enough about fictitious fantasy glory. Let's see what these two have to do to get a clue. Or win it all. Whatever comes first.
Stanley Cup Finals Preview
(E6) New Jersey vs. (W8) Los Angeles (Season series: New Jersey 2-0)
Guess Ilya Kovalchuk (now on top in postseason scoring with 18 points) is really worth all that $100 million...After heating up the first two series, Travis Zajac (10 in 11) fell back to Earth (two in seven)...Paging Patrik Elias (only six, with a lone goal in the Rangers series). Would someone please find out to where he has disappeared?...Not bad when your fourth line (Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter, and Steve Bernier combining for 19 points) becomes a regular contributor...Marek Zidlicky (eight, including four on the power-play) may be the blueliner everyone expects to produce but Bryce Salvador not only leads Jersey defensemen in points (11) but can claim the best plus-minus (plus-10) of any Devil...Is there anything Dustin Brown (leads or is tied for first with 16, plus-13, 24PIM, 49 SOG, 67 hits, two short-handed goals) can't do?...After their adventures in Philly, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter (totaling 20, including four PPGs) have been able to chip in very nicely...Never really heard much from Trevor Lewis (13 in 72) during the regular season, but way to step it up lately â€“ especially against Phoenix (four in five)...Another surprise up front has been rookie Dwight King (four in five), who posted solid numbers in two different leagues (14 in 27 in the NHL and 29 in 50 in the AHL)...There is life beyond Drew Doughty (10) on defense, although neither Slava Voynov (three) nor Willie Mitchell (two) has regularly found the scoresheet.
Prediction: Both head-to-head meetings (2-1 and 3-0) were way back in October, so you can't really take much from them...The Devils' roster may contain more playoff experience, but there's no discounting how well the Kings have worked as a unit. The two sides have increased momentum as the rounds have progressed, so no advantage there. The City of Los Angeles has been waiting for a local winner since the franchise began 45 years ago (sorry, Anaheim doesn't count), although many residents still think the Kings play out of Sacramento. So, yeah, I'll stick to the boring pick of...LA in six.
The Conn Smythe candidates become increasingly obvious at this stage. You could almost swap any of these players at any spot in the following Top 5: 1. Dustin Brown; 2. Jonathan Quick; 3. Martin Brodeur; 4. Ilya Kovalchuk; 5. Adam Henrique. (Henrique may not possess the eye-popping stats (11), but you can't argue with two overtime game-series winning goals.)
Well, it's been an exciting season. But, as you well know, hockey never sleeps. There's the draft next month, but the real excitement begins July 1 when free agent season opens for business. So after the on-ice activity has concluded, sit tight and dream about the players your team will acquire (or jettison). I will return soon. Promise.