OK, catching up after a long day going coast to coast.
We’re going to try to do a Live Stanley Cup Final Chat most days during the series, starting today at 1 p.m. Be there. Or else. I will provide notes for your bosses.
Got a lot of stuff to post today, but if you want to get a head start — and I suggest you do — visit http://www.lohud.com/sports/rangers/
Or click on the individual items. Included are:
Most days during the series, starting today, we will have Sam Rosen’s diary. In the first installment he discusses the excitement around this team’s run.
We have picks from a bunch of TV/radio personalities, as well as me and Josh, 26.
Also, my Five Things to Watch.
Here’s a look at how the Rangers and Kings match up.
Alain Vigneault, the Rangers’ coach and a guy who is always up on statistical date, made note of this simple point before the series: The Los Angeles Kings were the lowest-scoring team to make the Stanley Cup playoffs, and now, after three rounds, they are the highest-scoring team in the playoffs (a gaudy 3.48 goals per game).
The Rangers, by comparison, have scored 2.70 per game, and that’s inflated by a 7-2 win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, and having faced two backup goalies for chunks of series due to injuries.
Based purely on top-end offensive ability, Kings forwards are far better than the Rangers, and it starts with the mighty pair of center Anze Kopitar, who leads all playoff point-producers with 24, and ex-Ranger Marian Gaborik, added at the trade deadline, who leads all goal scorers with 12. Throw in the streaky Jeff Carter (9 goals, 13 assists), and super-clutch Justin Williams, among others, and it’s easy to see how dangerous L.A. is.
The Kings, though, aren’t just an offensive team. They can play it big, with heavy bodies such as captain Dustin Brown (think a thicker, meaner Ryan Callahan), Dwight King, Kyle Clifford, Tanner Pearson and solid two-way center, penalty-killer and faceoff expert Jarret Stoll. Clifford and Trevor Lewis did not play much in Game 7 Sunday in Chicago.
Mike Richards is an old foil, from his Philadelphia days with Carter, and the Kings — who may be a tad slower than the Rangers and/or the defending champion Blackhawks they just beat — have plenty of all-around weaponry up front.
The Rangers’ forwards attack mostly with speed, and with depth, though that depth will be tested in this series. Their ultra-effective fourth line of ex-King Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore and Derek Dorsett might not be the mismatch they have been for other opponents.
The Rangers will surely need more offense from the trio of Rick Nash, Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider, what should be their top scoring line. The return of Kreider from a broken hand has given the Rangers a much different look with his size, speed, strength, shot and net presence.
They will need for the Benoit Pouliot-Derick Brassard-Mats Zuccarello trio to be the force they were in the regular season — and especially for Pouliot and Kreider to stay out of the penalty box. Perhaps the Rangers’ best of the top three lines vs. Montreal was Carl Hagelin on the left of Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis, Stanley Cup champions with the Tampa Bay Lightning 10 years ago. Hagelin’s speed has created trouble for opponents throughout the postseason, and while the older two sometimes have had trouble in their own end, they also have scored important goals at big times.
This may be Richards’ last hurrah in New York, with a likely amnesty buyout hanging over his head, but he has become the team leader since Callahan was dealt for St. Louis.
Edge: Los Angeles
The Kings have the best defenseman in the series, or at least going into the series, in Drew Doughty.
But the Rangers have arguably the next three best in Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi and Marc Staal … and their bottom three aren’t bad at all.
And we’ve seen in the last series how a defenseman in the conversation for the Norris Trophy (Montreal’s P.K. Subban) can be outplayed — by a lot in his case — by the rising two-way star that is the 24-year-old McDonagh.
Girardi and Staal, two still-youngish old lions on this team, very badly want to take the next step after losing in the conference final in 2012, and they will have to be superb, especially against the Kopitar-Gaborik duo, and against the speedy Carter. No reason to think they won’t be. Staal and Anton Stralman have arguably been as good as McDonagh-Girardi in the playoffs.
The third pair has been very solid, with Kevin Klein on one side … but John Moore will miss Game 1 while serving the second game of a two-game suspension, so Raphael Diaz will get another shot in Moore’s spot. He moved the puck well in Game 6 vs. Montreal.
The Rangers’ calling card is the way they defend, and create offense and speedy breakouts from good defense.
Doughty plays with Jake Muzzin on L.A.’s minutes-eating pair, and veteran Willie Mitchell still makes life miserable for opposing forecheckers. He might turn it over on occasion and take a penalty once in a while, but he will also take a pound of flesh.
Matt Greene, Alec Martinez and Slava Voynov round out what is a very good, physical and versatile top six.
Jonathan Quick has something Henrik Lundqvist doesn’t have — a Stanley Cup — and, really, if the Rangers could have scored a few goals against the Devils in 2012, this could have been a rematch of that final.
Quick is good, he is quick and he surely is the best goalie the Rangers have faced in these playoffs, after a string of Ray Emery, Steve Mason, Marc-Andre Fleury, Carey Price (briefly) and Dustin Tokarski, though Mason and Tokarski played very well, and Fleury, despite his shakiness, threw a pair of shutouts at the Rangers.
Quick, though, has been up and down, especially against Chicago in a series in which goals flowed and leads changed wildly. Quick also cost the Kings a 3-1 loss to the Rangers in the second game of the season when he knocked a harmless 180-foot McDonagh clearing pass into his own net for a short-handed goal.
As in every series he’s played this season, and most through his career, Henrik Lundqvist has been the best goalie.
He, too, has run into some inconsistencies, especially in games in which the Rangers have led in a series. He was pulled once against Philadelphia and once against Montreal, and rebounded both times with superb efforts. He’s been huge in Game 7s (five straight wins, four total goals allowed) and elimination games (10-2), and his five-game stretch from Game 5 vs. Pittsburgh through Game 2 vs. Montreal might be the best of his career. A five-minute, third-period span of Game 7 vs. Pittsburgh is the difference between the Rangers being here or gone.
With Doughty on the point, Kopitar working the walls and the net front, Carter and Gaborik finding holes and sniping away, LA’s power play is extremely dangerous. It’s racking up goals at a 25.4 percent rate.
The Rangers’ power play has won several playoff games for them … but it also went through an unimaginable 0-for-36 stretch in the first two rounds, and lost some games, too. It will need to be good this time around.
What has been good is the Rangers’ penalty kill, which frustrated Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux, and Subban. They have killed penalties at an 85.9 percent clip, and they still block shots on the penalty kill as they did in the John Tortorella days.
Los Angeles’ penalty kill (81.2 percent) ranks just ninth among the 16 playoff teams.
Darryl Sutter mumbles and confounds, but he makes a lot of sense, and if there’s ever been an even-keeled coach, it’s him. Sutter, who guided the Kings to the Cup in 2012, knew what needed to be said after the Kings lost Game 5 on the road and Game 6 at home to the Blackhawks. “Flight’s at 11,” he told them. In other words, the next game is what matters, not the last.
Vigneault is still stung from a Game 7 loss to Boston in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, after his Vancouver Canucks had led the series 3-2. He admitted Monday that he cried with family and friends afterward.
He’s a hungry guy who believes in his players, and they believe in him.
The Kings came back from three games down to beat San Jose, the fifth team to accomplish the feat. They have a championship and tons of playoff experience. They are the first team ever to play 21 games to reach the final, the first team to ever win three road Game 7s in a playoff season.
The Rangers are counting on St. Louis and Richards and Vigneault to show them the way, but they draw inspiration from the 2012 run that stopped short after a 109-point season. They came back from a 3-1 deficit against Pittsburgh, the first time in their history they’ve done that; won a pair of Game 7s — they were the first to play two opening seven-game series and reach the final, until LA topped it; and are 5-0 in those Game 7s in the last three years … over which they will have played nine series.
My Pick: Rangers in 7.
Photo by Getty Images.