The New Jersey Devils didn’t make it easy on themselves and they undoubtedly gave some of their fans heart failure these past two games, but with a 3-2 overtime win on Friday night, they clinched the Eastern Conference title, beating the New York Rangers in six games.
Just as was the case in Game 5, New Jersey got off to a fast start and then gave it back. The Devils scored twice in the first period. Stephen Gionta, who seemingly came out of nowhere starting in the fifth game, fed Ryan Carter for the game’s first goal. Then Ilya Kovalchuk—who certainly did *not* come out of nowhere delivered a slapshot three minutes later and it was 2-zip. But the Jersey defense was not its usual lockdown self. Playing with an intensity appropriate to a team fighting for its life, the Rangers challenged NJ goalie Martin Brodeur with 14 shots—matching the Devils’ total—but Brodeur turned all 14 back.
The New Jersey offense slowed in the second period, but New York kept peppering away, getting 13 more shots. Their top player, Marian Gaborik didn’t score or have an assist, but his involvement, with four shots for the game, usually leads to good things. The Rangers broke through halfway through the period and then tied it on a Ryan Callahan rebound shot with seven minutes left before the second intermission. Both teams tightened up defensively in the third period, but it only took a minute and change into the overtime before New Jersey’s Adam Henrique scored the goal that clinched the East.
Mainstream media reports are full of references to 1994, when the Rangers were in the Meadowlands for a must-win Game 6, Mark Messier guaranteed a win and then backed it up with a third period hat trick. I’ll just refer you to TheSportsNotebook’s recap of that spring in the Big Apple, when the city won the Cup and got to within one shot of an NBA title with the Knicks. And later today we’ll be posting a similar tribute to New Jersey, who did the same in 2003.
New Jersey now moves on to meet Los Angeles in the Finals, beginning on Wednesday in the Meadowlands. Between now and Wednesday morning, we’ll have both a series preview and a historical look at some of the great Cup Finals.
All season long, Henrik Lundqvist has been money as the New York Rangers’ goaltender, and at key points during the first 2 ½ rounds of the playoffs he’s been the same. But Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New Jersey Devils was not one of those times. Lundqvist was positively awful as the Devils won 5-3 and took a 3-2 lead in games.
It didn’t take long for New Jersey to come out and light the lamp. They have three goals in the first ten minutes of the third period. Stephen Gionta, hardly one of this team’s offensive threats, scored on a backhand, center Patrick Elias put one home on a tip-in and then Travis Zajac took a feed from Zach Parise. With six shots on goal in the first period, the Devils scored three times, a percentage that the Celtics and 76ers would have positive killed for in their NBA playoff game an hour and a half away in Philly.
New York came all the way back, pulling to 3-1 before the first intermission and then relying on quick strikes each of the next two periods. Ryan Callahan scored less than a minute into the second period and Marian Gaborik tied the game seconds into the third period with an unassisted wrist shot. It was a key goal by Gaborik and had it not been the only shot the Rangers’ best offensive player took all night, it’d have been even more impressive.
Gionta stepped up with an assist at 4:24 to go, feeding Jeff Carter and then the Devils put home an empty-net goal to clinch it. Prior to the empty net play, New Jersey got only 16 shots and scored four goals. The Ranger defense not only limited the shots, but they didn’t let key offensive threats Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk take a disproportionate amount. Parise was right after the game in saying he felt like his team played one of its worst games in the postseason. Yet an inexplicable meltdown by Lundqvist put New Jersey within one game of the Finals.
There’s no hockey tonight, as Los Angeles is home resting and waiting to travel to face one these two teams when the Finals start Wednesday night. Rangers-Devils resume hostilities for a potential clinching Game 6 in the Meadowlands on Friday night. If New York wins, reserve Sunday night in MSG for Game 7.
The Los Angeles Kings made their first Stanley Cup Finals since 1993—and just the second in franchise history—when they went overtime in Phoenix last night to beat the Coyotes 4-3 and capture the Western Conference finals in five games. The win completes a run where the #8 seed Kings not only beat the top three seeds—Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix—in their postseason run, but went 12-2 in the process. The NHL playoffs is unpredictable and the elements of random chance play a bigger role here than in most sports, but there’s nothing random about winning 12 of 14 games at the most important time of year. The Kings have peaked at the right time.
It’s the offensive prowess that’s really come out of nowhere. Goaltender Jonathan Quick has been one of the best at his craft all year and a reason I felt Los Angeles would pull the first-round upset over Vancouver. But in the ensuing two rounds, the Kings faced opponents with great goalies in their own right and it was the five players between the nets who stood up and gave Los Angeles the edge, and that happened again last night.
Phoenix played with the urgency appropriate to their situation and got an early power play goal from Taylor Pyatt, an unknown forward who would have a good game in this spot. The next Coyote power play produced another goal…but it was for Los Angeles, as Anze Kopitar scored shorthanded to tie the game.
The second period was wild, and Los Angeles launched a stunning 20 shots on goal. I’ve harped on this with Phoenix throughout their playoff run and once again the defense was unable to give any help to goalie Mike Smith. By the time all was said and done, the Kings had 51 shots for the game—in fairness, the overtime was nearly an entire period—but while Smith didn’t have his best game last night, he was always in the position of having to heroically save his team. That only works for so long. After Phoenix got a 2-1 lead, the Kings got consecutive goals from defenseman Drew Doughty, who’s been an understated contributor to the offense in the postseason, and then center Mike Richards lit the lamp on assist from key winger Dustin Penner. But before the period was over, Pyatt fed Keith Yandle and these defensive-minded teams were in a 3-3 shootout.
No goals were scored in the third period, though the Phoenix offense does deserve credit. They put 41 shots on Quick, one of the few times the entire postseason the Coyotes really challenged an opposing goaltender and veteran forward Shane Doan played like a man who wanted to extend his season, getting five shots. But with Kopitar, Richards and Dustin Brown leading an assault brigade at the other end it was too much. Nearly 18 minutes into overtime, Penner scored the goal that clinched the West.
Los Angeles now gets some time to rest up for the Finals. New York hosts New Jersey in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals tonight, with that series tied at two games apiece. The Rangers were decisively outplayed two straight times in Jersey, though goalie Henrik Lundqvist carried them to one win. Between the nets, Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk have been superior to Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan. That needs to change for New York tonight or they’re going to go back across the George Washington Bridge for a must-win game on Friday.
I love Martin Brodeur. I know, if you read through the commentary on the NHL playoffs I’ve made more negative than positive comments about the New Jersey goaltender, but that’s not out of spite, just that the numbers say he’s far from the goalie he once was. But even as a Boston fan he’s a goalie I root for and I absolutely love a night like Monday when, in a must-win spot, he wakes up the echoes of his younger days, turns back 28 of 29 shots and helps his team beat the New York Rangers 4-1 and tie up the NHL’s Eastern Conference Finals at two games apiece.
As good as Brodeur was, let’s also note that the offensive stars on both sides came ready to play last night. Marian Gaborik wasn’t able to light the lamp for New York, but if he gets five shots a game for the rest of this series, New York’s going to feel good about their chances. And New Jersey got similar offensive activity from Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise. None was more productive than the latter, who got an early assist to help the Devils take the lead and then scored two goals as his team pulled away.
It was less than stellar night for Henrik Lundqvist, the Ranger goalie, who saw 30 shots and allowed three goals—the fourth Jersey goal was an empty-netter with less than two minutes to play. I suppose Lundqvist is entitled, having delivered such a clutch effort in Game 3. But he’s the big edge New York is supposed to have in this series. Even the most ardent Ranger backer would have had to concede that New Jersey at least matched up in the 5-on-5 game and in fact, the Devils’ have been the superior team up and down the ice. Lundqvist needs to wipe away that advantage as this series returns to Madison Square Garden for Game 5.
Before we get to Game 5 in the East, we’ve got one in the West tonight, where Los Angeles takes its second shot at wrapping the series up when they go to Phoenix. This is the game I need to see the Coyotes win before I think this may be a series again. And really, I not only need to see them win, I’d like to see them do it some other way besides relying exclusively on goalie Mike Smith. He’s great, no question about it, but he’s not going to beat Los Angeles counterpart Jonathan Quick four straight times if the Kings are getting 15-20 shots a night more than the Coyotes. And that pattern held, even in Phoenix’s Game 4 win.
The Phoenix Coyotes weren’t able to stop the shot barrage that the Los Angeles Kings have put on this series, but they were able to mitigate it and redirect it, and that was enough for goalie Mike Smith to deliver the Coyotes a 2-0 win in Game 4 of the NHL’s Western Conference Finals and avoid a sweep.
Los Angeles got 36 shots on Smith, who’s routinely faced 40-plus throughout these playoffs. Normally a 36-21 shot edge like the Kings had will win you a game, but not only was Smith in lockdown form, but Los Angeles was not as successful getting the puck in the hands of their best players. Five shots were taken by defenseman Drew Doughty and five more by non-descript center Trevor Lewis. That’s a lot less scary than the puck being in the hands of Dustin Penner, Dustin Brown or Anze Kopitar. While Penner got four shots, the other two only combined for that same number.
Phoenix may not have pounded LA goalie Jonathan Quick with raw volume, but their key offensive players finally awoke. Shane Doan scored off an assist from Ray Whitney on a first period power play, and then Doan scored again, this time off an assist from Antoine Vermette in the second period. Doan, Whitney and Vermette are all important to the Phoenix offense and all have been virtually non-existent for the first three games.
Tonight the Eastern Conference has its Game 4, as New Jersey faces a must-win at home, trailing the New York Rangers 2-1 in games. This series is coming off Henrik Lundqvist’s brilliant goaltending performance in the Game 3 win and you wonder if, given how well the Devils otherwise played, if that isn’t the kind of game that can suck the life out of a team. I picked this series to go seven games at the start and I’m not changing, but I’m also on alert tonight to see if New Jersey folds, or if Lundqvist is about to go on one of these extreme hot runs that good goalies can do in the NHL playoffs.
The New Jersey Devils did everything they could between the goaltenders on Saturday afternoon. But the New York Rangers had the best man between the pipes and it’s that reason alone that gave them a 3-0 win in Game 3 of the NHL’s Eastern Conference Finals.
New Jersey played an excellent all-around offensive game, attacking Ranger goalie Henrik Lundqvist with 36 shots and the two stars of Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise combining for nine. Lundqvist, facing high volume and off the sticks of the opponent’s best players, turned everything away. On the other side, Martin Brodeur faced only 22 shots and the Devil defense did a reasonably decent job keeping Marian Gaborik under control—three shots total for the New York star—but the Rangers struck with a burst midway through the third period to break a scoreless tie and then tacked on a third goal late in the game.
>When New York’s offense finally did break through it was center Brad Richards and forward Ryan Callahan, the two biggest supporting pieces to Gaborik that were at the heart of the action. Richards picked up an assist on the power play goal to defenseman Dan Girardi that made it 1-0. Callahan then got an assist minutes later, and then he scored the final goal.
But ultimately this game was about Lundqvist and him putting his team on his back and carrying them to win. It’s what great goalies do if they want to win a Stanley Cup and the Ranger netminder took a huge step toward that goal Saturday afternoon in New Jersey.
The action goes west today where the Los Angeles Kings are looking to wrap up the Western Conference title over Phoenix in Game 4. We noted in today’s NBA wrap-up that yesterday was a particularly brutal day for Los Angeles sports fans at The Staples Center, and a Kings win could wash out some of the bad taste. Phoenix, after being destroyed in the first two games, at least played competitive hockey in their Game 3 loss. They’ve got the goaltender to win this game, they just need to find some way to make the game ugly and neutralize Los Angeles’ superior offensive play.
The Los Angeles Kings moved to within a game of sweeping of the NHL’s Western Conference Finals with a 2-1 win last night in Phoenix. The Coyotes came out and played hard, even got a brief lead, but in the end there’s too much talent on Los Angeles for this series to turn around.
After a scoreless first period, Phoenix scored early in the second. But as happens so often to a team swimming upstream, things immediately turned back against them. LA center Anze Kopitar scored the tying goal two minutes later and then Dwight King got the game-winner in the third.
Give Phoenix their due—they came out firing with 11 shots in the first period, they eventually scored first, and they killed all five Los Angeles power plays. Overall they played their best team defensive game of the series, keeping the Kings under 30 shots, after the number had exceeded 40 in the first two. But the lack of offense is stunning—not just the lack of goals, which isn’t surprising given the quality of goaltending at this level of the postseason. But that the Coyotes can’t even get their best players remotely involved in the offense. Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata and Shane Doan combined for two shots last night. If the three had two shots apiece I’d be hitting these same themes. Two as a group is mindblowing. Compare it to LA center Kopitar who got four cracks at the net by himself.
A better series in the East resumes tonight (actually the game is Saturday, there is no NHL on Friday night) when the New York Rangers go to New Jersey with the series tied 1-1. The Devils were able to keep the Rangers’ best players—notably Marian Gaborik off the puck in Game 2 and that’s going to continue as a key throughout this series. New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist has alternated between decent and outstanding performances through this postseason. He’s coming off a decent game in defeat on Wednesday, so the trends say he’ll be locked in tonight.
It took two periods for the action to start, but the New York Rangers broke through first in the third period of Game 1 in the NHL’s Eastern Conference Finals, scoring early in the third to break a scoreless tie, in the middle of the period to give themselves a strong cushion and at the end of the period into an empty net to wrap up a 3-0 win over the New Jersey Devils.
New Jersey did a lot of what they need to do to win. Their key people, Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuck got on the puck and combined for eight shots. On the defensive side, they were able to force New York’s defenseman to be inordinately involved in the offense. It was Dan Girardi, a Ranger defenseman, who scored the first goal of the game and then got an assist on the second. While New Jersey couldn’t keep Marian Gaborik from getting four shots, they did effectively rub out Ryan Callahan. But New Jersey’s best players couldn’t score against Henrik Lundqvist, while New York’s back-line offensive players were able to get it done against Martin Brodeur. The veteran Devil goalie still stopped 25 of 27 shots—not a bad game, but as Brodeur knows better than anyone it takes great games to win in the postseason and New York limited New Jersey overall to 21 shots, and their own goalie, Henrik Lundqvist was locked in.
The Rangers-Devils resume hostilities at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. Tonight, it’s Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals when Phoenix tries to bounce back from losing Game 1 at home to Los Angeles. The Coyotes did more than lose the opener—they were completely outplayed by the Kings. Phoenix has been able to win games in the playoffs behind goalie Mike Smith so long as they could get a little more than half the number of shots of their opponents. Playing an equally good goalie in Jonathan Quick, that’s not going to fly in this round. I’m looking for Phoenix’s frontline players—Antonine Vermette, Ray Whitney and Shane Doan—to give us a reason to think they can win this series tonight.
In 1994, the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils staged one of the great conference finals battles in NHL history. The Rangers won that one, and their first Stanley Cup in 40 years. New Jersey responded by winning three Cups since, while New York hasn’t hoisted in the intervening years. The two teams, separated by only the George Washington Bridge, get set for another rumble to settle a trip to the Finals. Game 1 goes tonight in Madison Square Garden and TheSportsNotebook previews the series…
New York has done this the hard way. They drew Ottawa, the worst team in the entire playoff bracket, in the first round and then 7th-seeded Washington in the second. It was the rightful reward for the Rangers’ great regular season and they needed all the edges, because both series went to a Game 7. New Jersey needed all seven to dispatch Florida, a series they did not play well in, but survived and then turned it around looked sharp in eliminating Philadelphia in five games.
The Devils’ resurgence in the second round came about because their key offensive people awoke and realized it was playoff time. Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise on the wings were active and engaged in the attack. When that happens, role players like Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias and David Clarkson’s contributions get magnified as well.
New York’s offensive threats enjoyed a similar revival in the second round. Marian Gaborik, who essentially carries the offense, was AWOL through almost all of the first round and the first part of the second, before becoming a big part of the attack, with a few goals, several assists and most importantly, being on the puck a lot and forcing the defense to work. Ryan Callahan, the #2 option on the wings also played well. But what the Rangers do much better than the Devils is run the offense thorough the center spot. Brad Richards and Derek Stepan were each good in the regular season and have been solid in the playoffs.
What New Jersey does much better than New York is play defense—I’m not referring to the goalies, but to the team defensive effort in front of them. They were one of the NHL’s best in the regular season at limiting shots and while they rank a little lower in the playoffs, a big part of that is having just played one of the league’s best offenses in Philadelphia. As effective as the Rangers’ key scorers can be, they are heavily dependent on Gaborik, whereas the Flyers could attack from a number of angles. Yet Jersey still got it done in round two.
There’s a big gap in how well each team is executing basic 5-on-5 hockey with no power play in effect and it calls to mind the question of how much we think a team can elevate its game in the playoffs by design rather than by chance. New Jersey, a mediocre 5-on-5 team through the season has morphed into the best during the playoffs. New York, 6th among 30 teams in the season, ranks 6th among just 16 in the playoffs. If this were after the first round I’d write it off as a too small a sample size. While a sabermetrician would undoubtedly say we need to play a thousand games or so before we can attribute this to anything other than random chance. I disagree, and think that when you’re halfway through the playoffs and New Jersey’s ranking significantly higher—and keep in mind these basic rankings don’t even adjust for the superior teams the Devils played—we can reasonably say that Jersey has been able to deliberately lift its game in the 5-on-5 area.
The Devils are also executing on the power play better, at least on the offensive side. The penalty kill is another question, with neither team executing well right now. For New York, this is a direct consequence of a team defensive effort that has played below its regular season standards.
Now we come to the goalies. Henrik Lundqvist is one of the NHL’s best—perhaps not far and away the best, as the New York-biased media would have you believe. But his 93% save rate in the regular season was an elite number and he’s lifted his game slightly in the playoffs. Martin Brodeur, a part of New Jersey’s team back in the mid-1990s is no longer a great goalie and relies on the strength of the defense in front of him. But Brodeur has shown to be the prototypical proud veteran, lifting his save percentage by a little more than a full point in the playoffs—and if you don’t think that’s significant, just look at how many low-scoring one-goal games there are in postseason hockey. More important, Brodeur showed he could gin it up like old times and carry his team occasionally, as he did in Game 7 of the Florida series in the first round.
Having said all that…Lundqvist is still the better goaltender and to pick against the better goalie in the playoffs requires a lot to be on the other side. New Jersey’s a good, solid team, but if Gaborik and Callahan stay active, if the offense continues to run through Richards, New York will win the series and that’s who I’m picking. I’m rooting for New Jersey—in fact rooting strongly for them, as I like Brodeur and dread the notion of a Rangers’ Stanley Cup following a Giants’ Super Bowl. That’s too much of the New York Aristocracy. For New Jersey to win, they’ll need to hold New York below 25 shots on a consistent basis and get big offensive series from Kovalchuk and Parise. It’s realistic enough for me to think this will be a great series, but for the third straight round, the Rangers win a seventh game at MSG.
As one watches the Los Angeles Kings move through the NHL playoffs, one wonders how this team ended up as the 8-seed in the West and barely qualifying for the postseason to begin with. The offensive force this team has consistently brought is coming out of nowhere and they did it again in Phoenix last night, with a 4-2 win that opened the Western Conference Finals.
Dustin Brown has been the Kings’ go-to player all year and he was active in the offense all night, getting off seven shots and his assist to center Anze Kopitar got the scoring started just a few minutes into the game. Phoenix responded with a goal from Derek Morris. After a Kings goal in the second period, Morris responded with an assist and the game was tied 2-2 going into the final period.
Throughout the playoffs, Phoenix has played a dangerous game of chicken with goaltender Mike Smith. He’s been the best in the league all year, but you cannot allow your goalie to get pummeled with the raw number of shots Smith sees each night. Los Angeles got 17 shots in the first period, 14 more in the second and then hammered Smith with 16 more attempts in the final period. Eventually the law of averages say some of those are going to get through, especially when the key offensive players for the opposition is the one taking the shots. Kopitar got off six shots and forward Dustin Penner got five. And of Brown’s seven, one of them came with about 12 minutes left in the game and it found the back of the net to give the Kings a 3-2 lead. Los Angeles tacked on one more goal in the closing minute after Phoenix pulled Smith and played 6-on-5 in a desperate attempt to tie the game.
Los Angeles has been winning games throughout the postseason thanks to its defense and to their own elite goaltender Jonathan Quick. The Kings’ netminder was good last night, but not great, and the fact LA was able to win a game with sustained offensive force shows that whatever the seed numbers, the Kings are the better team in this series, and now they’ve got the first win under their belt.
The Eastern Conference Finals open tonight when New Jersey crosses the George Washington Bridge into New York City to face the Rangers. TheSportsNotebook’s series preview will be posted later this morning.
The New York Rangers and Washington Capitals were each tempting fate on Saturday night on Madison Square Garden, with each team playing its second Game 7 in as many rounds. The game was a proto-typical seventh game, with defense and goaltending paramount, but the Rangers won enough little battles to produce a 2-1 win that sends them to the Eastern Conference finals starting Monday against New Jersey.
Ranger center Brad Richards got the scoring going in the first period. A scoreless second was followed by a third period New York goal where Marian Gaborik fed Michael Del Zotto. Washington came back 38 seconds later and pulled to within a goal with still half a period to play. But the Caps couldn’t complete the comeback and another postseason ended early in for the good fans in Washington D.C.
Its team defense—not just goaltending, but an overall team defensive concept that jumps out at me the most in this game. In the third period, their season on the line, Washington got only four shots. Alex Ovechkin, with a chance to get critics off his back, got just two shots all game long. The ability of the Rangers to effectively take Ovechkin out of any real offensive activity the last three games is the biggest reason they won this series. Conversely, New York got shots from its key offensive people. Washington’s defense couldn’t keep Gaborik and Ryan Callahan off the puck, with the two combining for ten shots. While Gaborik’s assist was the only point between the two, TheSportsNotebook’s playoff coverage has constantly stressed a correlation between offensive activity by the key players and success, even if it’s not the key players themselves ultimately scoring. Gaborik and Callahan were a part of the offense. Ovechkin was not. Goalie Braden Holtby tried again to rescue his team, saving 29 of 31 shots, but it wasn’t enough.
The conference finals are now set. Los Angeles-Phoenix starts in the West on Sunday night and that series preview is posted online. We’ll have a preview of the Rangers-Devils series either late Sunday or on Monday morning, in anticipation of Monday night’s Game 1.
We’re down the conference finals in the NHL playoffs, and the Western Conference battle starts on Sunday night when the Los Angeles Kings visit the Phoenix Coyotes. Both teams have won as underdogs in the first two rounds, especially the Kings who, as the 8-seed had to take out t#1 Vancouver and #2 St. Louis. Now it’s #3 Phoenix that’s next in line, as TheSportsNotebook previews the series.
Defense—specifically goaltending was the foundation of both teams all year long, and Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and Coyote netminder Mike Smith have taken their already formidable games up a notch for the playoffs. Quick withstood the immensely talented Vancouver frontline, while Smith survived a shot barrage put him on by Chicago and Nashville. This latter point though, underscores an edge Los Angeles has, and it’s the defensive team that’s in front of the goaltender. Los Angeles was pretty good during the season at preventing shots. They haven’t been as strong here in the playoffs, although playing five of nine games against the Canucks will hurt anyone’s numbers here. We can give Phoenix the same benefit of the doubt in their first-round game against offensive-minded Chicago, but they also left Smith exposed quite a bit against Nashville. The Coyotes are getting better offensive work from their defensemen—Keith Yandle and Rostislav Klesla are among the team’s assist leaders in the playoffs—then they are at stopping shots.
The big surprise of the playoffs is not so much that Los Angeles has pulled the aforementioned upsets—when you have a goalie that’s talented and locked in, that’s always possible—it’s the way their offense has also stepped up. Dustin Brown leads the team with six goals and even when he’s not scoring he’s consistently active on the wing. At center Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards are distributing the puck and providing some scoring support. Overall, the entire team is moving the puck well, sharing in the offense, with Brown stepping up as the clear go-to guy to light the lamp. On the flip side, Phoenix is not getting that same kind of action. Antoine Vermette has played well at center, but he needs more help from forwards Ray Whitney, Shane Doan and Radim Vrbata than he’s gotten so far in the playoffs. The positive for the Coyotes—this trio played better against Nashville than they did through the regular season or in the first round against Chicago. Perhaps they’re going to become like the LA offense and start peaking at the right time.
Both goalies are strong enough that even power play goals are going to be tough to come by. Both teams killed penalties well all year and have done so in the playoffs, although in both cases, Los Angeles is a little better than Phoenix. If we anticipate a series filled with 2-1 and 1-0 games, a little better is all it takes.
Phoenix has home-ice advantage, but I believe that right now, Los Angeles is the better team. The seeding discrepancy is misleading. Phoenix defaulted to the #3 seed by virtue of nipping out the Kings for the Pacific Division title. In reality, these were the two worst teams in the Western Conference playoff field and not much separated them over an 82-game regular season. It looks to me like Los Angeles is the one who’s got more coming together on the offensive end right now, and while I fully expect Smith to continue his great games, he’ll be matched by Quick and LA can muster up a little bit more offense. The downside to picking Los Angeles? They’ve become the trendy pick, as evidenced by the fact they are a (-170) favorite to win the series (meaning you’d have to bet $170 to win $100), while you can get the Coyotes at (+150). The underdog is 5-1 in the six Western Conference playoff series to date. Is that a trend, or does it mean the favorite is due? For me, I’ll say the latter and while I’m not as sure as Las Vegas seems to be I’ll pick the Kings in six games.