There are few certainties going into Wednesday’s start to the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals, but we do know that we’ll see a number six or lower seed hoist the prize. That hasn’t happened since the NHL’s adoption of this playoff format in 1994, so consider this the year of the underdog.
The New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings have fought long and hard to reach this point and certainly deserve the chance to get it done.
The Kings are where they are because they’ve been able to dominate several top-tier clubs thus far, like the Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues. In truth, the Kings haven’t only really faced significant adversity in these playoffs and have taken a 3-0 lead in every series they’ve played so far. That puts their opposition at a significant disadvantage, as you might imagine, and could seal the deal for the Devils before they’re even able to get out of the box.
On the flipside, the Devils have enjoyed success by rolling four lines. They divide the workload evenly throughout the roster, for the most part, and are a well-balanced hockey club. With that kind of diversity coming to the rink every night and almost every player able to fit in almost any situation, the Devils could be trouble for the Kings. Throw in one of the best goalies of all-time and you’ve got a dangerous team.
Offensively, the edge just ever-so-slightly goes to the Devils. They’ve been getting goals from everywhere, while the Kings are just a month removed from being one of the worst offensive teams in the league. Sure, Los Angeles has been able to get out in front of opponents early and sit on leads, but the Devils seem to have more offensive gas in the tank.
Defensively, the historical edge would’ve almost always gone to the Devils. But these days, the defensive situation in New Jersey is vastly different from the glory days. The club is full of workhorses like Bryce Salvador, but the Kings come to the rink with the likes of Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell and other warriors. In terms of player quality, the Kings have the edge. And they’re boasting a proven system, dismantling offensive powerhouses in the process. It’s hard not to imagine the defensive fortunes favouring the Kings.
In terms of special teams, this is an interesting aspect of the series and there’s no telling how it’ll play out. The Devils have been rocking a power play of 18.2 percent thus far, good for fifth overall in these playoffs. Conversely, the Kings sit in the PP basement with just an 8.1 effectiveness rating.
On the penalty kill, though, the Kings take charge. They’re second in the playoffs with a 91.2 percent PK. The Devils are 13th, running only at 74.2 percent.
Could these stats cancel each other out in the end? Tough to say. The Bruins had a bad power play going into their Stanley Cup win last year, too, so it may not be as much of a factor as was once thought. At this point, it’s tough to say anyone has a special teams advantage going into the Cup round.
This really is a series that could go either way. While many, including myself, have selected the Los Angeles Kings to pull it out, the longer the series goes the more it favours the Devils. If New Jersey can stretch things out and slow things down, they should be able to eye the vulnerabilities in the Kings’ armour and dig in for a long series. If the Kings overwhelm them out of the gate, however, they don’t stand a chance.