On Wednesday, May 30, the Los Angeles Kings will take the ice in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the New Jersey Devils. The Kings are looking for their first Stanley Cup championship while the Devils hope to win their fourth title.
It appears that most hockey experts are predicting a Los Angeles victory, but I'm having a hard time choosing the winner. I'm leaning towards the Kings, but it's hard to ignore the circumstances that lead to both teams reaching the finals.
The Kings beat two teams (the Vancouver Canucks and the St. Louis Blues) that weren't playing their best hockey of the season during the playoffs. That's not going to happen with the Devils. New Jersey is peaking at precisely the right time, which makes it harder for me to choose Los Angeles.
Another concern that I have about the Kings is their power play. The team scored some clutch goals with the man advantage early in the playoffs, but the well has run dry. If the Kings don't produce on the power play, it's going to be extremely difficult to beat the Devils.
However, I do believe that Los Angeles is the deeper and more talented club. That should be expected when you consider that the Devils are carrying Ilya Kovalchuk's $102 million contract. Of course, it helps that both Jeff Carter and Mike Richards have played against the Devils for years and are familiar with how their opponents work. Their insights into how New Jersey plays the game should prove helpful to team as it prepares for the series.
I also think that the Devils won't be able to push the Kings around like they did against the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers earlier in the playoffs. Los Angeles is a big, physical team that is willing to forecheck just as much as New Jersey does. It will be interesting to see which club will win the physical battle, but I expect it to be the Kings.
Overall, I expect this to be a close series that will test the both teams' championship mettle. Yet I'm a believer in destiny, and that's how I feel about the Los Angeles Kings. I think they'll ride goaltender Jonathan Quick and their dominant blue line to take the Stanley Cup in six games.
Derek Ciapala has been a Kings fan since the late 1980s. His favorite Kings moment is when they beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games to qualify for the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals. You can follow him on Twitter @dciapala.