“The Los Angeles Kings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday night in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final, earning a bye in the next round before being handed the Stanley Cup …”
So goes the reaction for many when it comes to the New York Rangers having the gall to step out on the same ice as a Western Conference team without genuflecting first.
On paper and in practice and in perception, the West has been so far superior to the East that the Blackhawks/Kings series was treated as a de facto Cup Final. It’s an understandable reaction, and not just because the Kings are two years removed from a Stanley Cup and are ridiculously good. No, the dismissal of the Rangers is an anticipated psychological facet of the human condition that’s been clinically diagnosed as “Ah Ha, Now The Skate’s On The Other Foot You Hubristic Bastards!”
It’s culmination of years of East Coast bias ruling over everything from media coverage to awards voting, a.k.a. media coverage. Now that it’s undeniable that the West is the best, it’s not just good enough to assume the Kings are going to be Stanley Cup champions; no, they must make the East – and NEW YORK – pay for California only having only won two Stanley Cups and two Hart Trophies since 2006 and having the NHL put a hockey game in Dodger Stadium. Woe is thy neglected.
So while (spoiler) I also believe the Kings will eliminate the Rangers in a 3-game sweep (the West will find a way), I’m allergic to predetermination and have substantial regional pride. Much like pizza, seasons, hip-hop and geological stability, I want to believe the East rules in hockey, too.
So here are five reasons the Rangers might not be royally screwed against the Kings in the Stanley Cup Final.
1. Lundqvist, Henrik
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Lundqvist is having the postseason of his life and if in any of these games Hank decides to say “no”, then the answer is “no.”
He has a .935 save percentage on 420 even-strength shots. No, it’s not Jonathan-Quick-in-2012-good (.946 EV save percentage), but then again, neither is Jonathan Quick these days.
Lundqvist keeps the Rangers in nearly every game and series. And he’s the first goalie the Kings will face this postseason for whom the majority of viewers aren’t simply muttering “it’s just a matter of time” under their breath…
2. NYR PK
One reason the Kings are playing for his here Stanley Cup is a power play that went 6-for-17 against the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that entered that series with the best penalty kill in the postseason at the time (91.3 percent kill rate). That included a 5-for-10 streak in their three straight wins that still boggles the mind.
The Rangers enter this series with the second-best kill on the playoffs at 85.9 percent, including 55 kills in 64 times shorthanded on the road. Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi play brilliantly shorthanded; so does Brian Boyle, who averages 2:38 SHTOI per game and is a shot-blocking machine that’s dangerous shorthanded.
This is one matchup that could tilt in the Rangers’ favor, especially with Lundqvist as the backbone.
3. So Much For The Afterglow
The Rangers won Game 1 of their series against the Montreal Canadiens because, as their opponents admitted, the previous round’s victory over the Boston Bruins gave them a bit of a hangover. Can the Kings suffer the same fate?
There are enough days between series where this might not be an issue, but there’s no question that the emotional dynamic in the teams’ respective conference finals was like comparing the Sex Pistols to the cast recording of “A Mighty Wind."
4. Maybe They Don’t Come Down To Earth
PDO is an advanced stat that’s a more effective measure of trends over the course of 82 games than it is in the postseason. Essentially, it’s the addition of shooting percentage and save percentage at even strength for a team. There are obviously a lot of factors that go into it, including quality of opposition and if a team has an irregularly great goaltender with gorgeous, Swedish eyes and an impeccable beard. But it usually goes like this: a team with an extraordinarily high PDO will eventually regress, while the ones with a low one will see their numbers improve over time.
The Rangers’ PDO in the regular season was 98.7.
In Round 1 vs. the Flyers, it was 105.6.
In Round 2 vs. the Penguins, it was 106.4.
In Round 3 vs. the Canadiens, it was 100.3.
It’s not exactly a state secret that the Rangers have played better in the playoffs than they had in the regular season. The question is whether they can keep their heads in the clouds for another round.
Which brings us to …
Ah yes, that completely immeasurable and yet supernaturally-influenced thing called a “team of destiny.”
Both teams can lay claim to having some great narratives for the commemorative Blu-Ray, what with the Kings winning three Game 7s on the road and rallying from 0-3 against the Sharks.
But let’s face it: The Rangers have been a different team since Marty St. Louis’s tragic loss of his mother in Round 2. They’re 7-2 since that point – full marks to the return of Chris Kreider right around the same time – but to a man the Rangers say they’ve been a changed team because of what St. Louis went through.
Both teams can lay claim to being the team of destiny. But the Rangers have been on a particularly special journey.
One that’ll probably end at the hands of the Kings, but special nonetheless.