In what figures to be a long, hard-fought series, stellar goaltending by Jonathan Quick could be the key factor working in the Los Angeles Kings’ favor in the Stanley Cup Finals.
After eight grueling weeks of playoff action, the Kings are minus-175 series favorites over the New York Rangers in the Finals, which starts tonight in Los Angeles.
The Rangers, who reached the Finals for the first time since 1994, are led by their Olympic medalist goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist (12-7-1, 2.03 goals-against average).
New York squeaked past Philadelphia in seven games in the first round. After a slow start against Pittsburgh, late-season acquisition Martin St. Louis pulled the Rangers back from a 3-1 deficit to force a Game 7 and eliminate the Penguins on the road.
The Rangers dominated the Eastern Conference finals after an injury to Montreal goaltender Carey Price in Game 1, scoring 15 goals in the first four games before closing out the Canadiens in six games.
The Kings made one of the most improbable runs in NHL playoff history. Down 3-0 to San Jose, the Kings looked primed to trade their graphite hockey sticks for titanium golf clubs, but Quick (12-9-2, 2.86 GAA) helped them rally to win the series.
Los Angeles needed seven games to eliminate the Anaheim Ducks before upsetting the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in a classic Game 7 in overtime on the road. The Kings became the first team in NHL history to win three straight best-of-7 series in seven games, with each closing victory on the road.
The Rangers and Kings play similar styles. The edge is slim, but it goes to the Kings, who have the better power-play percentage (25.4, compared with the Rangers’ 13.6) and a slight advantage in faceoff wins (52.9 percent). The cross-country angle also favors Los Angeles, which has home ice.
One trend to note is teams coming off overtime games are 1-4 in Game 1 of the Finals since 2006. It’s a trend that points to the Rangers at plus-135 in the opener.
Expect an exciting series, and I like the Kings to win in six games to collect their second Stanley Cup in three years.
Alex B. Smith is a hockey handicapper for Axsmithsports.com and Kellyinvegas.com.