Here are the important matchups between these teams, as I see them.
With the Rangers, what really sticks out for me is the speed with which they played in the previous round against the Montreal Canadiens. Despite having all that speed, they also scored goals in several different ways. That was really impressive, and the tempo they played at forced Montreal to play a fast game, which made the Canadiens very uncomfortable.
As far as individual players, defenseman Ryan McDonagh was amazing against Montreal. He was the best player by far in that series. As important as he'll be against the Kings, the Rangers don't just rely on their stars. They are a four-line team, so they're getting production from everyone in that lineup. Their defensive corps also has a lot of depth; they're rolling about seven or eight deep back there.
With Los Angeles, this is a different recipe than what the Kings were doing last year. They have a lot of their core pieces in place and their coaching staff is intact. But there's always a unique recipe every year. One thing we've seen them do this year is they've had to go to three different Game 7s. That speaks to how strong this team is and how they play a power skill game. Like the Rangers, they also have four excellent forward lines with a lot of strength at center.
On defense, Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov are amazing, but I really think Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez have elevated their game. It all comes together to make one of the NHL's stingiest teams. They make you earn every inch of ice that you get. There's no easy ice or access.
Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi said to me that he thinks one of the key matchups will be in front of both nets. Offensively for both teams, that is prime real estate because these are two of the best goalies in the world in Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist. It's goalie nirvana for all you goalie-heads out there. You have to control your net and the opposing net to try to score. With these goalies, anything they can see they'll likely stop.
The Kings play a very hard game and they're very committed to it. But this year they're also attacking. The shot in the arm they got in the lineup was from the acquisition at the NHL Trade Deadline of Marian Gaborik as well as the play of youngsters like Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. They've been like a Vitamin B12 shot.
That was missing for the Kings earlier this year. Even when Pearson and Toffoli were up early in the season, they would go up and down from that lineup.
The key matchup for this series is still the Rangers' speed against the Kings' checking and power. There are plenty of great individual matchups as well, whether it's McDonagh against Doughty or Hank against Quick.
Each team also shows the importance of development. The great job the Rangers and Kings have done with development is apparent, whether it's drafting the right guy or helping improve other players. It's been a big part of each team's organizational philosophy. These teams have put a lot of time and resources into rookie camps at their practice facilities. They've also been great at finding players who are off the conventional scouting grid. That really speaks to their commitment to developing their team and taking their team to the next level.
Development doesn't end with being a draft pick. Development is constant. Look at Martin St. Louis. He's won everything under the sun, but he was the first player out on the ice for New York's first practice in L.A. That's just how he's wired, and it's infectious. Other players notice that and look to elevate their game because of it.
It's just another example of talented youngsters and experienced veterans coming together for a magical Cup run. Both of these teams have that and I expect each of them to make a spirited run to hoist hockey's Holy Grail.
Personally, I can't wait to see how it all ends.
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