Kings-Devils should be an exciting Final

Monday, 05.28.2012 / 3:46 PM | Barry Melrose  - NHL Network Analyst
Well, after 1,230 regular season games and 80 more in the playoffs, here we are. In a matchup not many people could have seen coming, it'll be the New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings facing off in the Stanley Cup Final, which will start Wednesday night (8 ET, NBC, CBC).

Here is how I see the matchup shaking out:

Forwards

When I look at these teams up front, there are a few things that stick out to me about the Kings. First of all, they've been on fire. They've played 14 games so they're healthy and rested, they're playing great in general and getting scoring from everybody. Anze Kopitar is scoring, Dustin Brown is scoring, Mike Richards is scoring … even Dwight King had four goals against Phoenix in the Western Conference Final. Every night, someone else puts in a goal for the Kings. With that scoring depth, I have to give them the edge.

I also give the size edge to the Kings. I don't think the defense of the Devils has seen a forward unit like this that can skate and is that big. The Rangers, apart from Mike Rupp, didn't really have any big forwards and especially physical guys. I think that's going to catch the Devils by surprise.

Overall, when I look at the 12 forwards, the Devils' forwards just don't match up to the Kings to me. I think Ilya Kovalchuk, of course, is dangerous offensively and Zach Parise's going to give you offense. But are they going to get two goals out of Ryan Carter this series? Can Stephen Gionta be as effective against L.A. as he was against New York? I don't know. I think this is probably where the Kings have the biggest advantage.

I will say this, however -- with the aggressive forechecking style these two teams have, I'm hoping it creates some great entertainment value. If they both play the way they can it should be fast, there should be a lot of hitting, there should be a lot of mistakes created because of the speed they forecheck with and when you forecheck, you're giving up goal-scoring chances because of turnovers. So, I'm hoping that this will be an exciting brand of hockey. Again, I think I give the edge to L.A. I just think that they're able to forecheck better because of their size. When you've got guys who are 6'3" or 6'4" forechecking they should be more effective than teams with smaller forwards, so I really think that we'll all benefit from the style of play, but I think size will definitely be a factor. That size plays into the Kings' hands. Advantage: Kings

Defense

Both teams have solid defenses and New Jersey's has been underrated throughout the playoffs, but to me, Drew Doughty is the only real difference maker in the lot. The Devils have nobody like Doughty, a guy that can run the power play. The Devils use Kovalchuk at the point on the power play because they don't have another D that can run it. Doughty, meanwhile, has been great and he's really been raising his play as the team has gotten deeper into the playoffs. Once you get by Doughty on L.A. you've got Rob Scuderi who's won a Cup, Alec Martinez and Slava Voynov who've both played well, Matt Greene, who is a big physical presence and Willie Mitchell is probably playing the best hockey he's played in his life. It's a big defense and it's mobile, but Doughty is the X-Factor.

The Devils have nobody like that. Marek Zidlicky's been great for the Devils, everything they'd hoped he would be, Bryce Salvador has been creating offense but also rock solid defensively, Andy Greene has been a bit of an unsung hero and I think and Pete Harrold has come in and given them good minutes taking over for Adam Larsson, who I think was somewhat caught by surprise by the intensity of the playoffs. You've also got Mark Fayne, who's been playing solidly. You may not know some of the names, but if they aren't making mistakes their names aren't showing up in the newspapers. Sometimes that's what you want from a defenseman.

Still, I think the Devils need more help from their forwards and have to play more as a five-man unit defensively. They've played three solid teams and controlled strong offensive players like Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik, which is not easy to do. Apart from a few tip-ins, they haven't given up many goals. I do think the Devils' defense is very underrated, but I think because of Doughty the Kings just have a little more oomph. Advantage: Kings

Special Teams

Let's be honest here. Neither team's power play has set the world on fire so far this postseason. I don't see any reason to think the Kings or the Devils are going to suddenly turn it on with the extra man, particularly considering both teams have been great on the penalty kill. The Kings have put the pressure on and scored five shorthanded goals, and the Devils in general, apart from their series against Florida when the Panthers mysteriously just ate them up, have been very good. Frankly, we might get to the point where each team scores more shorthanded goals than power-play goals. In a series like this though, it may not be how many power-play goals you score. It might be when you score them. Still, I don't expect either team to get much of a push or an edge from their special teams. Advantage: Push

Goalies

Marty Brodeur's been great. He outplayed Henrik Lundqvist the last two games, so if you do that, you're a pretty good goalie. What's more is that he's been here before. Nothing's going to faze him. Nothing's going to happen that hasn't happened to him before. He's been to the Stanley Cup Final touted as the best goalie in the world and he's been to the Stanley Cup Final being a young goalie no one knew about, so he's just going to come to the rink and he's going to play. He might let in a crazy goal somewhere, but then he'll make a great save like that double-pad stacked stop he made on Brad Richards in the slot in Game 6 or he'll make a save with his heel or another save with his toe. Also, he's still an unbelievable puck handler. It will help L.A. that they've already played against Mike Smith, who is similarly good at handling the puck. They know about keeping the puck away from a player like Marty and limiting his ability to set up plays and clear the puck past your forecheckers, and that's really the only edge he has against Jonathan Quick, though it is a big one if the Kings don't play it right.

If I'm the Devils, there is some good news here in that Quick looked human against Phoenix. In the first two rounds, he just ate every puck up. They can take some solace from that, but there's still no reason to think he'll suddenly become a bad goaltender. I think you've really got to concentrate on getting your second shot high if you're the Devils because Quick gets those pads on the ice and plays like a crab. If you're going to beat him, you're going to put the puck up under the bar. Quick is going to be great in this series like he has been all postseason, and I don't think the pressure will bother him because he's beaten the top three seeds and hasn't lost yet on the road.

Really, I think goaltending is a wash. When you make the Stanley Cup Final, you've played three excellent teams, you've battled, you've proven you can play, proven you're mentally tough and I think the way these two guys have played I don't think anyone sees one of them faltering. Advantage: Push

Coaches

One could look at Darryl Sutter and Peter DeBoer and easily give Sutter the edge on experience. That's the kind of thing that always makes me laugh, because when we went to the Final with L.A. in 1993, every paper had me outcoached in every series because I coached against Dave King and Pat Quinn and then Pat Burns. All three of those guys were going to outcoach me. But once you've come up the coaching ranks and you've coached for a Memorial Cup or a Calder Cup, the reason you're in the NHL is because you're a good coach. You don't get to the NHL by failing, you get there by succeeding. These coaches have both already been tested. DeBoer has won a Memorial Cup and coached a Game 7 in the NHL, Sutter's been to the Stanley Cup FInal before, so nothing's going to happen that these coaches aren't prepared for and neither one is going to outsmart the other one. It's going to come down to the guys on the ice. Execution of the play, who's going to want it more, who will pay a bigger price -- that's what will decide it, but both of these teams are going to be well-coached and well-prepared. Advantage: Push

Intangibles

If you look at L.A. and New Jersey, they both have a few guys with rings, so they've both got Cup experience. I don't really see an edge for either team there. If you look at intangibles I'd probably say the karma, if there is such a thing, around Marty is an intangible because a lot of people probably want to see him win as a sentimental favorite so he can ride off into the sunset on his great career. Really, though, it will come down to execution and doing the little things right, like blocking shots and getting the puck out around the wall. It's the same things hockey always comes down to. Advantage: Push

Prediction

People know that I'm a Kings guy. I've still got friends in the organization, I love the way they play and I've watched them play 14 times now and they're just really good all around. I don't see a weakness in their team right now. The forwards are a little better than New Jersey. I think their size will create some matchup trouble for the Devils and I'm not sure that Kovalchuk and his teammates can score consistently against Quick, and I just see L.A. with the edge in the end. Pick: Kings in 6
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