For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Final between the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers, NHL.com has enlisted the help of former NHL coach Craig Ramsay to break down the action. Ramsay will be checking in throughout the series.
Ramsay played in more than 1,000 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres before going on to coach the Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Atlanta Thrashers. In the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he led the Flyers to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final. Ramsay most recently was an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers.
Ramsay knows everyone is calling the Rangers the underdog to the Los Angeles Kings with Game 1 on Wednesday at Staples Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS). He understands why: The Kings won the Stanley Cup two years ago and are coming off a seven-game win against the defending Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final.
Ramsay also knows if the Rangers play their way, the way coach Alain Vigneault has trained them to play, the way that got them here, that whole underdog thing won't matter.
"They don't have to change anything, they just have to be on top of their game," Ramsay told NHL.com. "Don't go out there and try to play 1-on-1 hockey and be the star. Go out there and let it happen with your speed, your game plan and the togetherness in your group."
The Rangers eliminated the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens by relying on those three ingredients. He said they can't attempt to defeat the Kings any other way because it won't work.
"They have guys who are quick, guys who can skate, like Martin St. Louis and Carl Hagelin," Ramsay said. "They've got guys who can put speed at the Kings, and that's where they can make that defense turn back, get the puck in behind them and make them play defense. L.A. likes to get the puck in the offensive zone and play with it. They have to get them backing up and play with speed. They did it against Montreal and they have to do it again."
Ramsay also knows that in order to play with speed the Rangers have to be physically engaged, especially against the Kings. Los Angeles will initiate the physical play, and Ramsay said New York can't get caught backing off because that will nullify any chance it has at getting the puck and using its speed.
"The Rangers have to be willing to be hit, to go into corners and come up with pucks, and to get their battle level up and keep it up," Ramsay said. "It's not like the old days, they don't have to fight anybody, but they have to be physically engaged. It's harder to do against the Kings."
Ramsay identified forwards Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, Brian Boyle and defenseman Marc Staal as being essential to the Rangers' success because they have size, can get to the net (even Staal), and at least in the case of Kreider, have the speed to blow past Kings defenders.
"Kreider is a guy that with his speed he can challenge every defenseman the Kings have," Ramsay said. "They're all good players, but if you make [Drew] Doughty play [defense] all the time then you inhibit what he does best. So make him chase Kreider all night."
Ramsay said Staal has to be involved in the offense, which he has been sporadically in the postseason. He has five points in 20 games.
"Staal has to skate up ice," he said. "He has to be a presence."
Ramsay said Nash has to become a net-front presence, which he has been on an inconsistent basis in the playoffs. He has three goals in 20 games.
In fact, Ramsay said the Rangers' ability to play four lines could be one of their greatest advantages in the series.
"They can play everybody, which is a key issue," Ramsay said. "Get it out, change, keep yourself fresh and keep everybody going. If they can play their lines, and they have so far, why not keep doing it?
"Because it's the Final there's a little extra oomph in your step and [you have to] take advantage of it," he continued. "They should be thrilled to be there. They should be thrilled people are saying they're the underdog. They should be saying, 'Oh yeah; watch this.'"