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Head to Head Stanley Cup Playoffs Series Previews

SCF Preview: Kings, Devils ready for unexpected Final

Friday, 05.25.2012 / 11:32 PM / Head to Head Stanley Cup Playoffs Series Previews

Shawn P. Roarke and Dan Rosen - Staff Writers


Seed: 648-28-6 102 Pts.


Seed: 840-27-15 95 Pts.
In two weeks or less, the National Hockey League will have an unexpected Stanley Cup champion.

When the toughest tournament in sports started almost two months ago, nobody expected the new Jersey Devils or Los Angeles Kings to reach the Final.

New Jersey, seeded sixth in the East, was in a draw with Boston, the defending champions; the top-seeded New York Rangers; and the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, two of the game's hottest teams heading into the postseason. None of those teams are left in the East, though, with New Jersey ushering the Flyers and Rangers out of the playoffs. In the first round, New Jersey outlasted the third-seeded Florida Panthers, winning in double overtime in Game 7.

The Devils are in their fifth Final since 1995 and will be looking for their fourth championship and first since 2003.

The march of the Kings, in the Final for the first time since 1993, has been even more unexpected and, perhaps, more impressive. Los Angeles did not secure its postseason spot until the penultimate day of the season and lost its final two games to fall to the No. 8 seed. No matter, the Kings marched through the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks, the second-seeded St. Louis Blues and the third-seeded Phoenix Coyotes -- amazingly losing just twice during their perilous journey. They are a perfect 8-0 on the road this postseason, and dating back to last year's playoffs, have won 10 straight road playoff games.

Now, one of these teams will continue its incredible journey to the Stanley Cup. The other, sadly, will see its magical quest fall just short.

There is little to be gleaned from the regular season as to which team will prevail. The clubs met twice in October and New Jersey won both games, 3-0  shootout and 2-1 in a shootout. The 3-0 game featured backup goalies Johan Hedberg and Jonathan Bernier -- 3-0.

Rangers and Devils set to renew local rivalry

Saturday, 05.12.2012 / 10:59 PM / Head to Head Stanley Cup Playoffs Series Previews


Seed: 151-24-7 109 Pts.


Seed: 648-28-6 102 Pts.
New York metropolitan-area hockey fans will have their dreams answered in the Eastern Conference Finals, as the top-seeded New York Rangers face the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils, who play just across the Hudson River in Newark.

The Rangers assured this heated rivalry will see its fifth postseason incarnation in the past two decades with a nail-biting 2-1 Game 7 victory against the Washington Capitals at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night. With the conference finals beginning Monday night at Madison Square Garden (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS), the Rangers will have less than 48 hours of rest before facing the Devils, who have been off for close to a week after upending the Philadelphia Flyers in five games.

But rest won't be necessary -- emotion figures to carry the day for much of the next two weeks.

Elite goalies lead Coyotes, Kings into rare territory

Tuesday, 05.08.2012 / 2:02 PM / Head to Head Stanley Cup Playoffs Series Previews

Shawn P. Roarke - Senior Managing Editor


Seed: 342-27-13 97Pts.


Seed: 840-27-15 95Pts.
A long drought will be slaked in the Western Conference Finals.

The Phoenix Coyotes have never been to the third round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so clearly a trip to the Stanley Cup Final would also be history in the making. The Los Angeles Kings, meanwhile, have not made it this far in 19 years.

The long dry spell is not the only thing these teams have in common. Each is anchored by an all-everything goalie playing at the top of his game -- Mike Smith for Phoenix and Jonathan Quick for the Kings. Each worries about its own zone first and sells out to protect the area around the net. Each is coached by a master tactician -- Darryl Sutter in Los Angeles and Dave Tippett in Phoenix -- that gets the most out of his talent. And each is led by a captain that sets the identity for the team.

Shane Doan in Phoenix is a workmanlike player that has stayed the course with the Coyotes during trying times and is now being rewarded for his loyalty. Dustin Brown, meanwhile, has been through some very lean years with his franchise and is now setting the tone with his work ethic and his physicality.

Division rivals battle in Conference Semifinals

Adam Kimelman and Shawn P. Roarke - Staff Writers

There won't be many secrets when the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils meet in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Not only are the two teams separated by less than 100 miles, they see each other six times a season as rivals in the Atlantic Division.

They're meeting in the postseason for the second time in three years -- the seventh-seeded Flyers rolled to an easy five-game win against the second-seeded Devils in 2010 on the way to the Stanley Cup Final. This time, the fifth-seeded Flyers will have the extra home game after finishing one point ahead of the sixth-seeded Devils in the regular season.

The teams have met four times in the playoffs since the Devils' franchise moved from Colorado to New Jersey 30 years ago. New Jersey won in 1995 and 2000 on the way to the Stanley Cup; Philadelphia has won the last two, in 2004 and 2010.

Rangers, Caps renew playoff rivalry with new looks

Shawn Roarke and Dave Lozo -

These teams, just a short train ride apart on the Eastern seaboard, have recent Stanley Cup Playoff history upon which to draw.

The Rangers and Capitals are meeting for the third time in four years -- but this time, the roles are reversed.

They met in the first round three years ago, when the Rangers were the No. 7 seed and the Caps were seeded second. Last year, the Caps were the top seed in the East and the Rangers were eighth.

This time, the Rangers finished No. 1 in the East; the seventh-seeded Capitals occupy the underdog position.

In 2009, the underdog Rangers pushed things to a Game 7 at the Verizon Center before Sergei Fedorov scored the winning goal in a 2-1 victory. Last year, the Caps made it look easy by winning in five games.

Unheralded names could decide Coyotes-Predators

Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 5:40 PM / Head to Head Stanley Cup Playoffs Series Previews

Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor


Seed: 342-27-13 97Pts.


Seed: 448-26-8 104Pts.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are about star players showcasing their skills, but they also are about surprise players stepping to the forefront.

For the Phoenix Coyotes, that was Mikkel Boedker, the 2008 first-round pick who scored overtime goals in back-to-back games. For the Nashville Predators, it was defenseman Kevin Klein, who emerged from the sizable shadows of teammates Shea Weber and Ryan Suter to score and stop goals.

We don't know who the surprise player of this conference semifinal series might be, but we know there's no lacking in star power.

For Nashville and Phoenix, that starts in net, as the Predators' Pekka Rinne was a Vezina Trophy finalist and kept his strong play going into the first round against the Red Wings. The Coyotes' Mike Smith likely wasn't far behind earning Vezina consideration himself, and he raised his game even higher in the playoffs. Despite facing nearly 100 more shots than Chicago's goalies, he stopped almost everything that came his way.

Each team also has known quantities up front. The Coyotes' Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata and Shane Doan all are capable of big things with the puck, as are the Predators' Mike Fisher, Sergei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov.

Defensively, Weber and Suter are Norris Trophy-caliber players, but the Coyotes' Keith Yandle isn't far behind.

If the players we know step up their games, the ones we don't could make this series extra special.

Similar styles, defense define Kings-Blues series

Wednesday, 04.25.2012 / 4:19 PM / Head to Head Stanley Cup Playoffs Series Previews

Adam Kimelman - Deputy Managing Editor


Seed: 249-22-11 109Pts.


Seed: 840-27-15 95Pts.
The St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings appear to be mirror images of each other.

Their hard-edged veteran coaches preach a defense-first structure and both teams rely on their stellar goaltenders.

Dig a bit deeper and both teams have two strong scoring lines and stout, physical defenses that make life a bit easier for their goalies.

Each also advanced to the second round in five games, but here is where a bit of a difference shows itself -- one was expected, while the other came in a historic upset.

The second-seeded Blues won four straight after losing Game 1 to the Sharks, while the eighth-seeded Kings jumped to a stunning 3-0 series lead on the defending Western Conference champion Canucks and eliminated them in overtime in Game 5.

When teams this close play each other, it could easily come down to special teams. While the Blues might have had the better statistics, the Kings' power play and penalty kill seemed to come up with big plays at just the right times.

About the only thing you can be sure of is this series likely won't have the scoring pyrotechnics of the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh series in the first round, but if you're a connoisseur of defensive hockey, this could be a series to remember.

Finally atop division, Coyotes must overcome Hawks Staff


Seed: 342-27-1397Pts.


Seed: 645-26-11101Pts.
The Phoenix Coyotes have not made it to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since moving to Arizona, while the Chicago Blackhawks are looking to get back into Cup contention after sneaking into the playoffs last season and being knocked out in the first round.

After coming up short against Detroit in back-to-back years in the opening round, the Coyotes receive a new opponent in 2012. Chicago finished sixth with after needing a regulation win against Detroit on the final day of the season and failing to secure one, while Phoenix clinched its first-ever Pacific Division crown with a convincing win at Minnesota.

The Coyotes' ascent to the top of the Pacific was somewhat of a surprise after the club lost goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to Philadelphia last summer. But general manager Don Maloney signed Mike Smith to a two-year contract, and the latter had a spectacular season that saw him win 38 games while recording eight shutouts.

The Blackhawks looked sure contenders around the season's midpoint, but a long losing streak, an unsettled situation in net and a concussion for the captain threatened to derail the season.

These two teams have never met in the postseason before. One of Bobby Hull's former franchises will advance one step closer to the Cup. Is this the year the Coyotes break through, or will the Blackhawks prove their mid-season swoon was a fluke?

Kings need Quick at his best to slow Canucks Staff


Seed: 151-22-9111Pts.


Seed: 840-27-1595Pts.
Jonathan Quick had the kind of season goaltenders usually only dream about. His 10 shutouts led the League, and while his 35 wins ranked fifth in the League, he had another 15 games where he allowed two goals or fewer and suffered a loss in regulation, overtime or a shootout.

He'll need to continue that level of play when he and the Los Angeles Kings face the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in the first round.

The Canucks can attack in waves, and their power play is among the best in the League. But will they be able to penetrate the Kings' stingy defense and its outstanding goaltender?

Young Blues will test Sharks' playoff experience Staff


Seed: 249-22-11109Pts.


Seed: 743-29-1096Pts.
The San Jose Sharks bring a wealth of playoff experience into their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series with the St. Louis Blues. How will that serve them this season?

The Blues dominated this season with air-tight defense and goaltending, and an opportunistic offense.

The Sharks, however, feature three 30-goal scorers as well as Joe Thornton, among the elite set-up centers in the League.

So can the Blues' youthful exuberance and loyalty to coach Ken Hitchcock's defense-first system carry them in the playoffs like it did in the regular season? Or will the knowledge and experience gained by the Sharks in back-to-back conference finals trips carry San Jose forward?
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