By Barry Melrose - NHL Network Analyst / Melrose Minute
Now that Los Angeles has knocked off the Coyotes and won the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl for the first time since 1993, the Kings will sit and wait to find out who their opponent is. Waiting isn't something these Kings aren't accustomed to, either. They've won their series in five, four and five games each, meaning a lot of sitting around waiting to find out who is next, but winning three postseason series in a grand total of 14 games is simply remarkable -- and something that doesn't happen often. After all, the Rangers played 14 games in the first two rounds alone. You don't advance to the Stanley Cup Final playing just two games over the minimum without being a pretty great team on an impressive hot streak, and that all leads us to one very important question:
Can anyone stop these guys?
Well, I don't really think so, but there are a few things to take into account. First, the Kings look very powerful right now. Their style of play looks better, and their players look better, but I temper it with the fact that the West is always more wide open. The West, since the 1970s and 80s, has always been a more wide open conference. It goes back to the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames and all of those other great teams of the 1980s. So when I look at the two conferences, I always take the style of play into consideration. The east is much closer to the vest, it's much more defensive-minded and it has been forever, so the teams don't look as good or as flashy or as talented. Saying that, I do think the L.A. Kings have the best team right now. When you put the L.A. Kings' lineup in there with Jeff Carter, Brad Richards, Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitary, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams, Jarret Stoll -- and you almost have to put Dwight King in there now, too -- it does look like a more talented team when matched up with the Devils and the Rangers.
I don't think the difference is as wide as the style of play indicates, though. I think the Final series will be a much better series than people think it will be when they see the Kings hammer Phoenix, St. Louis or Vancouver. Last year is a good example. Most people when they saw Vancouver win the West had the Canucks beating Boston pretty easily in the Stanley Cup Final, and then all of the sudden Boston beat Vancouver in seven because it was a different style of play. It's a good indication of what I'm talking about.
Another thing to note is that L.A. hasn't dealt with a team like the Rangers. New York is an in-your-face, fight-for-every-inch kind of team. They meet you at center ice, block your shots and keep play on the outside, but the biggest factor is New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The Kings haven't faced a goaltender as good as Lundqvist yet. We thought Mike Smith would given them a challenge, but L.A. has made him seem normal. Lundqvist, as we've seen against the Devils is a guy that steals games. The Kings haven't seen a goalie like that.
If the Devils win, the Kings will see a team more like themselves. Devils-Kings would be a great series because the Devils are a much more offensive team than the Rangers. They forecheck, they move the puck, they make nice plays. The Devils against the Kings would be much more wide open, but I do like that the Kings and Rangers would be a battle of complete opposites -- a high-powered offense that can play defense against a great defensive team that tries to win 1-0, 2-1 games with a great goaltender. Depending on who wins the East, the Kings have to be ready to face two completely different styles.
Regardless of who they play, though, the Kings do have one huge thing in their favor. Whether New Jersey or New York wins the East, it will be a lot of travel to L.A. and back, and travel favors the Western teams. They're used to it. In 1993 against the Maple Leafs, when I was coaching the Kings we won Game 6 and we had to fly back to Toronto and landed around the same time as the Leafs. As it happened, we were walking through the airport at the same time and I looked over at the Leafs and they just looked beat. They looked completely dead and I thought, "We got those guys." Sure enough, we went out there in Game 7 and got the lead and took the series. Teams in the East just aren't used to this kind of travel. They're used to little short jaunts and being in their own bed with one-hour or two-hour flights, so the longer a series goes, the more it'll favor the Western teams because they've flown these long flights and they're used to it.
Western teams have no trouble traveling. They've done it for years, the trainers are better suited, their bodes are better suited, they know how to recover better, they can sleep better on planes. Little things like that make the Western teams much better suited for the long travel that awaits in the Stanley Cup Final.
Whomever does meet the Kings will have an awfully tall order though. The most important thing they'll need to do is make Jonathan Quick look mortal. In addition to that, they'll need to control some of L.A.'s superstars. Brown and Richards can't be the factors they've been. Doughty can't control the play offensively or defensively the way he is right now. You can't have Carter scoring. Things have been so easy for L.A. right from Game 1 because their best players have played great. Richards, Brown, Doughty, Quick, Kopitar -- they've all be great from Day 1. This wasn't a team that struggled in the first round and then got going. Right from that first game against Vancouver they've come out and been great. New Jersey or New York will need to shut those guys down to have any chance.
If you look at the Rangers, in Game 2 against New Jersey, John Tortorella benched Marian Gaborik. If you have to bench your superstars in the third round of the playoffs, you've got issues. Brad Richards has been up and down for New York, too. The Kings don't have those problems. They've just added more guys to the list of players playing great. Now suddenly Dwight King is in that list, and Jarret Stoll, too. The Kings have three lines that are basically scoring at the same rate. What other team has that? That's what has separated the Kings from other teams in the West this postseason.
One last major obstacle for whomever wins the East is that they're going to be pretty beat up by the time the Final comes around. L.A. is going to be hoping that series goes seven games. Add that exhaustion to the fact that I just don't see a weakness in L.A. and I have a hard time seeing anyone stopping them. Is Jonathan Quick going to suddenly become a bad goaltender? Is Drew Doughty going to suddenly become a bad defenseman? Is Dustin Brown going to stop checking and hitting? Is Kopitar going to stop getting his chances? The answer to each of those is no. I just don't see any reasons to believe L.A. is going to become an average team all of the sudden.
I've been wrong before, of course -- that's why they play the games after all -- but winning a Stanley Cup is one of the hardest things to do in sports, and so far, the Kings have made it look easy. Winning four games against New Jersey or New York will be a challenge, but there's nothing right now that says it's a challenge the Kings can't handle. With how they're playing and the other factors involved, it's just tough to imagine anyone beating them.