The New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings may need a little time to feel each other out when they meet in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.
Not only have the Rangers and Kings not played each other in more than six months, they haven't met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since New York's 3-1 series victory in the best-of-5 first round in 1981. Their only other playoff meeting was in 1979, when the Rangers swept a best-of-3 preliminary-round series.
The Rangers and Kings concluded their two-game season series before Thanksgiving, with each team winning in the other's building. The Rangers came to Staples Center for their second game of the season and left with a 3-1 victory that featured a 160-foot shorthanded goal by New York defenseman Ryan McDonagh in the third period on a clearing attempt that bounced past the pad of Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick.
The Kings got a measure of revenge Nov. 17, winning 1-0 at Madison Square Garden. Since-traded backup goaltender Ben Scrivens outplayed New York's Henrik Lundqvist by stopping all 37 shots he faced, making rookie Tyler Toffoli's second-period goal stand up for the win.
Center Mike Richards set up both Kings goals against Lundqvist and the Rangers this season. Center Brad Richards had two of New York’s three goals against Los Angeles; Rick Nash assisted on each.
The series features two of the NHL's top goaltenders. Lundqvist is 3-4-1 all-time against the Kings, allowing 20 goals in eight games. Quick, a native of Milford, Connecticut, about 60 miles from Madison Square Garden, is 2-1-0 in his career against the Rangers, allowing six goals in his three appearances.
Each team has one player who spent a substantial part of his career with the other.
Kings forward Marian Gaborik, who leads all players in goals in the playoffs, spent nearly five seasons with the Rangers before being dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets at the NHL Trade Deadline last spring. The Blue Jackets traded him to the Kings in March.
Rangers forward Brian Boyle was the Kings' first-round pick (No. 26) in the 2003 NHL Draft and spent pieces of his first two NHL seasons with Los Angeles after turning pro. The Rangers acquired him at the 2009 NHL Draft, and he's spent the past five seasons in New York.
Rangers forward Daniel Carcillo, who's serving a 10-game suspension, was acquired from the Kings at midseason.
The Rangers are 66-44-16-1 all-time against the Kings in the regular season. The teams have played each other nine times since 2003, and Los Angeles is 5-2-2 in those games, including an overtime victory in Stockholm, Sweden, on the first weekend of the 2011-12 season. The teams have split their past 12 games in Los Angeles, where the series will begin Wednesday (5 p.m. PT; NBC, CBC, RDS).
The Kings are in the Final for the second time in three seasons and the third time in franchise history; they won their first Stanley Cup in 2012 by beating the New Jersey Devils in six games after New Jersey had eliminated the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final. The Rangers have won the Cup four times, but this is their first trip to the Final since 1994, when they beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games to end a championship drought that dated to 1940.
The Rangers and Kings each accomplished something that had never been done before in Stanley Cup history to get this far. Each team won back-to-back Game 7s to get through the first two rounds; no team that had to go seven games in each of its first two playoff series had won in the third round.
The Kings, of course, won a third consecutive Game 7 on Sunday, beating the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime to win the Western Conference Final and advance to the Cup Final.
"I'm pretty excited. It's my first chance to win a Stanley Cup, play in the Stanley Cup Finals," Toffoli said. "The guys in the room are excited. We just want to get it going."
After winning its conference final in six games, the Rangers have played 20 games. The Kings have played 21. The record for one playoff season is 26, a mark set by the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers and matched by the 2004 Calgary Flames. The most games ever played by a Cup winner is 25, by the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes and 2011 Boston Bruins.
The Kings have a deep group of varied forwards, allowing coach Darryl Sutter to roll four lines at any time. Because of the depth and talent of his group of forwards, Sutter rarely plays a matching game and allows the forward progression to flow naturally.
Gaborik, an import at the 2014 NHL Trade Deadline from the Columbus Blue Jackets, has been a revelation. He has 12 goals this postseason after scoring 11 in the regular season. His center, Anze Kopitar, is having a Conn Smythe Trophy-worthy campaign. He has played against three elite centers in the first three rounds and outplayed each one, including Jonathan Toews in the Western Conference Final. Dustin Brown, the left wing on that line, sets the physical tone and made a brilliant play to set up Gaborik’s crucial third-period goal in the Kings’ Game 7 victory against the Blackhawks.
The line of center Jeff Carter between youngsters Toffoli and Tanner Pearson was a wrecking-ball unit for much of the conference final. Chicago could not match its size, speed and cycling ability. Carter has nine goals this postseason.
Right wing Justin Williams saves his best for the biggest stages, showing it again Sunday with a first-period goal and an assist on the winning goal in Game 7 at United Center. Center Jarret Stoll is a faceoff dynamo, winning virtually every big defensive draw contested during the conference final.
Mike Richards plays center on the fourth line and gives Los Angeles unbelievable depth down the middle.
Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis and Dwight King have all taken turns making a positive impact. King had two assists in the win Sunday.
The Rangers don't have a No. 1 line, per se. Instead, they have three scoring lines and a checking line that is adept at getting the puck deep, keeping possession and generating scoring chances.
Their playoff numbers prove their balance; nobody has more than 13 points, and eight players have at least 10.
New York is deep at right wing with Nash, Martin St. Louis, Mats Zuccarello and Derek Dorsett, who when he plays within himself and with speed helps drive the forechecking game for the fourth line.
The Rangers have speed and size on the left side with Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin, Benoit Pouliot and Boyle. They have five centers for four spots in Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, Derick Brassard, Dominic Moore and Boyle, who plays left wing on the fourth line.
Right Wing - NYR
GOALS: 6 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 13
SOG: 44 | +/-: 0
Stepan is playing despite having surgery to repair his broken jaw May 23. He is wearing a clear protective shield over his jaw.
St. Louis has 13 points, including six goals, and hasn't missed a game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs despite the sudden death of his 63-year-old mother, France, on May 8. He plays with Richards and Hagelin, who has been one of New York's most consistent forwards.
The Rangers' so-called third line of Brassard between Zuccarello and Pouliot has at times been New York’s most effective line. They have combined for 12 goals, but Pouliot will have to play smarter than he did against the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference Final, when he was held without a point.
The checking line, or fourth line, of Moore, Boyle and Dorsett is physical and aggressive on the forecheck. Coach Alain Vigneault doesn't hesitate to put them on the ice against the opposition's top line.
Boyle is the Rangers' best penalty-killing forward.
This group is anchored by Drew Doughty, who is growing into a generational talent in these playoffs.
He has been a dominant force throughout the postseason and has raised his game as the competition has stiffened. Against the Blackhawks, Doughty had three goals and four assists and played an eye-popping 200:57, or nearly 29 minutes per game, much of it against Chicago's top-six forwards.
Jake Muzzin, his partner, has improved just by being paired by Doughty, who uses his amazing recovery speed to negate transitional chances for the most part.
Slava Voynov has had his ups and downs in the playoffs. More often than not, though, in the third round, he looked like the breakout player he was in the Kings’ run to the Cup two years ago. Willie Mitchell, a savvy veteran, plays 20-plus minutes a game and is rarely noticed, and that’s a good thing.
Alec Martinez doesn’t see a ton of time, but he was the Game 7 hero against Chicago, scoring the winning goal in the sixth minute of overtime.
Los Angeles’ defense corps could get a bit of an upgrade if injured Robyn Regehr can return. He is a few days away, according to the latest report from the Kings.
McDonagh is the most important player on the blue line. He's the first player over the boards in all situations. He plays the point on the Rangers' top power-play unit and is their leader in shorthanded ice time in the playoffs.
McDonagh leads the Rangers with 10 assists in the playoffs and is tied for the team lead with Stepan and St. Louis with 13 points. He had two goals and eight assists in the conference final. He is third on the team in blocked shots with 40.
McDonagh's partner, Dan Girardi, is right behind him in importance and ice time. He plays the second most power-play minutes among the defensemen and is second among all Rangers in shorthanded ice time per game.
Girardi has seven points. He leads the Rangers with 50 blocked shots.
If it weren't for McDonagh, Staal would likely be the Rangers' No. 1 defenseman. He and Anton Stralman start approximately 60 percent of their shifts in the defensive zone, according to ExtraSkater.com. They are the featured pair on New York's second penalty-kill unit.
The Rangers had three set pairs until John Moore received a two-game suspension for an illegal check to the head on Montreal forward Dale Weise in Game 5 of the conference final. Moore won't be eligible to return until Game 2 of the Cup Final.
Raphael Diaz replaced Moore in the lineup for Game 6 against Montreal. He skated with Kevin Klein and was steady in 19 shifts totaling 11:35 of ice time.
Klein has started to take more chances up in the play. It bears watching.
Quick was not elite in the Western Conference Final and he has not been at his peak during stretches of the first two rounds, but he has been good enough to win each of the three series.
His mental ability, as much as his skill set, is what makes him such an intriguing goaltender. He fought the puck for long stretches against the Blackhawks. At one point, during a two-period span bridging the third period of Game 6 and the first period of Game 7, he allowed five goals on 10 shots, but he regrouped and refocused, allowing two goals on the next 34 shots he faced. Quick is 7-0 this year in elimination games, and the Kings have unshakeable faith in the man most responsible for their championship in 2012.
Martin Jones, the backup, has had limited mop-up duty in the first two rounds.
Lundqvist is the Rangers' in-house leader in the Conn Smythe Trophy race heading into the Stanley Cup Final. He has been by far their most important player. Nobody can dispute that he has been their most valuable player.
Lundqvist leads all goalies in the playoffs with a .928 save percentage and he's second with a 2.03 goals-against average in 20 games. He's a big reason, if not the most important reason, why the Rangers' penalty kill is 55-for-64 (85.9 percent).
He allowed three goals on 105 shots in winning Games 5, 6 and 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Second Round. He was the biggest difference in New York's 3-1 win in Game 2 against the Canadiens, stopping 40 of 41 shots, including all 19 he faced in the third period.
Lundqvist then bounced back from a poor performance in Game 5 against the Canadiens to win Game 6 with an 18-save shutout, making Dominic Moore's goal, the only goal in the game, stand up as the winner.
Cam Talbot is Lundqvist's backup. He sat out practice Sunday with an undisclosed injury and is considered day-to-day. Third-string goalie David Leneveu took Talbot's place.
Talbot has appeared in two playoff games this spring, but it's never a good thing for New York when he comes in; it only means that Lundqvist has fumbled away a game.
Sutter is not a man of many words, but he is the perfect coach for the Kings, fostering a culture of accountability and then allowing his players’ natural talent to take over from there.
Sutter made several subtle, but effective, tactical changes in each of the three rounds as the Kings erased series deficits of varying sizes. Against Chicago, it was changing the power play a bit and stressing longer puck possession, particularly when the puck was at the points, to open up shooting lanes normally clogged by the Blackhawks’ proficient shot-blockers.
But there is no doubt Sutter’s greatest contribution is his steady hand on the tiller for the Kings. He keeps this team from getting too high or too low, no matter the circumstances.
Vigneault, in his first season with the Rangers, is making his second appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. He took the Vancouver Canucks to the Cup Final in 2011, but lost in seven games to the Boston Bruins.
The Rangers praise Vigneault's calm demeanor. He rarely overreacts on the bench and typically has a long leash with players even after they make a mistake.
Case in point is Vigneault's response to Pouliot's penalty in overtime in Game 4 against the Canadiens.
Pouliot committed his second offensive-zone penalty of the game 30 seconds into overtime, but Vigneault went right back to him after the Rangers finished killing the penalty. He played two more shifts before St. Louis scored the winning goal.
Vigneault has a 49-48 career record in the postseason; six of his eight teams that have made the playoffs have advanced past the first round. He has been to the conference final twice in his career, winning each time.
The Kings’ power play has been very good. It has clicked at 25.4 percent through 21 games, the best among the four teams that made it to the conference finals. For a team that often struggles to score goals, an effective power play allows the Kings to jump-start the offense.
The Kings are dangerous with the man advantage because they can score from low or high. Doughty is a constant threat from the point, and Brown and Carter make a living around the opponent’s crease. Gaborik and Kopitar, meanwhile, provide a healthy dose of creativity.
Los Angeles penalty kill is only at 81.2 percent, but it was good when it needed to be. In the first two games in Los Angeles against Chicago, the Kings did not allow a power-play goal in seven man-advantage situations. At Staples Center, Los Angeles allowed one goal in nine tries for the series.
The Rangers wouldn't have won Game 4 against the Canadiens without a strong penalty kill. They committed nine penalties, eight that led to power plays, including six on offensive-zone penalties, but their PK was 7-for-8 and scored a shorthanded goal. They won 3-2 in overtime.
New York's penalty kill has an 85.9-percent success rate. It's second to only the Philadelphia Flyers, but the Flyers played seven games; the Rangers have played 20.
Ironically, it was the Flyers' PK that drove the Rangers' power play into a prolonged slump, a reason why it is 11-for-81 (13.6 percent) in the playoffs. They went on a 0-for-36 stretch before finally scoring two power-play goals in Game 5 against Pittsburgh.
The Rangers were 5-for-26 on the power play against the Canadiens, but three of those goals came in the third period of Game 1, after New York had already taken a 4-1 lead en route to a 7-2 win. They went 1-for-16 in the final four games of the series.
Many believe Toffoli will be the scoring star of the future for the Kings. He is providing a sneak preview right now. He has seven goals this postseason and has paired with Carter and Pearson to form a stunningly effective second-line option that has befuddled defenses looking for advantageous matchup situations. If he can remain dangerous, it will be a chore for New York’s defensive rotation to account for Los Angeles’ top two lines.
No skater in a Rangers uniform will be more important to winning a championship than McDonagh. His confidence appears to be at the highest level it's been in his four seasons in the NHL. You can tell because he's pinching up in the play, deep in the zone, knowing he has the stride, speed, power and wherewithal to get back without getting burned. McDonagh can take away one side of the ice in the defensive zone and be as difficult to handle in the neutral and offensive zones as anyone in the League. Just like Lundqvist, the Rangers have a chance if McDonagh plays well.
KINGS WILL WIN IF … They use their size and grit. This is not a team that wins pretty; it is a team that wears down other teams, using a long series to grind up and beat up an opponent. Each round, the Kings have found a weakness in their opponent, and then they spent the rest of the series exploiting it. Heading into this series, it appears the Kings will have a physical advantage, and they must exploit it from the very beginning to slow down the Rangers and make them less effective.
RANGERS WILL WIN IF … Lundqvist is able to steal some games and the Rangers are able to use their speed to their advantage. Lundqvist and overall team speed might be the only advantages the Rangers have. Their defense will be pressed harder in the Cup Final than in any of the three previous rounds. New York doesn't have the center depth to match up in this series. However, the Rangers will stay in games and give themselves a chance if Lundqvist is on his game, McDonagh is the best skater on the ice, they forecheck hard and play fast, which starts by setting the tone early.
Compiled by Shawn Roarke and Dan Rosen