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Pearn: Line matchups a key focus in Kings-Rangers

by Corey Masisak

For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Final between the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings, has enlisted the help of former NHL coach Perry Pearn to break down the action. Pearn will be checking in throughout the series.

Pearn has spent the past 18 seasons as an assistant coach in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets, Ottawa Senators, Rangers, Montreal Canadiens and a second tenure with the Jets in 2012-13 and 2013-14.

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Kings have survived three grueling series against three of the best teams in the NHL just to reach the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.

To win the Stanley Cup for a second time in three seasons, the Kings will have to defeat the New York Rangers, who like Los Angeles, are playing better now than they were in the first half of the regular season.

Like the Kings with Marian Gaborik, the Rangers have added a star player to their mix in Martin St. Louis. How do these two teams match up, and where are the pressure points in the series?

"I certainly think [the Kings'] physical game, their grinding game has been a big part of their success. I think it will continue to be that way against the Rangers," Pearn said. "The question for me is how much of a factor is the Rangers' speed going to be? That's certainly not to say they haven't already played some teams with a lot of speed. I think Chicago was a pretty quick team also.

"The Rangers' success has come from their speed, so trying to take that away and trying to make them play more in their end of the rink is going to be one of the challenges for the Kings."

Another similarity between the Kings and the Rangers is each team is deep at forward. New York has received strong contributions from role players, and Los Angeles has been able to roll four lines and wear out elite teams throughout the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Kings coach Darryl Sutter has typically tried to play his top line and center Anze Kopitar against opposing teams' best offensive players, but like the San Jose Sharks, the Rangers have their top talents spread across two different lines.

"I think what will be fascinating is to see how all four lines match up in Game 1," Pearn said. "It is going to be interesting to watch and see who the coaches think should play against who. Who does L.A. want to play against guys like [Brad] Richards and St. Louis, and who does [Alain] Vigneault want against that [Jeff] Carter line after the series they had against Chicago? Who is he going to match up against [Jarret] Stoll? Who is going to be their guy to battle Stoll in the faceoff circle? He was a big part of that last series in terms of his ability to win important faceoffs.

"I just wonder what the Rangers are thinking with those matchups based on the physical style of L.A. They're not going to want to have Martin St. Louis battling all the time in his own end of the rink. I think the matchups are going to be pretty interesting."

It is no secret at this point that one of the reasons for success for the Kings is their ability to control possession of the puck at even strength. They were the best team in the NHL at this during the regular season, and have able to win that battle despite playing two similarly elite teams in that regard (San Jose and the Chicago Blackhawks).

The Rangers began the 2013-14 season in a rough way, but their ability to possess the puck has improved along with their record. Their improvement in that area was a big reason analytics-friendly types liked New York as a contender in the Eastern Conference ahead of teams with more points like Pittsburgh and Montreal.

"To me, a big key in this series will be special teams. If the Kings can control the special teams, like the power play and the penalty kill, I think they have a tremendous advantage," Pearn said. "I think 5-on-5, they grind so well that it will be a lot of pressure on New York in order to win that part of the game, but if the Rangers can control the special teams part -- and they've been pretty good in the playoffs and they were pretty good against Montreal's power play -- that would give them a chance."

Winning the special teams battle was one of the reasons the Kings were able to fend off the Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final. Another was their ability to clog up the area in front of goaltender Corey Crawford and score goals from in close on rebounds, deflections and second- and third-efforts around the net.

"The final wild card to me is how well [Henrik] Lundqvist is going to play," Pearn said. "One of the strengths of L.A.'s game, and it was such a big factor against Chicago, is the Kings do such a good job of getting traffic in front of the goalie and getting pucks through that traffic. That's going to be a really, really important thing against a guy like Lundqvist."

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