(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs (8) Los Angeles Kings
To say that the Los Angeles Kings are not your ordinary eighth seed team would be an understatement. They’re not even your ordinary underdog success story. Since the current post-season format was adopted in 1994, no other eighth seed has managed to knock out the top two teams in its conference. The Kings not only did that, they did it in just nine games.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have the Phoenix Coyotes, who aren’t your typical “favorite.” They might have secured the third seed in the Western Conference, but no one expected them to be here either. The Pacific Division they won was believed to be weak and hardly anyone took notice of the victory as the quest for non-league ownership overshadowed everything else in connection this hockey team accomplished.
Still, they’re both here and for largely the same reasons. They both have hot goaltending, a strong defensive core, and an underrated group of forwards.
Although they hold the eighth seed, the Kings actually look like the better team on paper. Jonathan Quick
is a more established goaltender than the hot, but before this season somewhat unproven, Mike Smith
. The Kings have a number of great forwards in Dustin Brown
, Anze Kopitar
, and Mike Richards
. They also have two pretty interesting wild cards in Dustin Penner
, who has clicked in the playoffs after a rough regular season, and Jeff Carter
, who still isn’t living up to expectations but could break out at any time.
The Phoenix Coyotes, unsurprisingly, don’t have many big names. Still, they have some very well rounded forwards, including Antoine Vermette
, Martin Hanzal
, and Shane Doan
. Their blueliners have also been big contributors offensively, with Rostislav Klesla
and Keith Yandle
both recording seven points over the first two rounds.
For Phoenix, the big x-factor is Mike Smith
. So much of the Coyote success is due to his remarkable body of work in the regular season and in the playoffs. He has a remarkable 1.77 GAA and .948 save percentage in 11 post-season games. The only question is if he can keep it up.
The other subplot is how this will affect the Coyotes as they look for an owner. Although it’s not a cure-all, success in the playoffs can’t hurt and that might provide the team with some extra motivation. At the same time, the Kings’ dominance in the first two rounds against two great teams can’t be overlooked and at the end of the day, I see them edging the Coyotes in a hard-fought seven-game series.
has two goals and four points in his last four games. Then of course there's goaltender Mike Smith
, who allowed just one goal over the final two games of the second round.
hasn't gotten a point in the Coyotes' last three contests. He had 35 goals in the regular season, but has found the back of the net just twice in the playoffs.
won't be available for the remainder of the playoffs because of a suspension. However, the Coyotes are relatively healthy.
This is the first time that the franchise has reached the semi-finals as the Phoenix Coyotes. In addition to that, the Coyotes and Kings have never faced each other in the playoffs.
The Coyotes rank fourth in the playoffs with a 89.5% success rate when it comes to killing penalties. They have allowed an NHL-worst 36.4 shots on goal per game in the postseason.
Rob Scuderi-Drew Doughty
has gotten two points in each of his last three contests. Overall, he has three goals and 10 points in just nine playoff games. Mike Richards
stepped up after a cold first round. He had two goals and five points in the Kings' four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues.
You don't win eight of nine playoff games unless almost everyone is pulling their weight. That being said, Jeff Carter
is certainly leaving something to be desired. He was a bit more active offensively in the second round, but still has just a goal and four points in the postseason.
(hip) and Simon Gagne
(concussion) are sidelined indefinitely and shouldn't be counted on to play in the Western Conference Finals.
This is the first time the Kings have made it to the Conference Finals since 1993, when they went on to lose in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Of the teams that are still in the playoffs, the Kings lead the pack with a 92.1 penalty killing percentage. They have also lost just one game over the course of two rounds.
(1) New York Rangers vs (6) New Jersey Devils
The Devils might be the sixth seed, but they feature a star-studded cast that can match up toe-to-toe with the Rangers’ roster. In fact, while the Rangers fought tooth and nail for every inch against the Washington Capitals, the New Jersey Devils were resting up because they had already finished embarrassing the Philadelphia Flyers.
When comparing these two teams, the best place to start is their goaltending. The Devils’ Martin Brodeur
is one of the best netminders to ever play the game. He’s been shaky at times in the playoffs, dominant at others, and is the biggest x-factor in this series. Does he have one more Stanley Cup run left in him?
If not, there’d be some poetic justice to falling to Henrik Lundqvist
. It’s hard to picture anyone challenging Brodeur’s records anytime soon, but Lundqvist is one of the greatest goaltenders of his generation. Brodeur certainly has the edge in experience, but Lundqvist has been the superior goaltender this season and it’s hard not to give the Rangers the edge in this regard.
Offensively, both teams have some great top-end talent. Ilya Kovalchuk
, Travis Zajac
, Zach Parise
, and Patrik Elias
each have the capability to make a key difference in this series. Rookie Adam Henrique
is more of an unknown quantity, but he shouldn’t be overlooked. Throw in David Clarkson
, Dainius Zubrus
, Alexei Ponikarovsky
, and veteran Petr Sykora
and the Devils should be rolling with three intimidating lines.
The Rangers might not be quite as deep, but they certainly can match them in terms of top-end talent. If anything, they have shown it’s still possible to significantly enhance a team’s core by adding players through the free agent market. It’s hard to see the Rangers getting this far without Brad Richards
and Marian Gaborik
. They also have perhaps the best two-way forward on either team in Ryan Callahan
If either team has a big edge in any category, it’s the Rangers when it comes to defense. Their blueliners have excelled at blocking shots in the playoffs and they have also contributed offensively. Marc Staal
, Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman
and Michael Del Zotto
all have at least five points along with at least 19 blocked shots. No blueliner on the Devils can say the same thing.
There’s a lot to like about both teams, but ultimately the Rangers have the more balanced squad and a hot goaltender. The extra time off might help the Devils, but the Rangers should still end up winning in seven games.
Mike Rupp-John Mitchell
Michael Del Zotto
Michael Del Zotto
has two goals and six points in his last six games, including the winning goal in Game Seven of the second round. Marian Gaborik
has three goals and seven points in his last seven contests.
After breaking out in the regular season with seven goals and 32 points in 82 games, defenseman Ryan McDonagh
hasn’t done much offensively in the playoffs. He has just one assist in 14 contests. To his credit though, he also has 39 blocked shots in the post-season.
didn’t play in the second round due to a foot injury. It’s not known if he’ll be available for Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals. Michael Sauer
is out indefinitely with a concussion. Mats Zuccarello
(fractured wrist) might be able to return before the end of this series.
This is their first time advancing to the Conference Finals since 1997.
The Rangers rank second in the playoffs with 267 blocked shots, behind only the eliminated Washington Capitals.
Despite his regular season accomplishments, Ilya Kovalchuk
had only participated in nine playoff games going into the 2011-12 campaign. He's certainly making up for lost time though, with five goals and a team-leading 12 points in 11 games. Kovalchuk is riding a four-game point streak going into the Eastern Conference Finals.
has just three goals and five points in 12 post-season games. Given that he finished second on the team with 78 points in 81 regular season contests, that's surprising.
missed the third period of Game Five of the second round due to an undisclosed injury, but he should be fine for Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals. Jacob Josefson
(wrist) has resumed skating and might return before the end of the series. Unfortunately, the news isn’t as good for Henrik Tallinder
, who is out indefinitely with a blood clot.
The New Jersey Devils last made it to the Conference Finals in 2003.
This will be their sixth playoff series against the New York Rangers. The Devils have lost four of those five series.