The 2012 Stanley Cup will be handed to either the East's sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils or the West's eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings. Either team that hoists the Cup will be the lowest seed in NHL history to do so since the Devils won the title in 1995 after finishing in the fifth spot. Both teams have looked great during their lengthy playoff runs and it should be a hard-fought series.
The Kings cruised to the finals with a remarkable 12-2 record and an NHL best eight straight road wins, while the Devils had a longer road at 12-6. The series will begin at New Jersey's Prudential Center on Wednesday, May 30, where the Devils have fed off their home crowd to a 6-2 mark. Los Angeles defeated the top three seeds in order to earn their way into the finals, while the Devils defeated two division winners and the Philadelphia Flyers for the right to play for Lord Stanley's mug.
In the Western Conference Finals, the Kings cruised past the Phoenix Coyotes in five games and the Devils defeated the New York Rangers in the Battle of the Hudson, in a six-game series. Los Angeles' last trip to the championship took place in 1993 when they lost to the Montreal Canadiens. New Jersey's previous appearance in the title match was in 2003 when they won against Anaheim.
New Jersey Devils (6) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8)
When both teams look at one another, they'll likely see they have a great deal in common. The Kings and Devils like to roll all four lines. Both clubs have benefited from workman-like experienced players and newcomers to playoff hockey, while their stars have shone brightly. Kings’ captain Dustin Brown and top center Anze Kopitar have been the offensive catalysts for their team and they have received outstanding contributions from Mike Richards, Justin Williams and Dustin Penner. The Devils have been led by postseason scoring leader Ilya Kovalchuk and their captain Zach Parise. Top-six centers Travis Zajac and rookie Adam Henrique have also supplied valuable offense, while defenseman Bryce Salvador has been a surprise contributor with a wealth of points from the back end.
Speaking of defense, the only name that may ring a bell to most onlookers going into the series is Los Angeles' Drew Doughty, who has been great defensively and offensively during the postseason. Doughty excepted, the East and West champs are populated with unheralded blueliners who have continually gotten the job done. New Jersey's defenders have been more involved in their team's scoring picture though, with Salvador and his defense partner, Marek Zidlicky, racking up the vast majority of the points. Both teams also received great goaltending during their runs and while Jonathan Quick's numbers are superior to that of Martin Brodeur's, the savvy 40-year-old veteran does own three Stanley Cup rings and he hasn't looked his age at all.
The Devils have been underestimated before during these playoffs and the Kings have been dominant thus far, but there may be a changing of the guard here. New Jersey's battle-hardened playoffs should give them a slight edge when shifts and games go against them. The Kings haven't had their resolve tested much because they've been so good, but that may not be much of a blessing if New Jersey's system stifles them like it did the high-octane Flyers and the Rangers in the earlier rounds. The Devils will also be motivated with Brodeur nearing the end of his career and what better way to send him off into a possible retirement then with a Stanley Cup.
Devils in six.
Below you'll find the projected lineups for each team, but as always they are subject to change.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Dainius Zubrus
Patrik Elias - Adam Henrique - Ilya Kovalchuk
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Jacob Josefson - David Clarkson
Ryan Carter - Stephen Gionta - Steve Bernier
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold
Bryce Salvador has been an interesting story throughout the postseason. He had no goals and just nine assists in 82 regular-season contests, but has waved a magic stick during the playoffs with three goals and eight helpers in 18 games. He picked up five points and a plus-2 rating against the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals during their six-game series. Ilya Kovalchuk was also dynamite against New York with two goals and four assists in six matches. He concluded the series with a three-game point streak and scored five of his points over that span to take over the postseason scoring lead from Philadelphia's Claude Giroux, with 18 points in 17 games. Adam Henrique ended Round 3 with a three-game scoring spree as well. He scored the series clincher in overtime and posted a pair of assists during that time.
Much has been made regarding Patrik Elias' inability to generate much offense during this postseason and while he did manage to snap a six-game pointless drought in Game 5 versus the Rangers, he has one goal in his past eight playoff contests and a mere six points over 18 total contests. Dainius Zubrus was great against Philadelphia in Round 2, but he was held to two assists and a minus-3 rating in six games by the Rangers in the third round.
The Devils got Jacob Josefson back in the lineup from a fractured wrist in Game Four of the Eastern Conference final. He recorded one assist and five shots in three playoff contests against the Rangers, but his return led to veteran winger Petr Sykora's exodus from the lineup. Sykora had two goals and two assists in 15 postseason games prior to sitting out the team's last three as a healthy scratch. The Devils are relatively healthy going into the Stanley Cup finals, as Henrik Tallinder is their only sidelined player. The defenseman has been skating with the team's Black Aces squad as he works his way back into game shape from a blood clot to his leg.
New Jersey has received plenty of support from their fourth line. The trio of Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier has chipped in a combined nine goals and 19 points during the club's run to the championship series.
The Devils have scored 12 goals in 66 power-play opportunities this post season, good for an 18.2 success rate. New Jersey’s penalty killing and discipline have improved since the first round - when they permitted nine goals in 27 shorthanded situations. Since the first round the Devils have allowed only seven goals on 35 opposition power-play opportunities.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dustin Penner - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter
Dwight King - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Brad Richardson - Colin Fraser - Jordan Nolan
Robert Scuderi - Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez - Matt Greene
Dustin Brown tallied one goal and four assists in five games against Phoenix during the Western Conference Finals. He has amassed a whopping 16 points in 14 playoff contests. Anze Kopitar has been held scoreless in just one game over his past eight playoffs games. His six-game point streak came to an end in Game Four against the Coyotes, but he scored his sixth goal of the postseason during the fifth match of the series to get himself right back into the scoring column. Playing alongside Kopitar and Brown helped Justin Williams pick up four assists in five games against Phoenix. Drew Doughty also submitted a strong series in round three with one goal, three helpers and a plus-3 rating.
Mike Richards has one goal in his last six games, but he does have three points in his last five. Dustin Penner snapped a seven-game goalless drought in Game Five when he scored the game-winning tally to send the Kings into the finals. Jarret Stoll has also been mired in a goal-scoring slump, as he hasn't found the back of the net since Game Five of Los Angeles' opening-round series against Vancouver. He has two assists in his last nine contests.
Simon Gagne, who has been out of action with a concussion since Dec. 26th, participated in Friday's practice after being cleared for contact but it's still unlikely he'll be back in the lineup for Los Angeles during the Stanley Cup finals. Scott Parse is also still out indefinitely after undergoing hip surgery on December 2nd.
The Kings have been excellent on the penalty kill during these playoffs with a 91.2 percent success rate. They have surrendered just five goals on 57 opposition attempts and have scored a playoff leading five shorthanded markers of their own. On the flip side, their power play hasn't been effective with six goals on 74 chances for an abysmal 8.1 efficiency rating.