Haggerty: Previewing the Cup Finals

Haggerty: Previewing the Cup Finals
May 30, 2012, 6:36 pm
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NEWARK, NJ -- The waiting is over, and the rest-vs.-rust arguments will cease.

The NHL will drop the puck on a true East Coast-vs.-West Coast Stanley Cup Finals with the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils hosting the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings, and it all starts Wednesday night.

You dont know if youll ever get the opportunity to play in the Finals, said Devils captain Zach Parise. If you get an opportunity you never know whether youll get the chance again, so you have to make the most of it. Given the circumstances, I dont think there will much of a feeling-out period like there is during the regular season. You have to hate your opponent. I dont think thats going to be a problem for us.

With the Kings making the same kind of noise, and with plenty of storylines on both sides, heres a quick series preview and a fearless prediction:

Goaltenders
Its the kind of master-vs.-the young apprentice tale that any Star Wars fan would love. Martin Brodeur, the veteran of five Stanley Cup Finals and a three-time champion, has done it all in a Hall of Fame career, and knows the end is near at 40 years old. There's little doubt he could reach back for something extra with another Cup on the line so close to retirement, and he has a respectable .923 save percentage, along with a 2.04 goals-against average, so far in the playoffs. He also has four assists while hes sliced and diced opposing forechecks. It will be difficult to conquer the goaltending lion in winter, but Jonathan Quick has been Mr. Everything for the Kings at the other end. He leads all playoff goaltenders with a .946 save percentage and a microscopic 1.54 goals-against average, and has looked unbeatable. But hes never played in the Stanley Cup Finals spotlight before, and hell have to prove he can handle it after looking like Eminem with his hood shrouded over his face at Stanley Cup Media Day on Tuesday. Edge: Devils

Defensemen
Bryce Salvador. Marek Zidlicky. Peter Harrold. Mark Fayne. Who are these guys? The New Jersey Devils' blueline crew has been outstanding while going about their business anonymously, but theres been a sense the balloon could burst if they faced withering forecheck. Enter the Los Angeles Kings, who are led by the closest thing Ive seen to Ray Bourque in todays NHL in Drew Doughty. Doughty has 10 points in 14 games with a plus-10 and is playing 25-plus minutes every night. The rest (Matt Greene, Slava Voynov, Alec Martinez, Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi) are decidedly Jersey-like in their No-Name Quality, but an elite defenseman like Doughty could dominate in a best-of-seven series for the Cup like Niklas Lidstrom before him. Edge: Kings

Forwards
Plenty of talent and firepower on both sides. Ilya Kovalchuk has been a consistent force during New Jerseys playoff run and Zach Parise seemed to finally discover his footing in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Rangers. For L.A., Dustin Brown has been a one-man wrecking crew with his relentless forecheck and gritty nature, and has 16 points and a plus-13 in only 14 games. Anze Kopitar has been equally dominant at the offensive end. But the Kings' biggest strength is that effective postseason players like Dustin Penner, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter stand behind them, and nearly every single one of them has something to prove over the next two weeks. Dont underestimate the fact that many of the Devils forwards have played in the minus through the postseason. They can be exposed offensively and the Kings have the dogs to get the job done. Edge: Kings

Special Teams
This could be where the Devils could do some damage in the series. Kovalchuk has five power-play goals, more than all players on either team, and he is a force of skill on the man advantage. Meanwhile the Kings have gone 6-for-71 while tallying a Bruins-esque 8.1 percent success rate during the playoffs. Their man advantage has been a liability throughout the postseason, though it hasnt been an issue quite yet. Meanwhile, Jersey is humming along at 18.2 percent and has scored twice as many PP goals in the postseason as the Kings. It should be noted that the Kings are also killing 91.2 percent of their penalties while the Devils are under 75 percent effectiveness. Methinks if the Devils win, it will be on the strength of special teams: Edge: Devils

CoachingIntangibles
Peter DeBoer managed to survive three years in Florida. For that he gets bonus points. He also has stared down John Tortorella on multiple occasions and bit back at the rabid dog of a hockey coach. For that, an entire New York Rangers media corps wants to give him a hug. Hes squeezed everything he could out of the Devils while surprising many along the way, and surviving injuries early in the season that looked like they would sink his hockey club into the Jersey shore. Beyond the coaches, the leadership of Zach Parise is impressive and the Devils have Stanley Cup Final warriors in guys like Martin Brodeur and Patrik Elias. You have to like that. For Los Angeles, Darryl Sutter likes to say things like Strap on the feedbag and any other manner of farm euphemisms, but under that country-boy exterior the man is crazy like a fox. Edge: Devils by a slight margin

Prediction
It will take the Kings a couple of games to get going after taking seven days off between the Western Conference Finals and the start of the Cup Finals, but they are fast, strong, relentless and explosive. The depth of Los Angeles -- with Carter and Richards coming after Brown and Anze Kopitar -- is exactly the kind of firepower that will give some defensively suspect Devils players fits. In the end Los Angeles will find ways to expose Kovalchuk when hes out on the ice, and the Kings will finally break through against Brodeur. The pick: Kings in six