Matt Greenem

2012 Stanley Cup finals at a glance: Los Angeles-New Jersey preview

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Schedule

All times Eastern; *if necessary

Game 1: Wednesday, May 30, at New Jersey (8 p.m., NBC)
Game 2: Saturday, June 2, at New Jersey (8 p.m., NBC)
Game 3: Monday, June 4, at Los Angeles (8 p.m., NBCSN)
Game 4: Wednesday, June 6, at Los Angeles (8 p.m., NBCSN)
*Game 5: Saturday, June 9, at New Jersey (8 p.m., NBC)
*Game 6: Monday, June 11, at Los Angeles (8 p.m., NBC)
*Game 7: Wednesday, June 13, at New Jersey (8 p.m., NBC)

Three storylines to follow

1. Solidifying a “dynasty” vs. winning that first Cup

The New Jersey Devils are far removed from a franchise Wayne Gretzky once called a “Mickey Mouse” operation. This will mark their fifth Stanley Cup finals appearance as they attempt to win their fourth championship. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Kings’ last trip to the finals came before the beginning of the Devils quasi-dynasty, but they’ve never won it all despite being in the NHL since 1967.

(Regarding the Devils “dynasty”: Yes, we do realize Adam Henrique was 13 the last time the Devils won a Cup. So instead of dynasty, how ’bout Mart-asty?)

One could make this a story of a “big” market versus a small/medium-sized one, but the truth is that one franchise (Devils) is playing with house money while another (Kings) faces some serious pressure to reach a summit that has proven elusive since Day 1.

In some ways, this match echoes the NBA Western Conference finals’ match of the San Antonio Spurs (the Devils) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (the Kings). The Spurs/Devils hope to add yet another championship to their resume while the upstart young team is making good on quite a bit of hype.

source: Getty Images2. Passing of the goaltending torch?

To extend that analogy, perhaps Martin Brodeur is the Tim Duncan to Jonathan Quick’s Kevin Durant.

Brodeur’s place is already cemented in NHL history; he has plenty of team and individual records, some of which might never be broken. Winning another Stanley Cup will just expedite his trip to the Hockey Hall of Fame and make it tougher for people to argue against his greatness. Like Duncan, he hasn’t often had the “wow” factor, yet his productivity is staggering.

Meanwhile, Quick is like Durant: hungry, dynamic and in the prime of his career. Maybe he won’t win the Vezina Trophy, but he’s absolutely in the argument regarding the best netminders in the NHL. On paper, you’d have to think that Quick is the better of the two goalies at this point in their careers, yet that thought and his lack of championship rings puts more pressure on the young American netminder.

3. Ilya vs. his replacements

The Kings may have viewed Ilya Kovalchuk as the “missing piece” when they courted him heavily during the free agent summer of 2010. Kovalchuk opted to stick with New Jersey much like Brad Richards went with the New York Rangers the following summer, though. After being spurned by a star who would have made Los Angeles more top-heavy, GM Dean Lombardi opted for the trade route, bringing in Mike Richards, Dustin Penner and Jeff Carter.

It took a while for those new players to find some cohesion, yet now the Kings are a team that seemingly has the right mix of top players and depth on offense to go with a great defense and a world-class goalie.

Of course, Kovalchuk gives the Devils the right mix of talent to make the Kings worry for a simple reason: New Jersey might provide a taste of Los Angeles’ own medicine. Both teams forecheck as aggressively as any squad that had remote success in this year’s playoffs. Each group has some depth to go with all that marquee talent.

They’re not mirror images of each other, yet when it comes to aggressive forechecking, they’re kindred spirits. The Devils – and Kovalchuk – might just represent a look that locomotive Los Angeles hasn’t seen much of lately.

Records

No. 8 (West) Los Angeles: 40-27-15 for 95 points (3rd in Pacific) | No. 6 (East) New Jersey: 48-28-6, 102 points (4th in Atlantic).

Leading playoff scorers

Los Angeles: Dustin Brown (7G-9A-16PTS) | New Jersey: Ilya Kovalchuk (7G-11A-18PTS)

Head-to-head

Devils won 2-0

Oct. 13: at New Jersey 2, Los Angeles 1 (SO)
Oct. 25: New Jersey 3, at Los Angeles 0

Playoff history

First meeting

Stanley Cups

Los Angeles: Zero | New Jersey: Three (1995, 2000, 2003)

Injuries

Los Angeles: Scott Parse (hip), Kevin Westgarth (hand) and Simon Gagne (concussion – has been making progress)| New Jersey: Henrik Tallinder (leg)

Poll

Click here to make your 2012 Stanley Cup finals selection – including the number of games.

Capitals accuse Letang of leaving his feet, hitting Johansson in head

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Get this: the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins seem divided on the legality of Kris Letang‘s hit on Marcus Johansson.

(Take a moment to gather your thoughts amid this shocking revelation.)

You can watch the hit over and over in the video above. This post features some takes on that check, which the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly reviewing.

Generally speaking, the three things people discuss regarding the check is how late it might be, if Letang used his feet and if Johansson’s head was the principal point of contact.

Letang told his side of the story:

The Capitals disagree:

While Barry Trotz pleads the Fifth after his previous comments about Brooks Orpik‘s suspension:

No doubt about it, Letang’s status is the top story to follow in this series between Games 3 and 4. We’ll find out soon enough how it all shakes out.

Penguins ride Murray’s masterpiece to 2-1 series lead vs. Capitals

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If Marc-Andre Fleury suiting up bothers Matt Murray, then the rookie goalie channeled those feelings into a masterful performance on Monday.

The Washington Capitals absolutely dominated Game 3, but Murray was even better, stopping 47 shots as the Penguins stole one 3-2 to take a 2-1 series lead.

(Capitals fans might see some parallels to Washington’s Game 5 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers; they fell 2-0 despite a 44-11 shots on goal edge thanks to Michal Neuvirth‘s heroics.)

Murray stopped chance after chance before Alex Ovechkin finally broke through for his first goal of this series. Justin Williams then brought the Penguins’ lead down to 3-2 to make for a hold-your-breath final minute.

A driven Ovechkin and strong overall play from the Capitals (despite this defeat) aren’t the only reasons why Game 4 might present some twists.

First things first: Kris Letang might get suspended for Game 4 (if not for more than one game) thanks to this controversial check on Marcus Johansson.

Beyond that, there could be some bumps and bruises from this contest.

Bryan Rust left during the first period and didn’t return to the game after blocking a shot. Brian Dumoulin seemed shaken up after an Alex Ovechkin hit in the third period. The Capitals might have a player or two to look at, as well.

In other words, the Penguins could really lack for quality defensemen with Letang possibly suspended and possible injury absences for Dumoulin and Olli Maatta.

This series is living up to the hype … and really building up the hate.

Yes, NHL is reportedly looking at Letang’s hit on Johansson

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It remains to be seen if Kris Letang will get suspended for his hit on Marcus Johansson … and if he does, for how long.

(You can read initial reactions and some analysis about the specifics of the check vs. the one that got Brooks Orpik suspended here.)

There are a few things we do know already.

For one thing, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is reportedly looking into it.

Another factor that could help Letang avoid a suspension or limit the duration of supplemental discipline: Marcus Johansson returned during the second period.

In fact, Johansson delivered some hits on Letang.

There have been some nasty moments in Game 3, and more might be coming. The Penguins lead 2-0 with a few minutes remaining in the middle frame.

Kris Letang may face suspension for hit on Marcus Johansson

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Update: Reports indicate that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety is indeed looking into the hit.

***

As thrilling as this Pittsburgh Penguins – Washington Capitals series has been, it seems like every game presents another controversial hit.

Game 3’s most noteworthy entry (so far?) came when Kris Letang was whistled for interference on Marcus Johansson.

Penguins fans griped that Brooks Orpik didn’t get a major penalty for his hit on Olli Maatta … now Capitals fans likely feel the same about the check Letang delivered.

Watch it in the video above. Also, Stefanie “My Regular Face” has it in GIF form:

Things could get ugly in Game 3:

One factor in a suspension happening – or at least the duration of the suspension – would be what the point of contact was:

Also, lateness of the check:

The Penguins ended the first period up 2-0 against the Capitals, even though Washington played one of its best 20 minutes of the series. Expect more drama.

Update: The Penguins won the game 3-2.

Read reactions to the check here.