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.
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.
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)
Devils won 2-0
Oct. 13: at New Jersey 2, Los Angeles 1 (SO)
Oct. 25: New Jersey 3, at Los Angeles 0
Los Angeles: Zero | New Jersey: Three (1995, 2000, 2003)
Los Angeles: Scott Parse (hip), Kevin Westgarth (hand) and Simon Gagne (concussion – has been making progress)| New Jersey: Henrik Tallinder (leg)
Click here to make your 2012 Stanley Cup finals selection – including the number of games.