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.

NBC and NBCSN have you covered for Hockey Day in America

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With two games on NBC and then two more on NBCSN, your Sunday should be jam-packed with Hockey Day in America action. A look at the hockey hotbed of Warroad, Minnesota adds a delectable cherry on top, too.

If you need a guide to this party of pucks and patriotism, look no further than this post.

Washington Capitals at New York Rangers, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC

John Carlson, T.J. Oshie and the dominant Capitals take on Ryan McDonagh and the Blueshirts. The Metropolitan Division represents some of the NHL’s upper crust, so don’t be fooled by the Rangers being the first wild card while the Caps are tops in the East; both of these teams can go. Kenny Albert and Brian Boucher will be there to call the action.

MORE: For Oshie, ties to Warroad run deep

Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins, 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Mike “Doc” Emrick and Eddie Olczyk will be in the booth for this battle between teams that met in back-to-back Stanley Cup Final series in 2008 and 2009. Along with usual suspects like Sidney Crosby and Henrik Zetterberg, these teams feature American scorers such as Dylan Larkin and, of course, Phil Kessel.

Chicago Blackhawks at Buffalo Sabres, 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN

The action shifts to NBCSN as Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks hope to teach Jack Eichel and the upstart Sabres a lesson or two. The Blackhawks are in playoff position, as usual, while Buffalo is rallying to try to make a push of its own. Gord Miller and Joe Micheletti will be your guides.

MORE: Islanders forward Brock Nelson’s journey from Warroad to the NHL

Boston Bruins at San Jose Sharks, 8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Hockey Day in America’s coverage closes off with this matchup between David Backes‘ Bruins and Joe Pavelski‘s Sharks. Randy Hahn, Andy Brickley and Bret Hedican will take you through this match between the Pacific Division’s top team and a Bruins team fighting to stick in the East playoff picture.

Barkov’s beautiful goal pushes Panthers into playoff position

SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 26: Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers circles the net with the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the BB&T Center on November 26, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Blue Jackets 2-1 in a shoot out. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers just won’t be denied as they end the night in the East’s top eight.

It’s fitting, then, that Aleksander Barkov wouldn’t be denied on his game-winner against Los Angeles on Saturday.

Barkov bursts beyond multiple Kings, fights off what would have been an obstruction penalty and then beats Peter Budaj by the narrowest of margins to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead 15 seconds into the third period. They would never relinquish that edge to Los Angeles, winning their fourth game in a row.

In the process, the Panthers – a team that seemed to be fledgling when it fired Gerard Gallant – now find themselves in the East’s top eight. Heck, they’re actually above the wild card fray by a hair.

Before we get to that … just bask in the glow of this Barkov goal:

Again, it was such a small window to beat Budaj, too:

(If the Panthers’ place in the standings doesn’t sway you into taking them seriously, maybe note plays like that and the fact that Barkov has 20 points in his last 17 games.)

OK, so with this win, the Panthers did some serious leapfrogging. They now rank third in the Atlantic Division (thanks to a game in hand on Boston) and have more points than Toronto as far as wild card concerns go, anyway.

Atlantic Division rankings

1. Canadiens – 70 points in 59 games
2. Senators – 68 points in 56 games
3. Panthers – 64 points in 57 games

Bruins – 64 in 58
Maple Leafs – 63 in 47
Sabres – 62 in 59
Lightning – 58 in 57
Red Wings – 56 in 58

From a wild card perspective

Third in Atlantic – Panthers – 64 points in 57 games
Second wild card – Bruins – 64 in 58

Maple Leafs – 63 in 47
Islanders – 62 in 57
Sabres – 62 in 59
Flyers – 61 in 58
Devils – 60 in 58
Lightning – 58 in 57
Hurricanes – 56 in 54
Red Wings – 56 in 58

Everything’s so close that the Panthers can’t pop champagne bottles, but they’re also very much in control over their hopes. While it never hurts to see your competitors stumble, the Panthers can take care of business. They “control their own destiny,” to use silly sports parlance.

And considering how they’ve been playing lately, they might be as tough to handle in the playoffs as Barkov was to stop on that outstanding 3-2 goal.

Stars made Dave Strader’s return to the booth special

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It was a special night as the Dallas Stars beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in overtime, but the most memorable moment wasn’t the win or Antoine Roussel‘s hat trick.

Instead, it was how the team embraced Dave Strader’s return to the broadcasting booth as he continues to fight cancer.

Don’t be ashamed if his comments to the Dallas Morning News leave you emotional:

“This is the first time, to be honest with you, that for four hours I didn’t feel like I was sick at all,” Strader said after the game. “Maybe it was the adrenaline high, but I really, really feel great right now.”

Again, the team really did some great things to welcome him back, but the highlight was saluting him after the game. Incredible stuff.

“What a gesture by the boys … meant so much to me and my wife! Thank you.” Strader tweeted after the game.

As this post notes, Strader is expected to do play-by-play for four more Stars games.

Add allowing center-ice goal to Brian Elliott’s rough season

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So far, there’s just one goal in tonight’s Calgary Flames – Vancouver Canucks game. And it wasn’t a good one.

The Canucks couldn’t manage a shot on goal for more than half of the first period, maybe putting Brian Elliott to sleep … as Alexander Edler scored the 1-0 goal from center ice on Vancouver’s first shot that actually got on net. Ouch.

It’s already been a tough season for Brian Elliott, who came into Saturday with an .898 save percentage.

Elliott was perfect through the rest of the first two periods, so we’ll see if Calgary can overcome that gaffe.

Update: The Canucks ended up winning 2-1 in overtime. Ryan Miller was the better of the two goalies in this one.