Game 1: New York Rangers vs. Los Angeles Kings (8:00 p.m. ET — NBC)
Tonight, for the first time in his career, New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will play in the Stanley Cup Final. The 32-year-old goaltender, who 14 years ago was wondering if he made a mistake heading over to North America in the first place, has never been closer to cementing the legacy he’s built through years of elite play.
He’ll be countered by former teammate Marian Gaborik, who was taken in the same 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Unlike Lundqvist, Gaborik was always highly regarded, but the 32-year-old has forward battled injuries throughout his career and has been traded off twice in the last two years. His stock had fallen so much by the March 5 trade deadline, that Columbus couldn’t even get a first round pick or top prospect from the Kings even after agreeing to retain half of his remaining cap hit.
Just three months later, Gaborik has established himself as perhaps the greatest threat Lundqvist will face. Like the Rangers netminder, tonight will be his first game in the Stanley Cup Final.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg.
This series will be defined by the personal stories of those who have worked their entire lives in the hope of creating opportunities like this one. From forward Brad Richards, who might be playing with in his last games with the Rangers as the nature of his contract still makes him a potential compliance buyout candidate, to his old Tampa Bay teammate Martin St. Louis, who has rejoined him a decade after they led the Lightning to a Stanley Cup championship.
Los Angeles won it all in 2012 and with largely the same cast, so there are fewer stories about guys seeking to lift the Stanley Cup for the first time or get that chance again after a long drought, but they have a more ambitious purpose.
The Kings have been to at least the Western Conference Final in three straight years and they’ll have largely the same team back for 2014-15. Drew Doughty is just 24 years old and has already played in 71 playoff games. There’s the potential for him to win multiple championships with the Kings before he retires based on the path this team is going.
In other words, they’re one of the few teams that can compete for that dynasty title that has alluded hockey teams in the salary cap era.
In the days since the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime, PHT along with the rest of the hockey world has been breaking down this series from every angle imaginable. Doing so is interesting, engaging, and enriches the fan experience, but at the end of the day, half of the people that skate in this series will come up short, head back to their locker room, wonder if they that was their last good shot, and then get to work towards proving that it wasn’t.
And the rest of them will lift the Stanley Cup.