It may not have the two weeks of hype that the Super Bowl gets every year, but after several days of hearing talking heads yakking about the Stanley Cup Final, it will be great to see the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers finally drop the puck on the championship series Wednesday night at Staples Center.
In honor of this occasion, we have five matchups that could ultimately be the key for the series, and which player or coach has the advantage in each one.
Top Line Centers: Derek Stepan vs. Anze Kopitar
Stepan has been doing a great job for the Rangers during the postseason, scoring five times and adding eight assists in 19 games for the blue shirts. He also has five power play points, which is tied for second on the team.
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Despite those numbers, Kopitar still wins this matchup with ease. He is the leading scorer in the playoffs with 24 points (5 G, 19 A), and when you factor in his defensive prowess and face-off ability, he is likely the best center remaining in these playoffs.
Trade Deadline Acquisitions: Martin St. Louis vs. Marian Gaborik
This matchup is much tighter, but we’ll give the slight edge to Gaborik. He leads all scorers in the postseason with 12 goals, and he has been arguably the biggest asset to the Kings’ offense since he was acquired. St. Louis gives the Rangers a lot more flexibility offensively in his own right, but Gaborik has come through time and again for the Kings in these playoffs.
Young Defensemen: Ryan McDonagh vs. Jake Muzzin
The Rangers finally get on the board here as they ride the wings of one of the most talented young defensemen in the league. McDonagh had a nice coming out party at the Olympics in Sochi for Team USA, and he has continued his strong play in the postseason with three goals and 10 assists in 20 games. He’s averaging over 25 minutes of ice time a night, and is the Rangers’ leading point producer on the power play. His all-around game is solid, and he really gives New York a big boost from their blue line.
Goaltenders: Henrik Lundqvist vs. Jonathan Quick
Quick has the edge in experience when it comes to the Cup Final, but judging by the way the goalies have played recently, the veteran Swede has the edge in the series. He has looked positively dominant in the postseason with a 2.03 GAA and a .928 save percentage, and his shutout victory over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final was a thing of beauty.
Coaches: Alain Vigneault vs. Darryl Sutter
Both coaches have systems that their teams rigorously stick to, but Sutter’s system for the Kings has been the more impressive one in the postseason. Their team defense is excellent, and their transition offense was a huge key to beating the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final. Vigneault does have his team playing their best hockey of the year, but we’re still going to give the edge narrowly to Sutter in this closest of the matchups.