First Thoughts: Rangers, Kings to Meet in Stanley Cup Final

Kings may be favored, but Rangers should still be feared

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The Los Angeles Kings went through their first 44 years in the NHL without a Stanley Cup championship, but with a title in 2012 in hand, they will be looking to add another ring to their collection as they take on the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final.

The series, which begins on Wednesday afternoon at Staples Center, will feature two teams that have taken interesting routes to this round of the postseason. The Kings have won three Game 7s on the road during these playoffs, and ended up dethroning the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final. They also came back from a 3-0 series deficit against the San Jose Sharks in the first round, and they added some flair to their run by knocking off the Anaheim Ducks in the first ever Freeway Face-Off in postseason play.

As for the Rangers, they too have taken a unique route to their first Cup Final appearance in 20 years. They knocked off the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the postseason, winning a Game 7 on home ice to do it, and they stunned the Pittsburgh Penguins in a seven-game upset in the second round. They got some luck against the Montreal Canadiens when the Habs lost goaltender Carey Price for the series, but they still looked really solid as their offense churned into high gear in a 4-2 series victory.

If fans were to read just about any preview of this series, they would see that the Kings are largely favored by experts to win the championship. The Western Conference is the superior conference in the NHL at the moment, and watching the difference between Kings/Blackhawks and Canadiens/Rangers was a night and day experience. Add to that the gobs of experience that this team has in tough situations during this postseason, and it’s easy to see why the Kings are so heavily favored to win the title.

Despite that kind of optimism, there are still plenty of reasons for Kings fans to fear the Rangers. First and foremost on that list are the star players that New York brings to the table. Whether it’s established veterans like Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis or youngsters like Ryan McDonagh and Chris Kreider, the Rangers have gotten contributions from just about everywhere in their lineup so far during the postseason, and they showed little sign of slowing down in the Cup Final.

The Rangers are also blessed with tremendous goaltending, as Henrik Lundqvist has been at the top of his game during the postseason. The Swedish-born netminder has a GAA of 2.03 in the postseason thus far, and he also has a .928 save percentage. With those numbers in mind, and knowing that Jonathan Quick looked pedestrian at times against the Blackhaws, it’s not a stretch to think that if the series comes down to a battle of goaltenders, the Rangers may have an edge.

All of that being said, this series will still be the Kings’ to lose. For the first time in the playoffs they will have the benefit of home ice advantage, and they will get plenty of time to rest before they get the series going on Wednesday. With those two things in mind, and with all of the other weapons and strategies they have at their disposal, the team is poised to make some history and to stake their claim as the best squad in the city.

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