|What it's all about|
And then there were two.
The Stanley Cup Finals begin on Wednesday, May 30 - which I think is ridiculous; do the two teams really need another four days off at this time of year? When the summer weather arrives the NHL should do whatever it can to keep their captive audience because unless you are a fan of one of the two teams remaining your thoughts quite likely aren't turning toward hockey when it's 30 degrees (86 in American) outside. Game 2 isn't scheduled until the following Saturday. If this series were to somehow go 7 games it wouldn't end until nearly Father's Day. The draft is barely a week from the potential end of the season. That's far too long, especially when you consider there wasn't even an Olympic break to play havoc with the schedule. But that's the schedule; it remains to the fans to deal with it as best they can. As usual.
All right, first things first: it's time to dissect the ugly predictions I made for Round 3. Looking back I see....hey! Would you look at that? Just a whisker away from being absolutely perfect! About time, really.
Los Angeles vs. Phoenix - I took the Kings in 6, but with the comment that I expected them to win it in less than that. They won in 5.
New Jersey vs. New York Rangers - I took the Devils in 6 (they won in 6).
Much better. I was starting to wonder why I was even bothering to make predictions any more, at least in the Eastern Conference. So now it comes to this: New Jersey Devils vs. Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals. Two compelling story lines, two relatively low seeds, although in the case of at least one of the teams, the standings were quite misleading.
|Marty Brodeur's Olympic glory|
|Fraser: "I was blocked out on the play..."|
|Mike Richards, pride of Kenora, ON|
On top of all of that, the Kings have an outstanding coach, Darryl Sutter, with a system they have wholeheartedly bought into. They have superstars at every position, with Richards, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick chief among them. During the regular season they finished an enigmatic eighth and, unlike the Devils, they deserved only that spot and no higher. There was no doubt in my mind they had underachieved for much of the season and even the hiring of Sutter midway through almost came too late to salvage it, but even if you factor in how underrated they really were what they have done these playoffs is just short of shocking. They have knocked off the numbers 1, 2 and 3 seeds in their conference to get to the Finals and have never had home ice advantage - something that will continue the next round as it begins in New Jersey. This has not fazed the Kings one bit as they have won every road game they have played this year so far.
Their pattern this spring has been:
Win 3, Lose1, Win 1
Win 3, Lose 1, Win 1
They've been up 3-0 with two road wins in every single series. They've barely been trailing in their games. And it's not like a lot of them have gone to OT, either - only two so far.
It's absolutely remarkable what they are accomplishing - and even more so when you consider the amazing parity across the board in the NHL right now. Seven series so far have ended in five games or fewer (only one in the East); the Kings have won three of them including the only sweep. Not only that, but the Kings knocked off the President's Trophy winner, then in the next round beat a team that had won 4-1, then in the next round beat a team who won their series 4-1 over the only other team to win a series 4-1 in the West. The Kings' dominance has been absolute. It's been incredible to watch. And it says here that it will continue for one more round. Therefore...
I am picking the Los Angeles Kings to win their first-ever Stanley Cup at home in the Staples Centre on Monday, June 11, 2012. Kings in six games.
And when they do, it will be a momentous day as no 8th-seeded team has ever won the Stanley Cup. The only other #8 seed to even make the finals: the 2006 Edmonton Oilers. They lost the Cup to Tampa Bay in 7 games.