Stanley Cup 2014, IV: New York, L.A., It’s All The Same

 I  II  III  IV  V

Once again during the third round I found myself missing out on a few of these games.  What else is new?  The last few weeks have been wonderful, however my engagement in the playoffs has fallen off considerably, inversely proportional to my personal life.  I caught maybe half of the games in these series, and during weekdays, half of the games themselves.  That said, I saw some incredible hockey, which I’ll talk about in a second!

nhl_bracket_2014_r4Things just keep getting better on the bracket front.  With my shot-in-the-dark pick of the Rangers to the Cup Final, I won my family’s league and now find myself in the incredibly unanticipated position of 63,432nd, or 87th percentile.  What appeared to be a blown first round has turned into a fortuitously arranged Cup Final.  I really am pretty lucky, aren’t I?

Now, let’s see what I remember about this round. OH, right:

Rangers vs. Canadiens:  Okay, I blew the prediction on this one, but it’s not my fault!  What I pegged to be a hell of a goaltending duel was suddenly and immediately thrown off course with the injury to Carey Price in Game 1 and the seven goal pounding the Rangers laid on them.  The swagger of Montréal was gone.  They looked to be circling the drain, until a lucky bounce in overtime gave them Game 3.  The Rangers, meanwhile, just kept pushing, the hockey gods apparently on the sides of Martin St. Louis and Dominic Moore, two guys who set aside personal tragedies to score crucial game-winning goals in this series.  Then the chaos began.  Carcillo elbowed a linesman, Derek Stepan had his jaw broken, Dale Weise had his clock cleaned, Derick Brassard was injured (?) but rocketed a slap-shot breakaway goal past Canadiens’ backup Dustin Tokarski in Game 4, and finally all of Game 5 happened.  I missed it.  I was at Candlestick Park for the US Men’s National Soccer Team in their pre-World Cup friendly against Azerbaijan.  However, I have a few comments.  What the eff?  I don’t even?  Huh?  How, in a series where Dustin Tokarski stood on his rookie head in place of previously-godlike Carey Price, dueling against the king Henrik Lundqvist, did 11 goals get by these guys?  How, after Lunqvist was mercy-pulled, did the Rangers find the state-of-mind to even the game?  How did Rene Bourque, scorer of few, find himself with a hat-trick?  I don’t know, I didn’t see it.  Now, the final game I did watch, and boy was it different.  One goal scored in the second by New York, and the Rangers collapsed defensively.  The entire third period, the defense stayed way back, while two or three forwards were constantly forechecking the Habs.  It was incredible to watch them push Montréal into their own corner in defense of their fragile lead.  And it led to the Rangers winning the Prince of Wales Trophy, finding themselves in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 20 years.  I’m ambivalent toward the Rangers, but they’re a team I can find myself rooting for in this coming series.  What a story they’ve been.

Blackhawks vs. Kings:  Never sleep on the Kings.  I shouldn’t have to keep repeating myself.  After the Blackhawks took an easy Game 1 lead and jumped ahead in Game 2, the Kings flipped on their switch. They surgically dismantled the Hawks in the final 30 minutes of that one and the entirety of the next two, hitting full machine-mode in Game 4.  They made Corey Crawford look like Marc Andre-Fleury and Patrick Kane like dark matter.  That is to say, invisible.  As was the case in the Rangers/Canadiens series, Game 5 was chaos.  Leads were forged and lost, and for the first time, the game needed to be extended to be determined.  And here’s where it became legendary.  The first overtime of Game 5 between these clubs was the greatest single period of hockey I’ve ever seen.  Back and forth, chance after chance, terrific speed, terrific offense, incredible goaltending; with maybe five whistles, it was an amazing display of coaching, efficiency, composure, and athleticism.  What better way to end such a tremendous game than with a double-overtime goal by the home team?  How about by topping this performance in a Game 6.  Remember what I said about Patrick Kane?  Well he came alive in five only to steal the show(time) in six.  That third period, holy smokes.  And what else is there to say?  Game seven.  Holy shit.  HOLY SHIT.  Can these two play every year?  This was the most entertaining, most elite hockey I’ve ever seen.  ’nuff said.  It’s rather unfortunate, being a Sharks fan now that I can’t help but enjoy this Kings team.  They’re so damn fun to watch.  Their monochromatic uniforms, coupled with their dominance on the ice, are cold and terrifying.  I look forward to continuing to see them over the next two weeks.

Honestly, I thought this round would be a snoozer.  Once Price was out, at least.  Thankfully, the Canadiens made the East Final somewhat interesting in the face of unpredictable misfortune and what looked to be a potential sweep after two bad games.  Out West, I was disappointed in a Conference Finals rematch.  Oh, how wrong was I?  VERY.  It’s really too bad only one of the Kings and Blackhawks could advance.  In another timeline, an inter-divisional Cup Final is a reality, but it is not this one!  Los Angeles and Chicago have easily the best two teams in the NHL, and now one’s at home while the other is likely on their way to another Cup:

New York Rangers  Los Angeles Kings

M2. New York Rangers vs P3. Los Angeles Kings:  NY vs. LA.  A classic cross-continental pairing.  The two could almost not be any different, and that seems to hold true in hockey as well.  The Kings have become the first team to win three game sevens to reach the Cup Final.  The Rangers have gotten better and better as the playoffs have gone on.  Picking against the Kings is dumb, but here’s the deal: Henrik Lundqvist > Jonathan Quick.  That will be the difference here, assuming the King (not the Kings) stays healthy.  Los Angeles gave up an uncharacteristic amount of goals to the high-powered Chicago offense, their own strong offense only barely overcoming.  New York has come together to play some great hockey, getting a number of lucky breaks along the way.  My gut says the Kings take this one, after all they’re almost inhuman at this point.  New York, however, is the better story, and they’re two decades removed from a Cup, rather than two years.  I’m going with the clear underdog here, Rangers in sevenEveryone will be counting them out, I think they’ll surprise.  At least, that’s what I want to happen.  Dynasties, even semi-dynasties like Chicago, Los Angeles, and Boston, are boring.  Let’s get some new (old) blood back up top.  I also think the Cup is won again in California, making it three years in a row that I’ll have been in the same state as the Cup winning game at the same time.

(Aside: Never sleep on the Kings. Dammit!  You fool!)

Season Series:
2013-10-07; NYR 3, LAK 1
2013-11-17; LAK 1, NYR 0
NYR: 1-1-0 — LAK: 1-1-0

Here’s hoping this Cup Final is as fun as last year’s.  Make it so!

playoffs-2014-4

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