I’m quite excited about this year’s Stanley Cup Final match up, and you should be too. Let’s take a look at the 10 reasons why:
The Devils forecheck
For over a decade now, New Jersey has been associated with the hockey equivalent of watching paint dry. They trapped beyond belief, slogged the game down, and won. Hurray for you guys.
Well, this team plays nothing like that. They have electric talents like Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Travis Zajac who pursue the puck like a dog after a tennis ball every time they lose possession, and teams in the playoffs have looked helpless against the relentless assault. Hell, they even send two guys after it, meaning they’re likely to trade a few more chances more than they used to. And how fun is that?
The Kings energy
The Los Angeles Kings have only played 14 games in playoffs this year (only been done seven times since the lockout), and find themselves nearly 100% healthy heading into the Final, assuming Dustin Penner hasn’t concussed himself eating a croissant or something during the layoff. Add to that fact that they’re the second-youngest team in the League, and these guys are going to be jamming.
Combine their energy with the Devils forecheck, and it’s safe to say that this is going to be some seriously fast hockey.
Watching Marty Brodeur play goal these days reminds me of watching Robert DeNiro in a movie these days - you know his body of work is impressive enough that he’s going to be a legend no matter how what you’re currently watching goes. You know he’s not quite as good as he used to be, but he’s still capable of making moments happen that few humans can manage.
If Brodeur wins a fourth Cup, it’d be tough to argue that anyone ever had a better career in net than him, and we get to watch his quest for that claim play out.
In complete contrast to Marty is Jonathan Quick in the Kings net – young, never won a Cup, nominated for a Vezina and getting better every week. He’s a thrill to watch, and you know that if he ever wants to get where Marty/DeNiro are, he’s going to have to turn in some Oscar-worthy performances.
Jeff Carter and Mike Richards
This whole deal with Carter and Richards this season has been bizarre. They were teammates and best buddies in Philly. Then they get dealt to two different teams. And by trade deadline they’re re-united across the continent, back living together, and en route to playing in the Stanley Cup Final just as they did in 2010. That they were admitted rebels of the Flyers “Dry Island” plan makes me support the way their story is unfolding.
Speaking of the way stories are tying up, you absolutely have to be happy for Ilya Kovalchuk. He spent the majority of his career to date toiling fruitlessly in Atlanta, rarely sniffing the playoffs. He seemed destined to be a star player on a bad team who’d never get to shine in the national spotlight.
Fast-forward a few years, and here we are – the big forward is leading the playoffs in points (which is apparently good), he’s making plays when his team needs them the most, and he’s honed his all-around game. For all the years he put in on a relatively brutal team, he deserves this. Also, he deserves a time machine so he can hold out and demand a trade to a team that was occasionally in games that mattered. (Sorry, Atlanta. Cheap shot.)
A 6-seed has home ice advantage
It’s no secret that the NHL has more parity than any of the major professional sports, but this year seemed ridiculous. We’re at the point where none of the teams with home ice in the first round are left, and the highest seed remaining is the Devils, who finished 6th in the East (though the Finals are decided by points, not seeds).
I think that’s a great thing – it’s nice to know during the regular season that sometimes just sneaking into playoffs is enough to get a shot at the Stanley Cup (though I know the Leafs would disagree with that theory, for some mind-boggling reason). It keeps things interesting for a long time.
As a college guy, I’m a little biased here, but I think it’s great to see so many ex-NCAA players get a shot to put their name on the Cup. There’s 16 in all, nine on the Kings and seven on the Devils. Guys such as Parise, Zajac, Harrold, Carter, both Greene’s, Scuderi, Quick, Penner, Mitchell and others all came to the League through school.
This comes back to the parity thing, but we’re constantly force-fed the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers and a few others. I think it’s nice to see a team like the Kings, who haven’t been to the Final since 1993, get their shot to win the first Cup in the history of the organization.
Somewhere along the line Dustin Penner became a sympathetic figure (that “somewhere” was around the time he blew out his back eating “delicious pancakes,” as I referenced earlier in the post), and someone easy to root for. The self-deprecating tweet after TJ Oshie trucked him in the previous series didn’t hurt either. Who doesn’t root for the lovable goofball?
Okay, “10″ was an ambitious number of reasons, but I do have one more little one: I think both teams have pretty kickass jerseys, and it’s going to be an aesthetically pleasing series. Unlike, say, if the Wild were to play any team in any series (fortunately, I don’t think we have to worry about that anytime soon. …Sorry, Minnesota. Cheap shot.)
Game 1 gets underway tomorrow night – Pizzo and I will be back hosting the podcast in the morning to further preview the series.