Wednesday, May 30, 2012

NHL Stanley Cup Finals Predictionz

By Danny and Jason Klau

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At the beginning of the 2012 NHL Playoffs, predicting a Kings vs. Devils match up in the finals would've had you up against 165/1 odds. The Kings, having just barely sneaked in with the 8th seed in the West after finishing the regular season with the 29th ranked offense, are somehow the favorites to win it all. The Devils were considered the 4th best team in their division to make the playoffs, and after knocking two of their Atlantic rivals out already, New Jersey has the doubters shaking their heads.

The Klau Broz had a lackluster 3rd round of predictionz, with their obvious bias towards the New York Rangers playing to their demise. We'll get 'em next year boys. Jason did have the Kings advancing, obviously. Somehow Danny missed that one. The scoreboard reads older bro Danny with an 8-7 lead. For the sake of making it interesting. We are going to make it 3 points for predicting the winner and 2 points for getting the right amount of games.

Winner gets a steak dinner bought by the other.

Dklau leads off:

New Jersey showed tremendous backbone to get where they are today. Fighting off elimination twice against the Florida Panthers was no easy task (avoiding the revenge of Scott Clemmensen).  They showed their true professionalism in knocking out a Philadelphia team that lacked just that. And they held off their heated rivals in New York avoiding any and all comparisons to '94 (which was just only like 3 years ago, or something, according to most Rangers fans).

There are major concerns for me, however, after watching the Devils defeat the Rangers. Namely, their ability to close out games. In Games 5 and 6 against New York, they blew leads of 3-0, and 2-0 respectively. Their was a sense of complacency in their ways when playing with a lead. Had the Rangers been at their best in that series (which, in my humble opinion, they were not), the Devils would not have been able to jump out to such early leads. With Jonathan Quick on the horizon, Pat DeBoer must have his team playing 60 minutes a night. One could argue that Game 4 was the only full game the Devils played in the Conference Finals. Moreover, if the Devils are to win four more games, they will need to get the same contributions they've been getting from their 4th line. Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter and Steve Bernier have combined for 9 goals and 10 assists these playoffs. In a playoff setting where most games are determined by 1 goal, getting that goal from your 4th line can be and has been a back breaker for opponents.

The Kings may have had the most difficult path you could ask for on their road to the Finals, eliminating seeds 1, 2 and 3 in that order. Most impressively, they did that while only losing two games so far these playoffs, including a perfect road record. Their ability to score goals came seemingly out of nowhere, but they've rode the likes of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and even Dwight King all the way to the finals. Jonathan Quick's 1.54 GAA has also been a huge part. His play has been brilliant, at times miraculous, throughout every game these playoffs. He was bested by Coyote Mike Smith just once in the Western Finals.

The matchup, once again, comes down to goaltending. Jonathan Quick has not shown a crack in his armor, and the 40-year-old, sure-first-ballot-HOFer Marty BROdeur has shown no signs of slowing. Marty has been here before. The man has 3 rings, and room on his hand for more, and if the Devils win, they'll be the only other franchise besides the Red Wings to have won the Cup four times in the past two decades. But the Kings have been visually impressive these playoffs, saving their momentum for the exact right moment. They have trounced better competition than New Jersey has with relative ease. They are well-rested, and hungry, as they have been throughout the playoffs.

Kings in 6

JK all day:

This is not the same Kings team that squeaked into the playoffs. This is a dominant team that has only lost two games through the first three rounds, having ridden on the shoulders of the best goalie in the postseason, Jonathan Quick, in addition to offensive outbursts from guys like Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Dustin Brown, and Jeff Carter.

The Kings have played a hard, physical game this postseason. Their strength is in their forecheck. They repeatedly have worn down their opponents in these playoffs by not giving them any time with the puck. The moment the puck hits your stick, you can bet on Dustin Brown coming in for a hit (hopefully not on your knee, this time).

While that hit should have gotten him suspended, there is no doubt that Dustin Brown is the part that makes the Kings go. A jack of all trades, Brown brings an edge not found in many players, with the talent to match it. He is an ideal playoff hockey player. Behind Brown, Anze Kopitar is a true star, Dustin Penner has come up with big goals after receiving a lot of criticism this past season, and Mike Richards has been scoring, hitting and fighting throughout.

Defensively, Drew Doughty may be the best in the game. And while I originally stated before the first round that the depth was not there, it has certainly emerged. But while defensive contributions from the likes of Willie Mitchell, Salava Voynov and Matt Greene can't be ignored, the team D, and the forwards who backcheck, are huge factors. It also doesn't hurt when you have the hottest goalie in the game.

The only real knock on the Kings right now is the unknown. They've dismantled the Canucks, Blues and Coyotes in quick fashion. But what will happen if you stretch this team past five games? Do they have what it takes to win a long series? Both teams have had long enough breaks before the finals, so fatigue, or lack thereof, shouldn't be a factor for either squad.

The New Jersey Devils shocked the Eastern Conference with their run this post-season. They shocked in the first round by allowing the series against the Panthers to go to Game 7. Since then, they quickly took out the high-flying Flyers, and scratched out a hard-fought series against the rivaled Rangers in six games. And while the Devils have been known historically as a defensively-oriented team, star forwards Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac have been scoring at a high clip this postseason. But aside from those key guys, it's the role players for New Jersey who have come up BIG. Standout rookie Adam Henrique scored the game winner in OT against the Rangers to send his team to the cup. It was one of his 11 points these playoffs. David Clarkson has not only produced, but has been a thorn in his opponents sides since day one. The fourth line of Stephen Gionta, Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter are playing more like a second line than anything. Not only have they produced, but they have produced at the right times, scoring clutch goals and adding that extra secondary element that any cup run needs.

Defensively, the Devils D has been very strong. Bryce Salvador has really stepped up during the playoffs, Anton Volchenkov is a brick wall and even depth guys like Mark Fayne are getting in on the action. The Devils biggest defensive problem though, may be in their forwards. Why their big 3 in Kovalchuk, Parise and Zajac may be producing at a high rate, they are also three of the four players these playoffs with a minus stat in the +/- rating. The other being key veteran Patrick Elias. While the defenseman may be playing strong, the team D can and most likely will be exploited.

In net, Martin Brodeur is proving that he is an ageless wonder. He's made some big saves in some big spots, and he's still got it. There aren't many goalies you can trust in big spots as much as Marty. As much as I can say I'm not his biggest fan, I can say he's proven he might just be the best of all time.

The matchup is interesting to say the least. If you went to Vegas and bet that these two teams would meet each other, you just made some real good money. However, after watching how both teams have played, it wouldn't be so surprising. The Devils have not had an opponent like the Kings yet. This team is just playing too hot right now. They have out-skated, out-hit, out-toughed, and out-worked every opponent thus far, and I don't see it changing so much.

Kings in 7

Editor's sidenote: Here's to Game 1, tonight, of the Stanley Cup Finals 2012...GO DEVILS!!!

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