Here are five things to watch in the Stanley Cup final between the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings:
1. Rust vs. rest
Thanks to a favourable schedule, the Rangers get six days between the end of their Eastern Conference final victory over the Montreal Canadiens and the start of the Cup final. Meanwhile, the Kings go from beating the Chicago Blackhawks on the road Sunday night to playing Wednesday back home in Los Angeles. New York’s best chance at making this a series is pouncing on a tired opponent in Game 1. If Los Angeles is just rolling along, it could be a short series.
2. Playoff veterans vs. newcomers
The Kings have 14 players back from the team that won the Cup in 2012, including goaltender Jonathan Quick, who captured the Conn Smythe Trophy. The Rangers have just two players in Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis who have even appeared in a final. Having a championship core together, especially with Canadian Olympians Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter leading the way, could give Los Angeles an edge. Then again, the Kings didn’t have much experience when they won two years ago.
3. Kopitar’s coming-out party
Anze Kopitar is well-known in hockey circles as a star. He’s a Selke Trophy finalist because of his stellar-two way play and also leads the Kings in scoring in the playoffs with 24 points in 21 games. On the West Coast in a market that’s not hockey-crazy 11 months out of the year, the Slovenian sensation has been playing amid relative anonymity. The Cup final spotlight should give Kopitar some much-deserved exposure for more casual fans.
4. Deadline deals paying off
The most memorable move at the 2014 NHL trade deadline has paid major dividends for the Rangers, as Martin St. Louis is tied as their leading scorer through three rounds. Even if Ryan Callahan re-signs with the Tampa Bay Lightning and even though the conditional second-round pick became a first because the Rangers made the Eastern final, it’s worth it. In Los Angeles, Marian Gaborik is proving to be a steal as the Kings’ leading goal-scorer with 12 in these playoffs.
5. King’s crowning moment?
With a Vezina Trophy and Olympic gold and silver medals on his resume, Henrik Lundqvist has long been considered an elite goaltender. But this is his first trip to a Stanley Cup final in his ninth NHL season. Lundqvist has a playoff-best .928 save percentage and is the major reason why the underdog Rangers have a chance at winning this series.