Kings and Devils: Why Hockey is Great

It’s been four days since the last NHL game was played and I’m already going through hockey withdrawal. But that’s nothing compared to the emptiness I’ll be feeling once the 2012 finals are over.

It’s been a terrific playoffs to watch so far, some say the best in years. Part of that reasoning is based on the upsets. No teams seeded better than 6th made it to the final and very rarely do you see something like that happen in any of the other major North American sports.

It’s pretty incredible to look at the preseason odds Vegas gave for the entire NHL last fall. The favorites to reach the finals were the Vancouver Canucks (9/2) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (5/1) . Each team made the playoffs but were unable to escape the first round. Vancouver won only one game and Pittsburgh managed to win only two. A Pittsburgh vs. Vancouver Cup final looked great on paper, but the hockey gods thought otherwise.

So where did the odds makers slot the finals combatants — the Los Angeles Kings and the New Jersey Devils — heading into the 2011-2012 season?

Los Angeles actually got a pretty good ranking as they were awarded the 11th best odds to win the Cup at 25/1. New Jersey was the real surprise, since Vegas gave them a 250/1 shot at winning it all.

250/1! The only two teams given worse odds were the Edmonton Oilers and the New York Islanders. That’s why the Devils are the perfect example of the claim that “all you have to do is make the playoffs and then all bets are off.”

And let’s forget for a minute that Los Angeles was given a decent shot at the beginning of the year. For the majority of the season, they looked like a floundering team that didn’t stand much of a chance at even making the postseason. Goalie Jonathan Quick seemed to be one of the only stand out players for the Kings and even though you need great goaltending to contend in the NHL, you also need to score goals.

Los Angeles couldn’t score goals.

The Kings finished 29th in scoring in the NHL at the end of the regular season, netting an average of 2.29 goals per game. Only the Minnesota Wild scored fewer, ending with an average of 2.02 goals per game.

But in the final 20 games of the regular season, the Kings scored 65 goals. In that span, their goals per game average was 3.25. It was a team that turned it on at the right time and got red-hot when it really mattered. And even with that performance, they managed to barely slip into the postseason as an 8 seed, making their path to the Cup as difficult as it gets. Hypothetically, there was a chance that the Kings would need to beat the 1,2 and 3 seeds to make it to the final.

And that’s exactly what happened, further solidifying my claim that unpredictability is the hallmark of the NHL playoffs.

But even as entertaining and unpredictable as they have been so far, it’s very possible that the NHL saved the best for last.

Some pundits believe that the Kings will roll through this final series. After all, no other team even came close to stopping them — they’ve lost two games since April 11. Quick has been, without a doubt, the best goalie in these playoffs (and I believe the regular season, as well) and it seems that the only way to get pucks behind him is to pray, shoot and pray again.

But I don’t think the Devils are going to be easily stamped out. They’ve had to fight much harder than the Kings and I believe that fight has built up an even bigger level of confidence than in the LA locker room. New Jersey has proven they can win a long series while Los Angeles never had a chance to do so. Devils veteran goalie Marty Broduer looks like he’s 22 again and despite having already played 18 playoff games, he doesn’t seem the least bit tired or worn down. Quick obviously has the athletic edge, but a crafty old former Cup winner like Broduer can add an element to a team that youth and athleticism cannot.

And toward the end of the Kings last series, they seemed to sputter a bit more than in the beginning. Maybe they’re too comfortable. Maybe they’ve been coasting. Regardless of what it is, this is the round where the Kings’ easy path ends.

But that doesn’t mean I’m picking New Jersey to win.

I think that the Kings have the edge in goal-scoring talent and puck stopping talent. All they need to do is prove it four more times, which they’re pretty used to doing by now.

I’m a combined 6-10 with my picks through the first three rounds of the playoffs, so I can’t hit .500 (which I feel like is the bare minimum of respectability). But if I can finish 7-10 with a Cup final win, I think I’ll be satisfied.

My pick: Los Angeles Kings in 7.

Advertisements

About Pete Dombrosky
Pete is a graduate of Penn State University and a life-long Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates fan. He covered men's hockey, golf, tennis, swimming and the enterprise beat as a reporter at the Daily Collegian, Penn State's award-winning, independent student-operated paper. He currently serves as the Assistant Managing Editor for Thrillist Media Group (www.thrillist.com).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: