Silverman: Watch Out Rangers: Kings Could Be Crowned Champs
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By Steve Silverman
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New Yorkers project a certain confidence that non-New Yorkers see as arrogance.
There’s an overall belief that everything is just a little bit better in New York than it is anywhere else. Two cities – Boston and Chicago – have developed complexes when it comes to competing against New York in sports. Both have come up with occasional victories, but New York’s dominance has been clear and substantial. In most cases, it’s the dominance on the baseball side of the equation that gives New York bragging rights – Yankees over Red Sox; New York World Series titles over Chicago – but the Giants’ ability to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl must be factored into the equation.
If the Rangers can somehow get past the Devils in their Eastern Conference Finals series, they will try to represent New York against a team from that hockey hotbed in Los Angeles.
While there is no doubt that New York’s hockey roots – Harry Howell, Emile Francis, Rod Gilbert, Eddie Giacomin, Mark Messier – are light years ahead of Los Angeles – Rogie Vachon, Bill “Cowboy” Flett, Charlie Simmer, Marcel Dionne — a matchup between the Rangers and the Kings would not be any old-timer’s series. The Kings are on a big-time roll and they would be one nasty team to beat.
New York superiority? Not in this case. The Kings have all the elements that you want in a hockey team. They have a powerhouse of a team that is threatening to make the playoffs a shambles.
Throughout much of the regular season, the Kings were the team that couldn’t shoot straight. They couldn’t score goals and it seemed unlikely that they would even make the playoffs. They steadied themselves after the All-Star game and slowly developed traction, but it wasn’t until mid-March that they made a serious run at securing a playoff spot. They got in by the length of their fingernails and they have not stopped surging.
Much like the Rangers, the Kings depend on goaltending for their primary strength. Jonathan Quick was the No. 3 goalie behind Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas on the 2010 U.S. Olympic hockey team, but he is nobody’s No. 3 any longer. He is just a tad behind Henrik Lundqvist on the league’s goalie totem pole and he has a knack for getting low in his crease so he can track shots and then make the all-but-impossible save.
During the regular season, the Kings expected Quick to get them a win if they scored two goals on a given night. But that’s no longer the case since the Kings have been the highest scoring team in the playoffs, averaging 3.18 goals per game. The best player has been power forward Dustin Brown, who was on the trading block in late February and could have been moved to Boston for Milan Lucic. Not making that move has turned out to be the best thing for Los Angeles, because Brown has 14 points in 11 postseason games. Former Flyers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter are also carrying their weight. Richards is a nasty pest who has 10 points while Carter scored a hat trick the Kings’ 4-0 victory over Phoenix in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals. Anze Kopitar is a legitimate sniper with a wicked shot. He has 13 points in this year’s playoff season.
Defensively, the Kings are somewhat reminiscent of the Rangers because they are nasty, physical and committed. The best of the bunch is Drew Doughty, who is not afraid to step up on the offensive end, but he’s a truck who is willing to run over opposing forwards to take possession of the puck. Matt Greene, Willie Mitchell, Slava Voynov and Rob Scuderi will also sacrifice their bodies to block shots and deliver hard checks.
The Kings are just two games away from making the Western Conference playoffs a shambles. After beating the Canucks in 5 games and sweeping the Blues, they are threatening to brush aside the Coyotes in a similar manner.
Then the holy grail will be in their sights. They will be a formidable opponent who may end up in the favorite’s role no matter who they face in the Stanley Cup Finals.
New York intimidation? Don’t count on it against a team that is simply dominating.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy).