By Steve Silverman
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The Los Angeles Kings are playing like the juggernaut Montreal Canadiens of the late 1970s.
The Canadiens won four consecutive championships from 1976 through 1979. They did it by rolling over opponents similar to the way the Kings have done this playoff season. Take the 1977 Canadiens as perhaps the best of those teams. Led by Guy Lafleur, Larry Robinson, Jacques Lemaire and Ken Dryden, the Canadiens swept the St. Louis Blues in 4 games in the first round, beat the Islanders in 6 games and then swept the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals. That team was certainly no fluke. The Canadiens went 60-8-12 during the regular season.
The Kings, of course, did not have anything close to that kind of regular season. They finished 8th in the Western Conference and earned the last playoff spot in the final week of the season. But the playoffs have seen them rise to a shocking level of effectiveness. They overwhelmed the Vancouver Canucks in 5 games, swept the Blues and then disposed of the Phoenix Coyotes in 5 games.
They have played with power, speed, and efficiency on offense while dominating on defense.
For Devils fans, this is not the same team that New Jersey defeated twice in the regular season (both games were in October). There will be some familiarity, however. The Kings play the same type of game that the Rangers played, except they have no deficiency when it comes to putting the puck in the net.
That’s something the Kings have done with great efficiency this spring. Not only have the scoring numbers been impressive – 4 or more goals in 7 games –it’s the ability to score clutch goals that have gotten the Kings to the Finals. Whether it’s scoring a couple of first period goals to take charge or late goals to put a game away, the Kings have done what is necessary to keep winning.
When it comes to putting the puck in the net, the Devils have to look at Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar as the most dangerous Los Angeles skaters. Brown is a big, strong right winger who plays with a menacing edge. He will take the body willingly as he flies towards the net. He leads the Kings with 7 goals and 9 assists and his toughness allows him to put himself in the danger zones around the net. Kopitar is a sniper with a super-quick left-handed release. He is not above firing his first couple of shots at or near Marty Brodeur’s head in order to gain more shooting space later in the game. He has 15 points through the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Former Flyers Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have to be the Devils’ next priorities when it comes to stopping the Kings attack. Richards is a nasty player with more than a bit of Bobby Clarke in him. He has punishing, sharp elbows that he uses to get his point across and he has the ability to handle physical play, create space for himself and his teammates and score at key moments. Carter is a speedster who can fire the puck at the corners of the net while in stride. He scored a hat trick in the Kings’ 4-0 win over the Coyotes in Game 2 of that series and he can steal a game when he gets on a roll.
The offensive production has been a shocker this spring given the lack of scoring the Kings had for much of the regular season. However, the goaltending of Jonathan Quick remains the backbone all season. While New York fans were lauding Henrik Lundqvist, L.A. fans were doing the same for Quick. Those two are the favorites for the Vezina Trophy and if the Kings can win the Stanley Cup, Quick could be the Conn Smythe winner. He has a 12-2 record in the postseason, he has stopped 94.6 percent of the shots he faced and he has a 1.54 goals against average. Quick’s main strength is his ability to follow the puck. He gets down in a low crouch so he can contort his body and not get screened out. He peers through traffic, sees the shot and makes the save.
Defensively, Drew Doughty, Matt Greene and Slava Voynov are the underrated heart and soul of this team. They get control of the puck in their own zone and excel at getting it out and starting the attack. Those quick counters have given the Canucks, Blues and Coyotes trouble.
The Devils will try to counter that with their own superb forecheck. The winner of that battle will go a long way towards determining who gets to skate around the ice with the Stanley Cup in a couple of weeks.
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).
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