By Steve Silverman
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The Devils have been the overlooked team throughout the playoffs.
After getting past a rather unimpressive Florida Panthers team in seven games in the first round, the Devils were supposed to get swallowed up by the Flyers in the second round and then overwhelmed by the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Instead, they unleashed a relentless forechecking attack and punished the Flyers in 5 games and solidly beat the Rangers in 6 games.
As they prepare for the Stanley Cup Finals and the Los Angeles Kings, they are once again significant underdogs. The Kings have been dominant in the postseason, winning 12-of-14 games in getting to the championship round – even though they started as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
The most impressive aspect of the Kings’ game during the postseason has been their play on the road. They have won all eight games they have played away from home ice and they are confident as the series begins at the Prudential Center tonight. The Devils, of course, are thrilled to have home ice for the first time in the playoffs and aim to play a bit better on home ice than other Kings opponents have so far.
The Kings are clearly the toughest opponent the Devils have seen thus far. Start with head coach Darryl Sutter, who could probably give Rangers coach John Tortorella a run for his money when it comes to all-around surliness. Sutter is a no-nonsense type of coach who got his message across to the Kings quickly after he took over for former coach Terry Murray early in the season. Defense first, attack quickly when you have an opening and then rely on your goaltender in crunch time. Sounds a lot like the way the Devils play.
Goaltending – Jonathan Quick has been sensational in the playoffs this season, stopping 94.6 percent of the shots he has faced and allowing 1.54 goals against average. That’s the best of any goaltender in the playoffs. However, Marty Brodeur holds nearly every significant goalie record in NHL history and he has been the backbone for the Devils as he plays in the fifth Stanley Cup Finals of his career. Brodeur may give up a goal or two in the first or second period that h shouldn’t, but he is in lockdown mode in the third period. SLIGHT ADVANTAGE – KINGS
Defense – Why were the Devils able to roll past the Flyers and the Rangers? An underrated defense crew that did not make mistakes carrying the puck out of the zone. The Devils take the body, find the puck and move it quickly out of the zone and they do it with great depth. Marek Zidlicky and Bryce Salvador are the best defensive pairing because Salvador has become an offensive force with 11 points in the playoffs. Andy Greene and Mark Fayne are very solid and Peter DeBoer will not hesitate to put them on the ice in any situation. The Kings have a star on defense in Drew Doughty, who has scored 10 points during the postseason. He has a wickedly accurate shot and is not shy about firing away. Rob Scuderi is probably the most responsible defenseman when the Kings are in their own zone. ADVANTAGE – DEVILS
Forwards – The Kings are playing for the Stanley Cup because they have changed their identity from the regular season. When they were struggling to make the No. 8 spot in the West, they could not put the puck in the net. During the postseason, the Kings have found the range. Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar form a stunning 1-2 punch. Brown has 16 points while Kopitar has 15. Brown will drive the net and cause havoc in front of it. He is a punishing physical presence and the Devils must account for him on every shift. Justin Williams has 11 points and so does former Flyer Mike Richards. Devils fans will remember that Richards is a nasty player who is not afraid to step over the line. As good as Brown has been this playoff season, the Devils’ Zach Parise may be the most important offensive player the Devils have. Parise has quickness, speed and the ability to score clutch goals. That may give him a slight edge over Ilya Kovalchuk, who is the leading playoff scorer with 18 points. Kovalchuk has 5 power play goals this playoff season. Travis Zajac has a wicked shot and has 12 points after he was limited to 15-regular-season games. Adam Henrique may be the X-factor for the Devils. He has 11 points and scored overtime winners to finish the Panthers and the Rangers. His ability to score in the clutch cannot be overlooked. SLIGHT ADVANTAGE –KINGS
Other factors – The Boston Bruins won last year’s Stanley Cup despite having a miserable power play throughout the playoffs. The Kings are trying to emulate that, having scored just 6 times in 74 man-advantage situations. … The Devils will rely on their depth while the Kings rely on their leading scorers. The Devils fourth line of Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier have scored 19 points in 18 games and could give Peter DeBoer a big advantage.
Prediction: The Devils will push the Kings to the limit, but Los Angeles has shown the ability to win on the road. Look for more of the same as the Kings take Game 7 in New Jersey and skate away with the Stanley Cup.
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).
Silverman says Kings in 7 … discuss. Make your case for NJ or LA in the comments below…