By Steve Silverman
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The Western Conference is supposed to be the dominant conference in the NHL.
Throughout the majority of the season, the teams in the West were considered to be bigger, stronger and faster than their counterparts in the East.
If you listened carefully during the conference finals, you heard the NHL’s cognoscenti imply that the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks were playing for the Stanley Cup championship and that the Eastern representative would be a mere pothole on the road to the league title.
Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers do not plan to make things easy for the Kings, who survived overtime of the seventh game to take out the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.
The Kings are a talented team that has played brilliantly in the postseason. They won the seventh game on the road in three consecutive series, and head coach Daryl Sutter has his team playing at the peak of its power.
The Rangers are going to have a huge task in front of them if they are going to beat a team that has already eliminated the San Jose Sharks, the Anaheim Ducks and the Blackhawks.
The Kings are aggressive, athletic and have shown the ability to score in the clutch. The following are profiles of the Kings players:
C Anze Kopitar – While he was not a huge factor in the Western Conference finals, Kopitar is one of the best all-around players in the league. He is a sensational defensive performer and also has a deft offensive touch. Kopitar has five goals and 19 assists this postseason, while averaging 20:18 of ice time per game.
RW Dustin Brown – The Kings are going to try to establish their physical presence in this series, and look for Brown to lead the way. The 6-foot, 212-pounder loves to park himself in front of the net and pound defensemen in the corner. He has four goals and eight assists in the playoffs, and his ability to punish opponents could pay big dividends in a six- or seven-game series.
LW Marian Gaborik – The Rangers traded Gaborik to Columbus late in the 2013 season, and the Blue Jackets dealt him to the Kings at the trade deadline this year. Gaborik has had a memorable playoff run, scoring the tying goal in the seventh game against the Blackhawks and leading the NHL in playoff goal scoring with 12. Gaborik has gone to the net and made big plays with his quick hands on a consistent basis. He has given the Los Angeles offense a much-needed spark.
C Jeff Carter – The former Flyer is probably the Kings’ top sniper. He has a wicked wrist shot that he can release in the blink of an eye, and he also excels at collecting rebounds and scoring on deflections. Carter has nine goals and 13 assists in the postseason, and the Blackhawks’ inability to contain him cost them dearly.
RW Tyler Toffoli – He has been one of the Kings’ top prospects for years, and has turned potential into production in the postseason. Toffoli has great patience and hands around the net. He has seven goals and six assists in the postseason, and he has gotten better as the playoffs have progressed.
LW Tanner Pearson – Pearson has been inserted into the playoff lineup because of his speed, quickness and aggressiveness. He has four goals and eight assists during the playoffs, and he has shown he can win the race for the puck. Pearson only played 25 regular season games, but he appears to have earned Sutter’s trust.
C Mike Richards – While the Kings have been remarkable this postseason, it has not been a stellar postseason for Richards. The former Flyer is a nasty agitator, but he has not been able to cash in on his opportunities with any consistency. Richards has two goals and six assists in 21 games, and his minus-5 rating indicates he has been a liability.
RW Justin Williams – Just call him Mr. Seventh Game. Williams is the NHL’s all-time leading seventh-game scorer with seven goals and seven assists. He is a hard-nosed player who rises to the occasion in the biggest games. He is not afraid to go to the front of the net, take a big hit and then make the game-winning play.
LW Dwight King – A big, strong player who will dole out punishment every game. The Kings are going to try to wear down the Rangers’ faster and quicker players with big hits from players like King (6-4 and 232 pounds). King scored 15 goals during the regular season and has two more in the playoffs. He has some surprising touch around the net.
C Jarrett Stoll – He has gotten quite a bit of publicity because of his status as Erin Andrews’ boyfriend, but Stoll may be the best No. 4 center in the league. He is sensational in the faceoff circle as he has won 57 percent of his draws in the postseason. If the Kings are protecting a one-goal lead late in the game, Stoll will almost always get the call to take the faceoff.
RW Trevor Lewis – He is an honest player who will try to win the physical battle and play tough defense. Lewis has limited offensive skills, but he has scored four goals in the playoffs.
LW Kyle Clifford – A decent depth player who may play a key role in the Stanley Cup finals. No, the Kings are not going to look to Clifford (four assists) for scoring, but he is smart and tough and enjoys using his 6-2, 209-pound frame to batter opponents in the corners.
D Drew Doughty – He is the Kings’ best defensemen and one of the best in the league. After dominating for Team Canada in the Olympics, he has been the Kings’ emotional leader throughout this postseason run. He is a big-time hitter who loves to join the play on offense. While he is not a speed demon, he carries the puck up ice very well and he has a vicious shot. He will play about 27 minutes per night, though he did appear to tire in Game 7 against Chicago.
D Jake Muzzin – This fast, smart and aggressive young defenseman has improved dramatically during the postseason. Muzzin has shown that he is not afraid to step up into the play and unleash his accurate shot. Muzzin has scored five postseason goals and is playing nearly 22 minutes per game.
D Slava Voynov – A solid, puck-moving defenseman who has proven to be quite reliable as a second-pair defenseman for the Kings. Voynov can carry the puck out of his own zone and find the open man with the first pass, allowing the Kings to transition from defense to offense easily.
D Willie Mitchell – Your basic stay-at-home defenseman. Mitchell does not try to do anything fancy, and that’s just the way Sutter likes it. Mitchell is not going to give the Kings much offensively, but he does not make mistakes. He has just two assists in the playoffs, but he has a plus-7 rating and is averaging 20:50 of ice time.
D Alec Martinez – The hero of Game 7 against the Blackhawks when his wrist shot went off Nick Leddy’s body and floated past Corey Crawford to give the Kings the series-winning goal. Martinez is a fine and underrated player who is consistent defensively and is not afraid to take his shot from the point when the opportunity presents itself.
D Matt Greene – The Kings are not afraid to put Greene (6-3 and 232 pounds) on the ice in critical situations because he is a strong, physical presence who will pound opposing forwards. Greene is not an offensive threat, but he does not turn the puck over and he is a big hitter.
G Jonathan Quick – He established himself as an elite goalie when the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012. Quick’s greatest strength is his ability to slide from post to post and make acrobatic saves. Quick has made clutch saves throughout the playoffs, but he has been vulnerable this season. He has a 2.86 goals-against average and his .906 save percentage is ordinary.
G Martin Jones – The Kings’ backup goalie did a surprisingly good job when he played during the regular season. He had a 12-6-0 record along with a 1.81 GAA and a .934 save percentage. Jones is not likely to play in the Stanley Cup finals, but he is a competent backup at this point in his career.
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