By Christian S. Kohl
The Los Angeles Kings kicked off the semifinal round of the Stanley Cup last night with a 4-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes. While the fact that they now have a small edge moving forward in the series is undeniable, who has the best chance to advance for a shot at the title?
The Rangers square off against the Devils tonight in Game 1, with New York up against a seemingly ageless Martin Brodeur and a Devils team that is rolling off its most recent battle against the Flyers. At age 40, Brodeur faces a unique challenge in order to stave off the resurgent Rangers: wear them down. The Rangers have required all seven games to win both series so far in the playoffs, and if Brodeur can keep the New York attack from registering points early in the series, they may not have the steam should the series go six games or more. On the other side of the coin, the Rangers must look to capitalize early in the series should New Jersey show any signs of rust.
The other obvious note, whenever you talk Devils/Rangers in a meaningful series, is emotion. To say emotions run high with these two franchises is an understatement, as was witnessed in their last contest with fights taking place nearly as soon as the puck dropped. Both teams clearly head into tonight attempting to downplay this variable with an aim toward minimizing penalty minutes and opposing power play opportunities. That’s the plan, anyway. Once Game 1 begins and bodies start flying, it remains to be seen who, if anyone, can keep their emotions in check.
Lastly, the other variable to watch here will be the matchup between Brodeur and Lundqvist. Lundqvist, while 30 and battle-tested, will be looked upon as the younger, more prolific goaltender. Brodeur is the battle-scarred veteran looking to dig deep into his years of experience and outplay a rival he considers to be possibly the best goaltender in the game today. Look for the team who emerges with the early lead in the series to hang on. Should the Devils come out of the gate quickly, the Rangers likely won’t have the legs left to make a big comeback. If New York can threaten to keep the series short, their youth, physicality and emotion will likely give them the edge.
In the other semifinal battle between the Kings and Coyotes, much of analysis is rendered moot if no team can find a home win against Los Angeles. The #8 seeded Kings improved their road record to 6-0 last night’s victory. In another familiar trend, Dustin Brown played the role of hero yet again, collecting his seventh goal of the playoffs. Brown and the Kings are flying high right now, and sometimes there’s no greater weapon available to a team than momentum. For the time being, Game 2 is the entire series for the Coyotes, as such a deficit would almost certainly prove too great should they fall behind 2-0.
Look to see L.A. win in six games, as well as a 4-1 Rangers series victory. Phoenix will not be dominated wire to wire to this degree with shots on goal, and their 0-5 work in power-play situations is also not a trend that will continue. They’ll bring some fight to L.A., enough to win two games, but the edge goes to the Kings here in an extended series. There’s no question the Devils will fight hard, but the talent of Brad Richards and company will be the decisive factor here. Whatever happens, it’ll be fast, it’ll be physical, and as always, it’ll be thrilling. Enjoy the games.
Christian S. Kohl is a writer and filmmaker based in New York City. Find out more about him at DailySpew.com.