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LESTER PARK… The NHL Conference Finals are complete, and we will have the Los Angeles Kings from the West meeting the New Jersey Devils from the East. The Kings have basically steamrolled their way to the Cup final, going 12-2 in eliminating the 1, 2, and 3 seeds. The Devils have looked impressive as well, besting the East’s 1, 3, and 5 seeds to get into the final for the first time since 2003. The Kings’ last and only other trip was in 1993. Those were the Wayne Gretzky Kings, and they had some swagger to them and could back it up. They lost to the Canadiens in seven games.
These Kings seem to be a bit more businesslike. They are confident, to be certain, but in creating the playoff run of runs they just make it look like another day at the office. As an 8th seed they have made the first three rounds look like they belong in another league, apart from the hockey commoners like the Canucks, Blues, and Coyotes. The Devs beat out a couple of division winners and an allegedly tough Philly Flyers club to earn their spot. The Florida Panthers offered up a tough, grinding seven-game series decided only in a game seven heaven OT thriller. The Flyers had nothing left mentally after exhausting all of their psychological energy winning the Heavyweight Hockey Championship of Pennsylvania against their hated and vaunted rival the Peng-wah. The Peng-wah may have lost the battle, but they won the war.
And while the Flyers were enjoying their post-round one “cigarette,” the golden glow of vanquishing their hated foe still upon them, the Devils were busy wiping the ice with them in a quick five-game series. Round three and the cross-town enemy Rangers provided a staunch challenge for them. For the Range, two heartily contested seven-game series may have been their undoing against the Devs. Ranger coach John Torterella would not utter the “f-word” (fatigue) in one single press scrum, but in Games 5 & 6 the Devs were simply overpowering the Blueshirts. To the Rangers’ credit, they would not go down without a fight to the finish, but go down they did, and now, in the words of the great Rodger Kent, “We will find out who is going to do what with which to whom.”
Many fans and some media are saying to just hand over the Cup to the Kings now. And honestly, it wouldn’t be hard to back that up. Earlier today I saw an online opinion poll where fans were taking the Kings to win the series by a 2–1 margin! But there are some saying that yes, the Devs can and will make a series out of this. Where do I stand? Here is what I have weighed out in making a pick for this series. Considering that not all stats and averages have meaning at this point in the tourney because of the unequal number of games played, here are some items that I believe do matter: Goals per Game, LA/2.85 vs. NJ/2.70. Goals against Average, LA/1.53 vs. NJ/2.23. Save Percentage, LA/94.6 vs. NJ/91.5. You could state that these stats favor the Kings. On special teams: Power Play percent, NJ/18.2 vs. LA 8.1 (both kind of anemic). Penalty Kill percent, LA/91.2 vs. NJ/74.2. Neither club’s PP is something to fear, and the Kings’ PK is superior at this juncture. If you look at the real strength of both clubs’ ultra core, with the Kings’ Brown, Kopitar, Doughty, and Quick against the Devs’ group of Parise, Kovalchuk, Greene, and Brodeur, you have got to give an edge to the Kings. On the other hand, in the Cup finals it is not always the team’s stars that win it for you, it is the third– and fourth- liners. In that case, I might issue the slightest edge to the Devs.
LA coach Daryl Sutter vs. the Devs’ Pete DeBoer? Based on his overall body of work, I’ll give Sutter the nod on experience. Don’t underestimate DeBoer, though. In useless trivia the Devs are taller and older and the Kings are heavier. The Kings will also out-celebrity fan the Devs by a wide margin. They may not have been able to do that if the Rangers had advanced. The Devs have guys who have been there and won; the Kings, outside of Dustin Penner, just have guys who have been there. I am dead even after three rounds of picking, going 7-7. I want to say Devs win, but the hard data says otherwise. KINGS in six….
FORMER MLB LEGEND ROGER CLEMENS’ federal perjury trial edges forward, and it is hard to get a read on a potential verdict. As you may know, Clemens has been alleged to have used performance-enhancing drugs toward the end of his HOF career. During a congressional inquiry into steroid usage in MLB, Clemens denied having ever used any banned substances. Clemens’ former personal trainer Brian McNamee says otherwise. He even had in his possession a syringe with Clemens’ DNA on it. Well, let’s dispense with the “he said, he did” bologna.
Clemens was a pretty good pitcher for a long time and was paid millions of dollars to do so. During his MLB career he was always expected to be “the man,” and now it’s time for him to be “a man.” I happen to think that where there is smoke, there is fire. I believe Clemens used the PEDs he is alleged to. So here it is, “Rocket” Roger (btw, there is only one guy in the history of sports who can use that nickname, and he played for the Canadiens, so cease and desist, you punk): step up to the plate and come clean. Be honest and forthright and utter these five words: “I did it. I’m sorry.” Is Clemens trying to protect a potential HOF spot for himself? Idiot. Should have thought about that before having a grown man stick a needle into your hind end. Face the music, Clem—quit the charade…. PEACE
Marc Elliott is a freelance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott recently wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County News Chronicle for ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710AM in Duluth.