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WEST 7TH STREET…. The NHL Conference Finals came to a conclusion last night, and with that the Stanley Cup Final is set and will pit the Los Angeles Kings against the New York Rangers. The Kings got to the Final the hard way, having played the full amount of games for the first three rounds (21), thus also becoming the first NHL team in league history to do so and advance. They dispatched the San Jose Sharks, the Anaheim Duck, and the defending Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. The seven heaven experience was top notch last night, with the tilt actually extending to OT before the Kings’ Alex Martinez scored on a multi-deflection that eluded Hawks tender Corey Crawford.
Early Sunday morn I was entertaining the notion of hitting the Windy City for the game. I was giving it some serious thought, and if I hadn’t just returned from a long trip some 10 hours earlier, I think I would have gone. I finally decided to stay home and get some R&R. The rest was welcome, but an hour before the game I could fell the energy and anticipation of a Game 7 starting to build up. By game time I could hardly sit still. This game was a hard one to get a read on. I didn’t feel one way or another about who may have had an edge going in, except that the Hawks were at home. They were undefeated at the United Center before last night.
The Hawks had an early surge, going up 2-0 before the Kings roared back to tie. In less than half a minute, the Hawks took the lead back on a Patrick Sharp tally. The Kings tied it up in the 2nd before another Sharp goal put the Hawks back on top. In the 3rd, former Wild sniper Marian Gaborik tied it back up 4-4 and the period was played out. Martinez scored at 5:47 of the first OT to send the Kings back to the Cup Finals for the first time since they won it in 2012. The energy and surges went back and forth in this contest, and the Hawks had it early in the OT before it switched to the Kings and their opportunity for the win. The winner appeared to deflect off of a Kings stick in the high slot, then off of Hawks D-man Nick Leddy before a final deflection off of Crawford. And that was it. The UC was so quiet you could have heard a mouse pass gas. It should be noted that there was a classy, orderly handshake line. (Take some notes, Milan Lucic.)
The New York Rangers finished their series with the Montreal Canadiens last Thursday eve and had been awaiting the outcome of the WCF series. The Rangers have bested the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Habs to advance. The Rangers went seven games apiece in the first two rounds before beating Montreal in six games. Probably the most interesting aspect of the Habs-Rangers series was the back and forth between the two coaches, Montreal’s Michel Therrien and the Rangers’ Alain Vigneault. They are actually friends and old acquaintances, although the way the assembled media covered them you wouldn’t think so. In addition, would the Rangers have prevailed if the Habs’ number-one net minder (Carey Price) had been available? He was injured in a Game One shellacking by the Rangers and never returned.
Personally, I think the Habs had to make too many withdrawals from the emotional bank account against the Bruins to have enough left to best the Rangers. The Rangers had a couple of tough series as well, but the Bruin series, I believe, left the Habs without enough to advance. For the Final, most analysts believe that the West has had a decided advantage over the East this year and in the recent past, but I say that at this time of year, if you are still playing you must be pretty good. For those who think the Rangers don’t stand a chance against the Kings, I say you had better rethink that.
So, who will do what with which to whom in the Final? My East bracket was perfect until the Habs’ loss to NY. My West bracket was shot in the quarters. I did have the Hawks and Kings in the WCF, but I had the Hawks moving on. Kings vs. Rangers? A quick breakdown will give the goaltending nod to the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist (The King) is the leader in save percentage and is second in GAA. That’s not to say that the Kings’ Jonathon Quick isn’t good, but for all of the hype I have heard about him in the recent past, I don’t think his play is equal to it. Offensively the Kings are at 3.48 goals per game to the Rangers’ 2.70. Goals against has the Rangers in the driver seat with a 2.25 average to the Kings’ 2.86. Coaching? The Rangers’ Vigneault is no stranger to how the game is played in the West, while the Kings’ Daryl Sutter seems to be enjoying a renaissance of sorts since returning to coaching in 2012. He knows how to get the most out of his roster.
Tangibles-intangibles? Both clubs have had favorable travel situations for most of the playoffs so far. For star power, the Kings have five top-50-ranked players on their roster compared to one with the Rangers. At the end of the day, though, it is the team that will persevere to the end to hoist the Cup. I believe that the Rangers are a closer group and possibly more driven right now than the Kings, but I believe the Kings are probably the tougher team and more likely to win than the Rangers. So what is my pick? I’m not making one! (Sentimental pick is NYR.) I am just going to sit back and enjoy….. PEACE
MFAN EXTRA: The Minnesota Wild have given head coach Mike Yeo a three-year contract extension. At this time I feel this is the right move for the club. I will say that as recently as early January, I wasn’t sure how I felt about keeping Yeo and his staff. But they made it through a lot of injuries, a goaltenders Rubik’s cube, so many roster fluctuations, and so much indifference that it would make your head spin, and still motivated the club to the second round of the playoffs. And with a couple of breaks they could have played in the WCF, not the Hawks. I wasn’t in favor of his hire at the start, but I was fairly tired of the current crop of retread coaches as well. Yeo has earned this extension and I congratulate him and his staff both, and can’t wait for next season!! Let’s Go, Wild! OVER & OUT!!
Marc Elliott is a free lance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota.