Stanley Cup Final: Who You Got?
Just a couple years ago, Henrik Lundqvist was the alpha and the omega on a Rangers team that could play defense and not much else. Take a look–Lundqvist is consistently listed as the top performer on ESPN.com, especially in playoff games.
Then the Rangers changed up the coaching staff, bringing in the much more offensive minded Alain Vigneault. Suddenly, a fast paced attack gave the Rangers a new identity, and gave the still spectacular Lundqvist some breathing room. Fast forward to this year’s playoffs, and Lundqvist’s been back in the spotlight.
After several impressive outings, including two dominant Game 7 performances and one series-clinching Game 6 shutout, Lundqvist was given a two goal cushion in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Los Angeles Kings. And then, uncharacteristically, shockingly, Lundqvist let in three goals in what ended up being a Rangers OT collapse. To be fair, the Kings applied continuos pressure, smacking shots from every direction in an attempt to catch Lundqvist off guard. The strategy worked, Lundqvist becoming the first goalie to face 20 shots in one period in the past 16 years, and facing 40 shots overall.
Going forward, the Rangers know they’ll need a much more consistent performance to beat the “Comeback Kings.” With the Kings in the driver’s seat, the Rangers are going to need Lundqvist’s best and a spark from the offense. In their first Stanley Cup Final since 1994, the Rangers are in unfamiliar territory, unlike the seasoned Kings, who won the Stanley Cup just two years ago. In a playoffs where the Rangers and Kings have combined for 41 games so far, just one short of the maximum, you have to think the more experienced Kings have the edge, and not just because of their 1-0 lead.
For these two teams, winning the Stanley Cup would signify very different things. For the championship starved Rangers, winning would reinvigorate an already rabid fan base, a fan base that hasn’t’ seen the cup hoisted in 20 years. Despite being the #2 seed entering this year’s playoffs, they’ve still been repeatedly underrated, especially against Sidney Crosby and the #1 seeded Penguins. The L.A. Kings, on the other hand, have been steadily rebuilding a fan base decimated by years and years of losing. How bad were they? Between 1993 and 2011, the Kings won only one playoff series. Yeesh.
Winning in the Stanley Cup in 2011 was a first step to ingratiating themselves with their fans, but ask any Kings fans today which would mean more – winning in 2011, or winning it this year – and they’ll tell you they want this year’s more. In 2011, the Kings breezed through the playoffs, and seemingly took the Cup that no one wanted. This year, the Kings haven’t had a series that didn’t go seven games. Winning it this year would mean ripping the Cup away from so many others that wanted it so badly. And that’s what it’s all about.
I have the Rangers winning it in seven, but hey, I had Chicago beating L.A. Who you got?