x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Kings and Devils the surprise Stanley Cup finalists

The No 8 in the West and the No 6 seed in the East are the final two teams standing in line for the cup at the NHL finals.

Dustin Brown, centre,is one of the Los Angeles Kings who have suddenly discovered their goal-scoring touch in the play-offs.
Dustin Brown, centre,is one of the Los Angeles Kings who have suddenly discovered their goal-scoring touch in the play-offs.

It is safe to say that nobody saw this coming.

The New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings facing off in the Stanley Cup final? The No 6 seed in the East against the No 8 seed in the West?

The Devils and Kings were much more likely to brushed aside as first-round fodder than the last two teams standing. But here they are, and New Jersey and Los Angeles have earned their shot at the title.

The Kings have been the Cinderella story of the 2012 post-season. LA slid into the play-offs in the final week of the regular season, then flipped a switch and suddenly became dynamite.

Spectacular goaltending, a season-long staple courtesy of Vezina Trophy nominee Jonathan Quick, continued. Solid overall team defence, which had also been in evidence during the October to April 82-game slog, became even grittier and less accommodating.

The big difference was the Kings' ability to score. After being the second lowest scoring team during the regular season, the Kings forwards woke up and started putting the puck in the net. It should not be that shocking, considering LA boast the likes of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter up front.

But not only did the Kings' star-calibre forwards start scoring, so did everybody else, from the rookie Dwight King to the slumbering Dustin Penner to the blueline linchpin Drew Doughty. Los Angeles steamrollered through the first three rounds, knocking off the first, second and third seeds in the West. The Kings not only advanced to the cup final, they got there quickly and will be rested and healthy.

New Jersey's road to the championship was more arduous but not overly fraught with peril, and the Devils also appear to have reached the final unscathed.

Martin Brodeur, a 40-year-old legend, entered the play-offs after enduring lengthy injury lay-offs and a dip in his superstar status the past few years. But the veteran goalie has enjoyed a renaissance and enters the final perhaps second in the running for play-off MVP behind the Kings' Quick. The Devils, built around Brodeur, are defensively sound with a team-first approach.

In Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise, the Devils boast two game-breaking offensive talents. There are other skill players, too, most notably Travis Zajac, the rookie Adam Henrique and the veteran Patrik Elias.

The rest of New Jersey's forwards share a couple of traits: speed and size, which has given rise to a fearful forecheck that pressures opponents and causes turnovers, and that has translated into goals.

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