New York Rangers are favourites to defeat New Jersey Devils in the East and Los Angeles Kings look stronger on paper than Phoenix Coyotes in the West.
Stanley Cup finals could be coast-to-coast affair
With the New York Rangers' nail-biter of a Game 7 victory over the Washington Capitals, there is at least one team in the NHL conference finals that do not come as a complete surprise.
The Rangers, the No 1 seed in the East, survived a Game 7 showdown in the first two rounds to make it to hockey's version of The Final Four.
The other three teams remaining in the hunt for the Stanley Cup, however, were not ranked very highly entering the post-season.
The Rangers' adversary in the East, the New Jersey Devils, skated into the play-offs as the No 6 seeds and have not advanced this far since 2003, the last time they won the Stanley Cup.
In the West, the Phoenix Coyotes were a No 3 seed, but that was after winning the sub-par Pacific Division in the final week of the regular season.
One less win, and the Coyotes would have finished seventh in the West. More to the point, they are the Phoenix Coyotes, for crying out loud, traditional first-round fodder – when they have even made it into the play-offs at all.
Finally, the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings entered the 2011/12 regular season with lofty expectations – and then quickly fell flat, failing to score with any frequency despite several star-calibre forwards.
Fortunately for LA, they were solid defensively and have a great goaltender in Jonathan Quick, and the Kings squeaked into the post-season as the No 8 seed.
For the Rangers and Devils, it is a rematch of the 1994 East final, when New York rallied from a 3-2 series deficit and Mark Messier made good on his guarantee – and cemented his legacy as a Big Apple sports icon – with a hat-trick in a 3-2 win in Game 7.
The Rangers, of course, went on to capture the cup that season, ending a 54-year championship drought.
If you are the superstitious type, you have to like the similarities that are lining up in 2012 – not to mention, Henrik Lundqvist's superior netminding and the big-game capabilities of Brad Richards.
New York play a one-for-all style that translates well to play-off success, but the Devils will not go down easy.
Martin Brodeur was New Jersey's goaltender in '94, and as a 40-year-old puckstopper with precious few years left, he will be plenty motivated for payback.
Who knows, if the Devils defeat the Rangers and cap the season with the cup, it would make for a storybook ending for one of the NHL's all-time greatest goalies.
In the West, the Kings are probably the favourites, but we are finally catching on that you cannot overlook the Coyotes.
As great as Quick has been for LA, Mike Smith is making his own case for play-off MVP honours.
The Kings, on paper, have more talent and better depth. But the Coyotes play with speed and grit and the freedom that comes with being an underdog who have been written off time after time.
A New York versus Los Angeles final is surely the NHL's wish at this point, the biggest markets on each coast going head to head.
Phoenix versus New Jersey? No, it would not be a ratings blockbuster. But both the Coyotes and Devils have been playing great, exciting hockey and in a post-season full of surprises, it might be a fitting Cup final.
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE