The Finals are here!
After nearly two months of playoff hockey – which started rather promising for Tampa Bay Lightning fans until it wasn’t – the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals have arrived and the final two teams meant to battle for the coveted Cup have been decided: From the West, the Los Angeles Kings, and from the East, the New York Rangers.
Game One came this past Wednesday and saw the Kings, despite not playing quite as good as they’re capable, win it anyway, in overtime at the Staples Center over the Blue Shirts 3-2 to start the series off with a bang.
Justin Williams, a.k.a. “Mr. Game Seven” as he’s been known all playoffs long, answered the call early this series as he punched home the game-winner 4:36 into OT past New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
To start things off, I’m surprised as all hell that the Rangers are there in the finals, and have many emotions about Martin St. Louis being there with them (as stated last week), but now that they’ve made it to the happy hunting grounds, hungry for a shot at the prized buffalo, who do I think will be feasting come the series’ clincher?
My pick is the Kings.
Front to back, to me, they’re the better team, and have consistently showed it all playoffs long. This has nothing to do with Game One already being in-hand, I felt this way immediately once the two teams were decided for the finals.
The Kings are faster, more playoff savvy; stacked defensively with skill and offensive blue-line scoring. The Kings have set a new NHL record this postseason in clutch-ability: winning three game-seven’s on the road in very tough buildings. The Rangers have certainly done some amazing clutch stuff of their own this postseason, and their speed, as demonstrated in Game One, is up to snuff with the Kings, but the Rangers weren’t clutch against West Coast teams, and I’m afraid that’s a whole different puck of rubber.
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh aren’t even close, in my opinion, to the same level of challenge that San Jose and Anaheim represent as playoff opponents, and though the Kings didn’t make it look easy at times, they still managed to seal the deal when it counted against two teams that easily could have been Cup contenders this year (if they one day figure out how to win in the playoffs consistently, like the Kings, who have seen three-straight Western Conference Finals).
As far as the Montreal/New York Eastern Conference Finals are concerned, we’ll never know what could have been. Carey Price’s season-ending injury in Game One changed the dynamic of that series after one game, so we’ll never know what the Habs could have done against New York after having one hell of a playoff run going into that Eastern Conference Finals, which included sweeping our Bolts and knocking arguably the best team in the league (and 2014 President’s Trophy winning) Boston Bruins out in the second round.
I think one thing to point out about Wednesday’s Game One is that the Rangers looked good, played top-notch as far as I’m concerned, yet still lost the game even after scoring two goals quickly in the first period; seemingly controlling the game from the get-go and setting a winning tone.
Ultimately, all of those New York goals came from defensive miscues by the Kings, rather than the Rangers’ demonstrating their offensive prowess.
Yes, offensive speed was a factor, especially on Carl Hagelin’s short-handed goal in the first period; but, had the Kings tightened up defensively, earlier in the period, I believe these goals wouldn’t have happened at all.
The Kings gave up breakaways in bad situations, and it cost them while they were flat-footed, but not later in the game when they were fully on point. Once they found their feet, the rest of the game looked decidedly different in my opinion.
Los Angeles’ defense steadily limited New York’s offensive presence each progressive period in the game. The first period was relatively even in shots as the Kings led the Rangers 14-13 after the first twenty minutes. The Rangers shot more than the Kings in the second period (9-7) but still less than in the previous period after forty minutes.
In the third period, it was all Kings, all the time. Los Angeles began firing on all cylinders in the third period, defensively and offensively: limiting New York to three shots while piling on 20 of its own, ultimately outshooting the Rangers 43-27 in the game. Both teams were even in OT with 2 shots a piece.
All three Kings’ goals came from them playing their brand of hockey. The Rangers struggled to score five-on-five or on the power play (New York had three chances on the PP while Los Angeles had four, both came up nil) once the Kings woke up defensively, and they’ll have to play much better in those areas on Saturday for Game Two if they mean to make this series a challenge for Los Angeles.
Bottom-line: New York played very well in Game One, scored two early goals, and overall looked good from the start, but never really took the game from there. The Rangers fought it out and kept it close enough for OT but never answered the two-straight goals from Los Angeles that put the Kings back in the game, and basically let the Kings find their feet throughout the last forty-plus minutes of the game defensively, effectively shutting down Ranger offense.
The Kings were a bit sloppy at first, and looked to be a little below their average level of play, and still won. I think that says it all. I think the Kings got the Rangers’ number in the second half of that game, once they woke up, and I don’t believe Game Two will look nearly as sloppy.
New York better bring it on Saturday at the Staples Center because you can bet that Los Angeles sure will. Because if the Rangers aren’t too careful, the Kings might bring a two-game to naught series lead with them to the Big Apple, as well, and that may very well be too much for the Blue Shirts to overcome, even at Madison Square Garden, after 20 years and all that destiny stuff.
Off the Dot is an ongoing column of opinions, feelings and thoughts on all things Tampa Bay Lightning. This is a knee-jerk reaction column for the many things that a fan maybe feels or thinks throughout a hockey season.
This is NOT a stat by stat analysis of the Bolts, but rather a theater of words concerning the Lightning and the many emotions tangled up in supporting your favorite NHL team; a theater for all fans to come to for a more personal take on Tampa Bay hockey.
That’s why I call it “off the dot”. Because if we were “on the dot”, as in face-off mode, well, things would be decidedly more on-point and specific. While off the dot, while we’re still just milling around the face-off circle, as I am now, waiting for the whistle to blow, then we’re just being conversational. We’re just talking about our thoughts on strategy maybe or whatever random concept happens to come to mind, needing to be expressed. The fun off-key banter of fans before someone (whoever) decides to hunker down, spread out their skates, and get nose-deep over the dot for the real face-off, and maybe say, statistically speaking, what happened in a win or loss in their more researched opinion. And we have those articles all over Bolts by the Bay, and I very much encourage you to check out those articles, too.
These are just my opinions, my feelings, and my thoughts – while we’re off the dot.