To Los Angeles they go.
It took a thrilling, white-knuckled overtime stretch for the Blueshirts’ fourth-round foe to be determined, but really could it have ended any other way in the wild, wild West?
Two elite teams, the Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks, slugging it out to the delight of hockey fans everywhere, until L.A. snapped a 4-4 draw to knock off the defending champs in what was a riveting, over-the-top entertaining series in the Western Conference finals.
Now, how does this bode for New York?
Well, they had to be all smiles that this one required extra time to decide. Better to siphon all that emotion and energy while the Rangers continue to rest and regroup in advance of Game 1 on Wednesday at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The Kings have experience on their side, true, but they also enter the final having played three straight seven-game series. Do not discount the fatigue factor.
And though the Rangers likely will still enter the series as underdogs, they may be gaining a bit more traction as a dark-horse contender.
Goaltending. No one will doubt the King’s resilience or skill. But Jonathan Quick does not look like the same guy who led the Kings to the Stanley Cup championship in 2012. Both he and his Chicago counterpart Corey Crawford gave up some extremely suspect goals this spring. Henrik Lundqvist gives the Rangers the irrefutable edge in net.
After that, things get dicey for the Blueshirts.
The Kings boast arguably the best defenseman and top playoff performer in the NHL, 24-year-old Drew Doughty, one of the best two-way centers in the league, Selke finalist Anze Kopitar, and one of the biggest game-breakers out there in Marian Gaborik.
Remember him? Yup, good old Gabby, who was traded by the Rangers at the deadline last season, is leading the league with a dazzling 12 goals this spring.
Should be an interesting series with the Rangers battling it out against one of their old teammates. L.A. has star power aplenty with names such as Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Mr. Game 7 himself, Justin Williams, added to the mix.
For a closer look at the series breakdown, check out ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun’s series preview.