Cross Checks: 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs


LOS ANGELES -- It was eating at Darryl Sutter.

He went back and forth in his mind in the 24 hours leading up to Game 5, but in the end the Los Angeles Kings coach had to tell Robyn Regehr again that Regehr wouldn't be playing despite having gotten a clean bill of health earlier in the series.

"He'd been out so long, that's your biggest concern," said Sutter. "Quite honestly, I thought about it again this morning, about how much trust you have in everybody."

Regehr was injured May 3 at Anaheim in Game 1 of that second-round series. He got clearance to play after Game 1 of the Cup finals, but Sutter just didn't want to mess with a winning lineup, not to mention throw a player back in at this stage who hadn’t played in a month. One can see his thinking there. But it wasn't easy on the coach.

Add in the fact Sutter coached Regehr in Calgary when the Flames lost a heartbreaking 2004 Stanley Cup finals in Game 7 to the Tampa Bay Lightning and you know how much the Kings coach wanted this for Regehr, who had never won a Cup before.

But perhaps the perfect moment finally came when Kings captain Dustin Brown made Regehr the first player he would hand the Cup to Thursday night.

What a moment.

"By Brownie doing that, it tells you how they feel about each other," Sutter said of his close-knit team.

Regehr, 34, was thrilled when Brown looked to him with the Cup handoff.

"It was amazing," said Regehr. "I had a little bit of an idea. Matt [Greene] and some of the other veteran guys were talking about it before, and [maybe they] just said [to Brown], ‘If you wanted to give it to Marian first,’ but I guess they thought I was older than him, so I have a little more seniority. It’s an amazing feeling. It’s taken me 15 years. I got within a goal about 10 years ago. Just to get back here again was just awesome.

"I'm just excited about the winning," said Regehr, who played in eight postseason games because of the injury and did not play at all in the final two rounds. Not that any of that dulled Regehr’s moment with the world’s most recognizable trophy. "I didn't really know how it would feel,” he said. "I had a hard time tying my skates, I was so excited to come out here."

Regehr approved a trade to Los Angeles from the Buffalo Sabres two years ago just for this reason: to have a chance to win his first Cup.

"It's a huge part of it because that's what it's all about," said Regehr. "It’s about being involved with a championship-winning team. Now I can check that box. Talking to the guys that had done it before -- it’s something they’ll remember and cherish forever. Now I’ll have the feelings and memories forever."

Rangers pretty good at staying alive

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
12:53
PM ET
Not in Our House! The Rangers have won seven straight home games when facing elimination and will need another one Wednesday night. According to Elias, that seven-game home streak is tied for an NHL record. The only other teams to win seven straight home games in that scenario were the Red Wings (twice, from 1934-40 and 1949-55) and Canadiens (1941-50).

Kings aiming to end the sweep drought

June, 10, 2014
Jun 10
3:10
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Sweep Drought to End? Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Kings could end the longest sweep drought (14 years) in a championship round in major pro sports history. The last Stanley Cup finals sweep came in 1998 by the Detroit Red Wings over the Washington Capitals. The next longest such drought is 12 years (MLB from 1977-88, and NBA from 1947-58).


NEW YORK -- Three games into the 2014 Stanley Cup finals and the New York Rangers are on the brink of elimination following the club’s devastating 3-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings Monday night at Madison Square Garden.

They are in serious danger of being the first team swept in the finals since 1998.

The Kings are just 60 minutes from their second championship in the past three years and Lord Stanley’s Cup will be in the building Wednesday for the taking, unless the Rangers can muster one last stand at MSG.

This time, the Kings didn’t even need to summon a furious comeback effort, as they built a 3-0 lead and never looked back against the Blueshirts, whose coach Alain Vigneault dubbed the game “must win” prior to Monday’s action.

The Rangers have battled adversity throughout this postseason to make this surprising run to the finals, but they appear to have finally met their match in a big, heavy, structured Kings squad.

Kings netminder Jonathan Quick was on point Monday night, making a number of stunning saves to hold the Rangers scoreless, recording his second shutout of the 2014 playoffs.

Can’t catch a break: After bemoaning their puck luck in the first two games, the Rangers have to be downright flummoxed by their inability to get a fortuitous bounce after Game 3.

Let's have a look at the first three Kings goals: Jeff Carter's shot glanced off the heel of Game 1 scapegoat Dan Girardi's skate blade. Jake Muzzin's shot deflected off Martin St. Louis. Mike Richards attempted to dish on a two-on-one rush, only to have the puck hit Ryan McDonagh and kick right to his third goal of the postseason.

Not much you can do on any of those if you’re Henrik Lundqvist.

Long overdue: Rangers winger Rick Nash has been held off the scoresheet in four straight games, though he has delivered some of his most physical, energetic hockey during that span.

The marquee winger was engaged again Monday night, driving the net with purpose, though he didn’t make a power-play appearance since the team’s fourth power play of the game.

Nash has been barely used on the man-advantage during the series, a puzzling decision by Vigneault.

Buzzer-beater: The MSG crowd was stunned into silence as the two clubs skated off the ice after the first period, still processing the back-breaker of a goal from Jeff Carter scored with less than one second on the clock in the opening frame.

Carter ripped a shot that deflected off Girardi and past Lundqvist with just 0.8 ticks left on the clock to end a period that had plenty of action and very few stoppages. Naturally, it was Justin Williams, who has had a stunning postseason, who dished to Carter for the timely goal to pick up his 16th assist of the postseason. Prior to Carter’s 10th goal of the season, the Rangers had one particularly terrific scoring chance when Mats Zuccarello had the puck on his stick at the left post, staring at an open net. Quick made a sensational stick save, though, and the Rangers headed off to the intermission trailing in a game for the first time this entire series.

Conn Smythe candidate: With Williams' dominant, plucky play this spring, his name must now enter the the Conn Smythe conversation, awarded to the playoff MVP. With his assist on Carter’s first-period marker, Williams extended his point streak to five games (two goals, seven assists). Not to mention he has lived up to his nickname as “Mr. Game 7” with his consistently clutch production. The 32-year-old Cobourg, Ontario, native also has two goals in Game 7s this postseason and two game-winning goals, including in Game 1 of this series.

Cup usually goes to Game 1 winner

June, 3, 2014
Jun 3
5:21
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Making First Impressions: Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals is Wednesday night in Los Angeles. Since the finals went to a best-of-7 format in 1939, Game 1 winners have won 57 of 74 series (.770 win pct). Over the last eight seasons, the team winning Game 1 has gone 6-2, including wins in each of the last two seasons.
We're down to the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers. So who will win the Conn Smythe as playoff MVP? Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun weigh in while connecting for cross-country flights. Go!

BURNSIDE: Good day, my friend. I'm awaiting a flight westward in Chicago, and I must admit this whole Western Conference beauty remains a bit of a blur. Still can’t believe the Chicago Blackhawks couldn't close the deal after leading Game 7 by 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 counts, but that’s a credit to a Kings team that simply wouldn’t stay down on the mat. Not that they didn’t have their down moments against the defending Stanley Cup champs, blowing a 3-1 series lead with two straight losses that included blown third-period leads of their own. But here they are in the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in three years, and they will have home-ice advantage against the surprising Rangers. I know you covered the Eastern Conference finals, and I know from your preview that you like the Kings’ chances at winning their second Cup over that same three-year period. But I don't think it's going to be as easy as some people think. The Kings left a lot on the table against Chicago. A lot. Dustin Brown called it the most emotional playoff series in which he has ever participated. Which leads us to the topic for our little tête-à-tête today, which is: Who is shaping up to be a legitimate Conn Smythe Trophy candidate? Let’s start with the favored Kings. I’ll toss out Jeff Carter’s name. He scored his ninth goal of the playoffs in Game 7 and led all players in the West finals with 11 points. He has been a force and a major factor in the surprising contributions of kids Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson.

LEBRUN: I’m catching a flight from Toronto to LAX later today, my friend. See you soon! Yes, as you saw in my Cup finals preview, although I do like the Kings to win the Cup, I suggested the Rangers will push them to seven games. Despite the superiority gap the West has over the East in general, the fact that the Kings had to work so hard to finish off the Blackhawks gives the Rangers an edge, due to L.A.'s fatigue level entering this series. Not to mention, Henrik Lundqvist over an inconsistent Jonathan Quick is another factor. So I do not think it’s going to be easy, by any measure. The taxing reality of having to beat the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago over 21 grueling games has really tested what I think the Kings have left. As for the Conn Smythe, although I agree Carter has been terrific, I think it goes without saying that if we held the vote today, Drew Doughty would win in a landslide. The dude is simply the best defenseman in the NHL. He leads all Kings and Rangers in ice time in these playoffs at 27:50 a game. Offense, defense, special teams, leadership, physicality -- Doughty does it all. And let’s not forget the Conn Smythe is for the entire playoffs. I agree Carter was sensational in the Western finals, but Doughty has been out of this world since Day 1 in mid-April.

BURNSIDE: I agree with you on Doughty. He’s at the emotional core of the Kings, and in fact it was interesting to hear Brown, the Kings’ captain, talk about the need for his teammates to sometimes calm Doughty down and keep him focused the right way. "I guess the way to kind of explain it [is] Dewy gets pretty emotional out there, and sometimes it takes one or two guys to go over there and calm him down. Then, he’s great. He gets very emotional, which I love, but sometimes he lets it get the best of him. Once somebody calms him down, then he takes over the game. He can use that emotion the right way." Doughty leads all defensemen with 16 points and has logged more ice time in the playoffs than any other player -- by a country mile. If he keeps up his current level of play, he’s going to make everyone in the Eastern Conference forget about Montreal’s great P.K. Subban, and if that’s the case, he’ll make a compelling case for a playoff MVP award. But what about the Kings’ calming presence in the locker room and on the ice, Anze Kopitar? He leads all playoff performers with 24 points and has registered at least a point in 17 of 21 games. Amazing. He played head-to-head with Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews all series long, and I’m guessing he’ll see a lot of the Rangers’ top line in the finals as well. Definitely a worthy candidate.

LEBRUN: No question in my mind that Kopitar would be my next choice after Doughty. The Selke Trophy finalist has gone head-to-head with the likes of Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Ryan Getzlaf and Toews in these playoffs and more than held his own, in some cases winning outright those key battles. No offense to the Rangers, but if Kopitar is matched up with Derek Stepan, that’s a bit of a step down from the previous centers he saw in these playoffs. Certainly, to me, it’s a 1-2 race of Doughty and Kopitar for Conn Smythe, and I agree Carter is a solid No. 3. What about the Rangers? As stated above, the Blueshirts have a better shot than we would have thought a week ago because of the Kings’ marathon Western finals. And if the Rangers do win the Cup, it’s because of Lundqvist. Although I suspect stud blueliner Ryan McDonagh also would garner some Conn Smythe traction if the Rangers win the Cup -- he’s been out of this world all postseason -- I still think that if New York pulls off the upset, it’s because King Henrik stumped the Kings. That, combined with his stellar play for most of the postseason, would get him a no-brainer Conn Smythe.

BURNSIDE: The discussion is pretty heavily weighted toward the Kings, and I think there’s ample reason for that. But, like you, I think this has the potential to be a long series, given the Kings’ heavy workload thus far and the extra rest the Rangers enjoyed after dispatching the Habs in six games. Everyone will point to Lundqvist as the Rangers’ prime Conn Smythe candidate, and it’s hard to argue with that. Except for a slight wobble in Game 5, he’s been pretty terrific since the Rangers fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in the second round. If the Rangers push this to seven games, I could see a scenario in which Lundqvist earns MVP honors even if the Rangers can’t complete the dream run to a Cup championship. That said, the only other player I think has a chance to enter the discussion for the Rangers is Martin St. Louis. There’s the emotional aspect of what St. Louis has been through: losing his mother in the midst of the Pittsburgh series and continuing to play -- and play exceptionally well. And as the playoffs have gone on, he has become better and better. His overtime winner against the Habs in Game 4 was a series changer, as it gave the Rangers a 3-1 series lead that forced the Habs into full catch-up mode. You know he has the will and the skill to do more damage in the finals, and if the Rangers happen to effect the upset, I'm guessing St. Louis will have a hand in it and thus play a big role come voting time for the MVP honors.

LEBRUN: The emotion that has wrapped this Rangers team ever since Martin St. Louis’ mother passed away unexpectedly on May 8 has been incredible. The players have rallied around St. Louis, and he has responded through adversity by playing his best hockey of the season. It’s why there’s a sense of destiny around this team, even if they are the underdogs. I still think, though, that if the Rangers upset the Kings, that win nets Lundqvist the Conn Smythe.

Well, my friend, before the day is over, we’ll be drinking diet soda together. Safe travels. Hoping this is a terrific Cup finals.

Rangers wish Gaborik an unhappy ending

June, 2, 2014
Jun 2
2:54
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GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- The New York Rangers are happy for Marian Gaborik’s playoff success in L.A.

They really are.

It’s just that they’re ready for it to end.

Now.

“It’s good to see he’s got a good situation going,” one of Gaborik’s former Rangers teammates, Brad Richards, said Monday.

[+] EnlargeMarian Gaborik
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesFormer Ranger Marian Gaborik leads the playoffs in goals and ranks fourth in points.
“But I’d like that situation obviously not to go as good these next couple weeks.”

Yeah.

That would help.

Gaborik, after all, leads all playoff scorers with 12 goals. The ex-Ranger’s 19 postseason points rank fourth in the NHL.

“He’s on fire,” Henrik Lundqvist, another former teammate, said. “He’s been playing really well. He’s played a huge part in their success. That’s why they’re here. He’s one of those guys we have to make sure we keep our focus on when he’s on the ice.”

New York’s top defensive pairing of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi will have the daunting task of trying to shut down Gaborik and his linemates, Anze Kopitar (5-19-24) and Dustin Brown (4-8-12).

“He’s so quick and explosive, so you obviously don’t wanna give him a lot of time and space to get his speed up,” said McDonagh, the Rangers’ No. 1 defenseman. “And then obviously his quick release ... his shot. ... So if you’re in the zone and he’s popping he only needs a little time and space. You gotta make sure you have a good stick on him and try and play him hard and in his face.”

Sounds like a plan. It’s just a matter of executing it, which is easier said than done.

Remember when Gaborik signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract with the Rangers back in the summer of 2009?

It was supposed to be a big day for the franchise, landing the Slovakian Sniper.

Smith He's on fire. He's been playing really well. He's played a huge part in their success. That's why they're here. He's one of those guys we have to make sure we keep our focus on when he's on the ice.

-- Henrik Lundqvist, on former Ranger Marian Gaborik
But things didn’t go exactly as planned. Gaborik did have two 40-goal seasons as a Blueshirt. But he was inconsistent and became a frequent target of criticism from former coach John Tortorella. In two postseasons as a Ranger, which spanned 25 games, he scored six goals.

On April 3, 2013, the Rangers jettisoned Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a blockbuster deal for Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and John Moore -- three players who have made their presence felt during the Rangers’ Stanley Cup run.

Granted, none of them have had the type of impact Gaborik has had in Los Angeles.

Before Gaborik arrived in L.A., the Kings couldn’t score. And now? Well, that’s pretty much all they do. Their 3.5 goals per game in the postseason ranks at the top of the league.

Gaborik, 32, is in the final year of his contract ($7.5 million), but it looks as though he’s found a long-term home -- assuming L.A. decides to secure him.

His former teammates expect him to be motivated to beat them.

“I’m sure obviously [facing] any team you’ve been on before in the past you’re gonna have some excitement,” said McDonagh, while noting the Rangers have overhauled their coaching staff, replacing Tortorella with Alain Vigneault.

“I’m sure he’s just as excited as we are.”

Make no mistake about it: The Rangers are happy for Marian Gaborik.

They’d just prefer he feels miserable by the time this series is over.

Injury updates: Vigneault said Cam Talbot (undisclosed injury) and J.T. Miller (believed to be shoulder) remain day to day. Both will travel to Los Angeles. Vigneault hopes that Miller will be able to practice on Tuesday.

L.A. vs. NYC: It's a flurry of tweets

June, 2, 2014
Jun 2
2:33
PM ET
It's almost as if the Stanley Cup finals are too good to be true: The Los Angeles Kings vs. the New York Rangers. Hollywood vs. Broadway. West Coast vs. East Coast. Driving everywhere vs. commuting. Etc.

And the Twitterverse has had no shortage of fuel for the rivalry, either. So far, though, it appears the Rangers are winning the war. Where you at, Kings fans? Here are select tweets from both coasts.

Déjà Blue? Rangers resemble 1994 squad

June, 2, 2014
Jun 2
10:30
AM ET
The 2014 New York Rangers don’t resemble the 1994 Rangers in terms of win-loss record, but there are some notable similarities between the two teams.

Here’s a quick run-through of the best ones we could come up with.

Head coach
The 1994 Rangers had a veteran coach in his first season with the team, who had previously been to the Stanley Cup final but never won it (Mike Keenan).

The 2014 Rangers have a veteran coach in his first season with the team, who had previously been to the Stanley Cup final but never won it (Alain Vigneault).

Slow start
The 1994 Rangers started a little slow out of the gate. They were 4-5 in their first nine games of the season.

The 2014 Rangers started a little slow out of the gate. They were 3-7 in their first 10 games of the season. In fact, the Elias Sports Bureau notes that the Rangers are the first team to make the Stanley Cup finals after netting six points or fewer in their first 10 games since the 1991 Minnesota North Stars.

Late-season player move of note
The 1994 Rangers shook up their team dramatically by making five trades on the day of the trade dealine, trading a team leader (Mike Gartner) and bringing in (among others) Stephane Matteau, Brian Noonan and Glenn Anderson. Matteau would score a pair of double-overtime goals in the conference final triumph over the New Jersey Devils.

The 2014 Rangers shook up their team dramatically by trading their captain, Ryan Callahan, on the day of the trade deadline, netting center Martin St. Louis in return. St. Louis would score an overtime goal in the conference final triumph over the Montreal Canadiens.

Dynamite defenseman
The leading scorer in the playoffs for the 1994 Rangers was defenseman Brian Leetch, who would go on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy.

The co-leading scorer in the playoffs for the 2014 Rangers is defenseman Ryan McDonagh.

Olympic coincidence
Sweden and Canada played in the Olympic gold medal game in 1994. Those countries would meet again in the gold medal game in 2014. This is pertinent because Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was the goalie for the silver-medal winning Swedes.

Opening round
The 1994 Rangers met and beat an archrival in the opening round of the playoffs (the New York Islanders), recording wins over two different goalies in the series.

The 2014 Rangers met and beat an archrival in the opening round of the playoffs (the Philadelphia Flyers), recording wins over two different goalies in the series.

Conference-final clincher
The 1994 Rangers would carry a 1-0 lead into the final seconds of Game 7 of the conference finals against the Devils. The Devils would tie the game with 7.7 seconds left, but the Rangers would win in double overtime to advance to the Stanley Cup finals against a Western Conference opponent (the Vancouver Canucks).

The 2014 Rangers would carry a 1-0 lead into the final seconds of Game 6 of the conference finals against the Canadiens. They would do what the 1994 Rangers couldn’t quite do, close the game out in regulation to advance to the Stanley Cup finals against a Western Conference opponent (the Los Angeles Kings).

Now, they’ll try to match their 1994 counterparts as Stanley Cup champions.

CHICAGO -- As the hours dwindled away before Game 7, the pivotal game in the Western Conference finals, it's been harder and harder not to imagine that this single game will decide not just the Western Conference champion but ultimately the winner of the 2014 Stanley Cup.

With all due respect to the New York Rangers (and how many times will we see or hear that disclaimer in the days leading up to the start of the Stanley Cup finals on Wednesday in Chicago or Los Angeles?), the level of hockey on display over the previous six games in the West finals -- a level that we expect to be replicated if not exponentially elevated Sunday night in Game 7 -- leaves little doubt that the best team in hockey will be the team left standing at the end of the night at the United Center in Chicago.

"Being a part of it, we know it's been a special series, a lot of up-and-down, fast-paced games,” said Blackhawks winger Ben Smith, who scored his fourth goal of the postseason in Game 6 in Los Angeles. "We want to be on the winning side of it. The loser of this series probably won't be remembered. We want to put ourselves in the spot where we can get that win, be the guys that come [out] on top of this series that's been one of the best series in a while. Just keep that pace up.

"I think it's going to be that same way. A fast-paced, hard-working, grinding type game. We're going to be prepared for it."

The best team doesn’t always win the Stanley Cup, but there’s a reason Sunday’s Game 7 is the most eagerly anticipated match of the postseason. The reasons are multitudinous, but at the heart of it all is the fact that no two teams in recent memory are better prepared emotionally and physically for a game of this import.

The Blackhawks are unbeatable late in a series, the last two years compiling a 13-0 record in Games 5, 6 and 7, and are bidding to become the first team in playoff history to recover from a 3-1 series deficit in consecutive playoff years, having come back against the Detroit Red Wings in the second round last spring.

The Kings are 6-0 in elimination games this spring and have incredible depth when it comes to Game 7s with Justin Williams, Mike Richards and Marian Gaborik a combined 18-0 in Game 7s.

Those are just numbers, of course, but they speak to a shared history of success in crucial moments.

“The further along you go, the more intense it is and the more excitement builds within it,” Williams said Sunday morning, besieged by reporters and cameras in the Kings’ locker room. "There's one game on tonight, and we're it. You get a chance to give it a go, a chance to play for the ultimate prize yet again, and we don't want to let that slip through our fingers. Successful teams rely on the successes they've had, and the failures they've had, in recent years. We've had a lot of successes in Game 7s. Yes, when you look around, we need to have that confidence in the team. We've done it, and we can do it again."

While the historic numbers are interesting talking points, of more interest is the recent past that has seen the Kings blow a 3-1 series lead, including losing two straight games in which they have held third-period leads.

Netminder Jonathan Quick, who has been stellar in the Kings’ six elimination wins, allowing just eight goals, has been only average in the last two losses, allowing nine goals. And while he’s had his ups and downs, Corey Crawford seems to have rediscovered his groove from the middle of Game 5 and on through most of Game 6.

The Blackhawks also sawed off the Kings in the special-teams battle in Game 6 at Staples Center and have been much more productive on the power play at home, going 8-for-26 at the United Center this spring.

Those are the factors that will likely say a great deal about the outcome of Sunday’s game.

"Just been a lot of traffic and both teams putting pucks at the net," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said Sunday of the goaltending issues in the series. "With the skill sets of some of the players, they're able to probably challenge the goalies more one-on-one than we would see maybe in the regular season."

Although Chicago coach Joel Quenneville has insisted the Blackhawks are still a four-line team like the Kings, look for him to use a revamped fourth line sparingly in Game 7. He moved Marcus Kruger to a third line with Patrick Sharp and Smith for the morning skate Sunday, while the fourth line was Brandon Bollig, Game 5 double-overtime hero Michal Handzus and Kris Versteeg, who was a healthy scratch in Game 6. If Quenneville stays with that unit, it will see limited ice time.

"Over the years, I’ve played a little bit with Krugs and played with him the last couple of games,” said Sharp, who had his best game of the series in Game 6. "If we’re together tonight, we’ll be fine. We know how to support each other and what makes us successful.

"He can do a lot of different things. He plays the right way, he’s got an offensive touch that most people don’t realize, and he’s going to be in the right spot defensively, so he’s a fun guy to play with."

How the Blackhawks lines and pairings look for Game 7:

Forward lines
Bryan Bickell-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad-Andrew Shaw-Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp-Marcus Kruger-Ben Smith
Brandon Bollig-Michal Handzus-Kris Versteeg

Defense pairings
Niklas Hjalmarsson-Duncan Keith
Brent Seabrook-Nick Leddy
Michal Rozsival-Johnny Oduya

Goalie
Corey Crawford

Meanwhile, the Kings are expected to go with the same lineup that has gotten them this far.

Forward lines
Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar-Marian Gaborik
Tanner Pearson-Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli
Dwight King-Jarret Stoll-Justin Williams
Kyle Clifford-Mike Richards-Trevor Lewis

Defense pairings
Jake Muzzin-Drew Doughty
Willie Mitchell-Slava Voynov
Matt Greene-Alec Martinez

Goalie
Jonathan Quick
Drew Doughty and Patrick KaneGetty ImagesGood news: The Kings and Hawks are headed to Game 7. Bad news: Drew Doughty and Patrick Kane are both very good. So, Rangers fans, who do you want?
You have to imagine a New York Rangers viewing party Friday night. Guys huddled around the big screen, propping their feet up, maybe scarfing down some popcorn.

Having already punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup finals with a series-clinching victory over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday, the Blueshirts have the luxury of a few days off while they await their opponent.

SportsNation

Which team do you want the Rangers to play for the Stanley Cup?

  •  
    32%
  •  
    19%
  •  
    49%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,889)

With the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks duking it out in yet another thrilling, high-octane game Friday, the Rangers must have been hoping for as many overtime periods as possible. It didn’t play out that way -- the Blackhawks won 4-3 in regulation -- but even so, New York must be pretty pleased.

In staving off elimination for the second straight game, the defending Stanley Cup champs forced a Game 7 back in Chicago on Sunday, meaning these two teams will have one more chance to pound on each other, all while the Rangers continue to recover.

Considering that whichever team makes it out of the West will likely be heavily favored in the Final, the Rangers' opportunity to rest and regroup for six days between games may be hugely beneficial.

So, which team provides the better matchup for the Rangers? Let’s take a look at both:

LOS ANGELES

Two words, folks: Drew Doughty. The stud defenseman has been arguably the best player this entire postseason, delivering dominating shifts at each end of the ice and dazzling spectators with his remarkable skill set (see: pass to Alec Martinez, third period, Game 6). And what’s more amazing is that he is only 24 years old! No matter how many minutes Doughty logs, he always seems hungry and capable of more. Up front, the Kings have one of the best two-way centers in the game in Anze Kopitar. Oh, and remember old friend Marian Gaborik? Yeah, he is leading the league with 11 playoff goals. Jonathan Quick has had some shaky moments this spring, with a .906 save percentage, so that may be a potential weakness should the Kings advance.

CHICAGO

Another deep, experienced team with some of the most dynamic game-breakers in the NHL in Patrick Kane and do-it-all workhorse captain Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks also have Norris Trophy finalist Duncan Keith anchoring their blue line, though the veteran defenseman has not had a standout series against Los Angeles. Corey Crawford, like Quick, has shown chinks in the armor -- though he made some sensational, and timely, stops in Game 6 that helped the Hawks send the series back to Chicago. The Blackhawks’ biggest strength is their depth up front, with players like Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad to complement Toews and Kane, the latter of whom had two goals and one assist in Game 6.

Verdict: Though the Kings will be forced to play their third Game 7 this spring and may feel the fatigue factor should they advance, I still think the Rangers have a better chance against Chicago. The Blueshirts were 2-0 this season against the Blackhawks and may be able to surprise the defending champs if goaltender Henrik Lundqvist can steal a few games. He’ll have to be better than he has been through the first 20 games of the playoffs, but he comes in with an edge over either Crawford or Quick, in my opinion. The Hawks are a deep, well-rounded and physical team, but if the Rangers can find a way to exploit their speed, New York can make the series an interesting one.

History on Blackhawks' side for Game 6

May, 30, 2014
May 30
6:46
PM ET
Western Conference Finals – Game 6
Blackhawks at Kings, 9 ET (Kings lead series, 3-2)

* Blackhawks: 12-0 in Games 5, 6 and 7 of a playoff series over last 2 postseasons (last loss in a Game 5, 6 or 7: Game 6 of 2012 conference quarterfinals to Phoenix)
* Blackhawks: 8-2 in last 10 potential elimination games dating back to 2011 postseason
* Blackhawks: seeking to comeback from a 3-1 deficit for 2nd straight postseason (beat Detroit in 2013 conference semifinals after trailing 3-1)
* Blackhawks: 2-6 on road in 2014 playoffs (wins were Game 5 at St. Louis in the first round and Game 6 at Minnesota in the second round); both road wins were in overtime
* Blackhawks: 1-24 (4.2 pct) on power play at road this postseason (0-7 on road in this series); PPG was on Blackhawks’ 1st road power play chance of postseason (1st period of Game 1 of first-round series at St. Louis by Brent Seabrook)
* Patrick Kane (CHI): 5 points (all assists) in last 2 games; had 2 points (1 G, 1 A) in previous 8 games (including 0 points in 1st 3 games of this series)
* Corey Crawford (CHI): 2-6, 2.91 GAA, .895 save pct (26 GA on 247 SA in 536 mins) on road in 2014 playoffs (8-1, 1.89 GAA, .936 save pct at home in 2014 playoffs)
* Kings: would advance to Stanley Cup finals for 2nd time in 3 seasons with win (won Cup in 2012)
* Jeff Carter (LA): on 6-game point streak (5 G, 7 A during streak); 10 points (4 G, 6 A) in this series (had 7 points in 11 career playoff games vs Chicago entering this series)
* Marian Gaborik (LA): leads 2014 playoffs in goals with 11; 1 goal shy of tying Luc Robitaille (12) for 2nd-most goals in a playoff year in Kings history
* Anze Kopitar (LA): leads 2014 playoffs in assists (18) and points (23); needs 2 assists to become 2nd player in Kings history with at least 20 assists in a single postseason (Wayne Gretzky had 25 in 1993)
* Jonathan Quick (LA): 3-1, 2.26 GAA, .909 save pct (9 GA on 99 SA in 239 mins) in 4 career home playoff games at CHI (1-5, 3.16 GAA, .888 save pct in 6 road playoff games vs CHI)

Most Goals In A Playoff Year
Los Angeles Kings History
Goals
1993 Wayne Gretzky 15
1991 Luc Robitaille 12
2014 Marian Gaborik 11

Most Assists In A Playoff Year
Los Angeles Kings History
Assists
1993 Wayne Gretzky 25
2014 Anze Kopitar 18
1993 Tomas Sandstrom 17
1989 Wayne Gretzky 17

Most Points In A Playoff Year
Los Angeles Kings History
Pts
1993 Wayne Gretzky 40
1993 Tomas Sandstrom 25
2014 Anze Kopitar 23

Crawford eats elimination for breakfast

May, 30, 2014
May 30
1:51
PM ET
Comfortable with Crawford: The Blackhawks need a win Friday night to force a Game 7. Corey Crawford is 8-2 career in games when his team faces elimination. According to Elias, that .800 win percentage in such games is the highest in NHL history among goaltenders who have played in at least 10 backs-against-the-wall games.

Rangers might have exhausted their chances

May, 29, 2014
May 29
2:34
PM ET
Eastern Conference Finals – Game 6
Canadiens at Rangers, 8 ET (Rangers lead series, 3-2)
Overworked? The New York Rangers have already played 19 games this postseason, and that could spell trouble for them. Since all series went to a best-of-7 format in 1987, no eventual Stanley Cup champion has played more than 18 games through the first three rounds. For comparison sake, the Los Angeles Kings have also played 19 games this postseason, while the Chicago Blackhawks have played 17 and the Montreal Canadiens, 16.

* Canadiens: 3-0 in potential elimination games this postseason (won Game 6 & 7 vs Bruins in second round & Game 5 of this series)
* Canadiens: 2-12 on power play in last 2 games of series (0-9 in 1st 3 games)
* P.K. Subban (MTL): tied for lead in points by defensemen (14) in 2014 playoffs; has points in each of last 2 games of this series (1 G, 1 A) after having 0 points in 1st 3 games
* Rene Bourque (MTL): had 1st career playoff hat trick in Game 5; has 6 points (4 G, 2 A) in this series (had 5 points [4 G, 1 A] in 1st 11 games of 2014 playoffs)
* Rangers: 2-2 in potential series-clinching games this postseason (both wins were Game 7s – vs PHI in first round & vs PIT in second round)
* Rangers: won last 3 home playoff games with chance to clinch a series; last home loss in a potential series clincher: Game 6 of 2009 conference quarterfinals vs Washington Capitals (lost that series in 7 games after holding 3-1 series lead)
* Rangers: 10-1 series record when leading 3-1 in a best-of-seven series (lone loss: 2009 conference quarterfinals vs. Capitals); 2-1 record in such series after losing Game 5
* Rangers: 3-34 (8.8 pct) on power play in 9 home games this postseason (0-5 in this series)
* Henrik Lundqvist (NYR): 10-7-0, 2.12 GAA, .916 save pct, 1 SO (36 GA on 427 SA in 1,019 mins) in 17 total home games (reg. season AND playoffs) vs Canadiens all-time (shutout was Feb. 27, 2007)
* Lundqvist: 41 career playoff wins – tied with Mike Richter for most in Rangers history
* Chris Kreider (NYR): had career-high 4 points (1 G, 3 A) in Game 5; has 8 points (3 G, 5 A) in this series (had 11 points [7 G, 4 A] in 30 career playoff games entering this series)

NEW YORK -- Montreal Canadiens winger Dale Weise is out for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday, although coach Michel Therrien would not confirm it's a concussion, saying only it's a "body injury."

Weise was hammered by an illegal check to the head by John Moore in Game 5, costing the Rangers defenseman a two-game suspension. Weise went to the "quiet room" but came back to finish Game 5. Therrien says concussion protocol was followed, and the NHL told ESPN.com on Thursday that the protocol was properly implemented.

The league regularly reminds clubs about the importance of following the concussion guidelines, stressing that it is one of the highest priorities.

Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin, who missed Game 5 with an undisclosed injury, did not take part in the morning skate Thursday. Therrien said he will be a game-time decision.

Canadiens winger Brandon Prust will return to the lineup after missing two games because of a suspension for his hit on Rangers center Derek Stepan.

If Emelin can't go, Nathan Beaulieu stays in. Beaulieu played alongside veteran Francis Bouillon in Game 5. Bouillon was asked Thursday morning how exciting the prospect is of a Game 7 at home Saturday night if his team can pull it off at Madison Square Garden on Thursday.

"It would be incredible," Bouillon said. "It would be a unique experience. The big game to win is tonight, obviously. That’s where our focus is. But if we can win tonight, we go home to our fans, and the city of Montreal would be crazy."

If it happens, that Game 7 would be the biggest contest in Canadiens history since the 1993 Cup run.

As for Montreal's lines, it's kind of hard to predict with the loss of Weise and the amount of juggling in-game that Therrien has done. But here’s a possibility:

Max Pacioretty-David Desharnais-Brendan Gallagher
Alex Galchenyuk-Tomas Plekanec-Brian Gionta
Rene Bourque-Lars Eller-Brandon Prust
Michael Bournival-Daniel Briere-Thomas Vanek

Injured star goalie Carey Price once again took to the ice near the end of the Canadiens’ morning skate, took shots from his teammates for the first time, and worked mostly with goalie coach Stephane Waite for about 30 minutes. Therrien has said repeatedly that Price will not play in this series.

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