Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Kings fit to be crowned

Devils decent, but L.A. squad will be the one carrying Cup

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NEW YORK -- Their forwards have played better. Same goes for the defence and their goalie. The Los Angeles Kings will win the Stanley Cup.

It might even be easy.

 

Until the New Jersey Devils prove they can match up with the Kings and provide a test, something no other team in these playoffs has been able to do, the conclusion must be that Los Angeles is the superior team and en route to their first ever NHL championship.

Certainly the Devils have been a fine story, what with their ageless goalie Martin Brodeur, and there's no doubt they have some elite firepower up front. And maybe the route they've taken, seven games against the Florida Panthers and then five and six games respectively against mirages known as the Flyers and the Rangers, will help them in the end.

The Devils struggled against the Panthers and needed overtime wins in Games 6 and 7 to get over the hump. They handled the Flyers and Rangers fairly easily, both teams as it turns out that were not nearly as strong as their press clippings.

So maybe New Jersey's route has emboldened them and made them firm. Or maybe they're like the rest of the Eastern Conference and only so-so. We're going to find out.

The Kings have left no room for interpretation in their run to this point. They sawed through the Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues and Phoenix Coyotes. They have scored and defended with equal aplomb. And back in the blue paint watching it all unfold has been Jonathan Quick, of who there have been no comparables in this post-season.

Quick's 1.54 goals-against average and .946 save percentage are the best and he's given up two or fewer goals in 12 of his 14 post-season starts and stopped 384 of 406 stops. Brodeur may be the greatest of all time but this is now and Quick is the standard.

Brodeur will be -- like he has throughout these playoffs -- great at times but mostly good. It won't be enough. The Devils will struggle to score against Quick and the pressure will switch to the New Jersey net. Brodeur's game can no longer withstand such heat. He will melt and with him will go the Devils' chances.

The Devils have an effective blue-line but no one like Drew Doughty, who will be a integral factor in the series. He needs to keep his head and you can be sure he's been talked to after spinning a nut in Game 5 of the last series. Doughty will log huge minutes and eat away at the Devils' ability to keep the puck in the Kings' zone.

Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter says he doesn't like his blue-liners to rim the puck off the glass but instead wants them to make plays coming out of the zone. Doughty is the best in the series at just that as he can zip the first pass or take off skating. The Devils will need to find an answer for him and they don't have it.

Both teams are very strong down the middle and Travis Zajac is one of the game's best two-way centres. However, the trio of Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll are a formidable group, giving L.A. as deep a core as any team in the league.

There is one red herring that could make all of the above irrelevant: The Devils have two elite players in Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. These two will need to be contained by the Kings and they've so far shown the ability to shut down the best of the opposition. But these two are the best they've faced all post-season and could tip the balance in New Jersey's favour if allowed to run loose.

I don't think that will happen. The Kings will outscore the Devils in a tight series and win in seven games.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 30, 2012 D4

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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