By Lyle Richardson
With the 2014 Stanley Cup final shifting to New York for Games 3 and 4, the New York Rangers found themselves down 2-0 in the series to the Los Angeles Kings. Worse, the Kings never held a lead in regulation in the opening two games, yet found a way to rebound and win both in overtime.
Overcoming odds has been the Kings’ signature in this post-season. Against the San Jose Sharks in the division semifinal, the Kings became only the fourth team in NHL history to rally back from a 3-0 series deficit and win a best-of-seven series. After blowing a 2-0 series lead to fall behind the Anaheim Ducks 3-2 in the division final, the Kings rallied back to win that series in seven games.
The Rangers, however, are no strangers to conquering long odds this spring. After falling behind three games to one in their division final against the Pittsburgh Penguins in their division final, the Blueshirts won three straight games to eliminate the Penguins.
While the speedy Rangers have proven the equal of the Kings in this series, their inability to hold a lead in Games 1 and 2 was testament to the latter’s experienced depth. Most of the Kings’ current lineup were also part of their championship roster two years ago. They know what it takes to win it all and never give up when behind in the score.
Entering Game 3 on Monday, five of the top 10 scorers in the 2014 playoffs were Kings. Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams and Marian Gaborik held the top four spots. Only one Ranger, defenceman Ryan McDonagh, was in the top 10.
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has better overall stats in this year’s playoffs than Kings netminder Jonathan Quick. Indeed, Quick’s numbers aren’t even close to those he posted two years ago in carrying the Kings to the Stanley Cup. But in the opening two games of this final, Quick was rock solid in overtime, displaying the form which won him playoff MVP honours in 2012
The Rangers face a daunting challenge to rally back in this series. If they don’t find a way to contain the Kings’ offence, the Stanley Cup could return to Los Angeles for the second time in three years.
Once the Stanley Cup final is completed, there could be a considerable number of trades leading up to the NHL Draft weekend June 27 to 28 in Philadelphia.
Several factors — a lack of star talent available via free agency, a projected increase in the salary cap to $70 million, an unusually high number of management changes among several teams and the ability of teams to retain portions of a player's salary to facilitate a trade — could lead to some notable NHL players changing teams before the end of June.
Among the Canadian NHL teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs are reportedly shopping everyone except Phil Kessel, Jonathan Bernier, Tyler Bozak and Morgan Rielly. Canucks centre Ryan Kesler apparently still wants out of Vancouver, while the Ottawa Senators are believed fielding offers for captain Jason Spezza.
In Winnipeg, there’s rumblings the Jets could swing a blockbuster deal involving Evander Kane or Dustin Byfuglien. The Edmonton Oilers, meanwhile, could shop centre Sam Gagner or winger Nail Yakupov in hopes of landing a top-two defenceman.
Elsewhere, the San Jose Sharks could try to move either Joe Thornton or Patrick Marleau, while some Pittsburgh pundits are calling for the Penguins to trade Kris Letang or James Neal. The Boston Bruins could consider shipping out Brad Marchand or Johnny Boychuk, while the Buffalo Sabres might deal away defenceman Tyler Myers.
Penguins’ new GM
The Pittsburgh Penguins hiring former Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford as their new GM came as a surprise to some NHL followers.
Rutherford certainly has experience for the role. He was general manager of the Hurricanes for 1994 (when they were still the Hartford Whalers) until stepping down on April 28 of this year. His best years were from 2002 to 2009, as the Hurricanes appeared in three Eastern Conference finals and two Stanley Cup finals, winning a championship in 2006.
Since 2009, however, the Hurricanes failed to reach the playoffs, raising questions over Rutherford’s management decisions. He takes over a Penguins team which, over the same period, was a dominant regular season club which came up short in the playoffs, winning only four playoff series.
The Penguins have considerably more talent than Rutherford had in his final years in Carolina. It will be interesting to see what moves he makes this summer. The priority will be finding a coach to replace the recently-fired Dan Bylsma. Rutherford must also decide if he’ll shake up the current roster or make only minor adjustments.
Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer
with The Hockey News and runs
the website Spector’s Hockey. His
column will appear in The Guardian
throughout the NHL playoffs.