Stanley Cup champions will come out of the West

The Rangers rode a wave of emotion after the death of the mother of Martin St Louis, the veteran winger, all the way to the Eastern Conference title but they still have a mountain to climb, writes Rob McKenzie.

New York Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist, left, and Mats Zuccarello were all smiles after winning the Eastern Conference, but they will face a stiff test in the Stanley Cup finals, which start on Wednesday. Bruce Bennett / AFP
Powered by automated translation

When the Stanley Cup finals begin on Wednesday, the New York Rangers will be underdogs.

The Rangers rode a wave of emotion after the death of the mother of Martin St Louis, the veteran winger, all the way to the Eastern Conference title.

Their Western Conference counterpart was being decided Monday morning, with the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings playing Game 7 of their series. Regardless of whether the Hawks or Kings win, they will be favoured to take home the Stanley Cup. These are powerhouses that combine speed and size and have won three of the past four cups.

But everybody loves an underdog, so let us try to make a case for the Rangers winning.

First, they need to win Game 1. The Rangers will have had five days off after eliminating Montreal in six games. The Rangers will be the road team, but Game 1 represents a clear chance to seize the initiative against an opponent that might experience a letdown after the western final, played at a breakneck pace.

The Rangers coach, Alain Vigneault, coached Vancouver in the 2011 Cup final. His teams’ hallmarks are depth, speed and puck movement.

The Rangers have enough speed to match, but not surpass, their western opponents, whoever they might be. So, no advantage there.

As for depth and puck movement, New York have a better chance of exploiting these strengths against Chicago than Los Angeles.

In the first six games of the Chicago-LA series, the Kings were consistent and unrelenting. Chicago had more ups and downs, and took dumb penalties. It is almost like, having won two cups, they need to be at death’s door before they feel a sense of urgency.

Part of the reason Chicago had their downs was a lack of depth. Johnny Oduya makes mistakes on defence. In Game 3 against Los Angeles, he wasn’t guarding Jeff Carter in front of the net – or anyone, for that matter – on the goalmouth score that made it 3-2 for LA, and he blocked Corey Crawford’s line of vision on the shot that made it 4-2.

Crawford, too, was inconsistent in the series. New York have a better goalie in Henrik Lundqvist, though LA have Lundqvist’s match in Jonathan Quick.

In the end, it is hard to picture the Rangers beating LA. The Kings play suffocating hockey and the Rangers do not have the skill to overcome that. The Rangers would have a better shot against Chicago.

Still, the west should win. Monday’s game between Chicago and LA? That was the Stanley Cup final.

Follow our sports coverage on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE