The Stanley Cup finals will be a coast-to-coast matchup featuring teams within the nation’s largest TV markets: New York and Los Angeles.
It looks like a win-win deal for the NHL.
The Rangers will draw a lot of viewers tuning in to see if they can win a championship for the first time in two decades. The Kings, meanwhile, have a shot to win it all for the second time in three seasons in what would be an impressive feat because of the league’s salary cap.
Here are 10 things to watch when the puck drops tonight in Los Angeles:
MOTIVATED MARIAN — The Rangers traded Marian Gaborik 14 months ago to Columbus and now, they’ve got to face him as he’s peaking. Gaborik has an NHL-high 12 goals this postseason and he ranks fourth with 19 points. He had the tying goal midway through the third period of Game 7 at Chicago, where the Kings won in overtime.
THANKS CBJ PART II — Gaborik is not the only former Blue Jackets player in the series. Columbus traded Jeff Carter to the Kings two years ago. The Blue Jackets sent Rick Nash to New York in the summer of 2012. And they dealt Derick Brassard, John Moore and Derek Dorsett to the Rangers last year.
QUICK TURNAROUND — Even though the Rangers have to hit the road to begin the series, they should be the fresher team. New York eliminated Montreal last Thursday, giving it almost a full week off before Game 1. The Kings, meanwhile, played late Sunday night in Chicago for their third Game 7 this postseason, traveled home and may not have much time to rest before the puck drops.
CALL IT A COMEBACK — The Kings might be the toughest team to knock out in sports. They’re the only NHL team to win three Game 7s on the road in one postseason; the second to be 7-0 when facing elimination in one postseason; the fourth to rally from a 3-0 deficit in a seven-game series; and they didn’t have the lead against Chicago in their latest decisive game until winning in overtime.
LATE LEAD USUALLY SAFE — The Rangers are 10-0 in the postseason when leading after two periods.
LUCKY NUMBER 7S — The Kings trio of Gaborik, Mike Richards and Justin Williams is 7-0 in Game 7s and goalie Jonathan Quick is 4-0 in decisive games. Williams has seven goals and seven assists in Game 7s, passing Doug Gilmour’s NHL record for points and tying Glen Anderson for the most goals in league history in Game 7s. Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter has surged past Scotty Bowman and Pat Burns for the most Game 7 victories — seven, naturally — in his career. If Sutter steers Los Angeles into another Game 7, it will be his 11th behind a bench to break a record shared by Mike Keenan and Claude Julien.
UP THE MIDDLE — The Kings appear to have a clear advantage at center. They’ve won 53 percent of faceoffs in the playoffs, trailing only Boston statistically, while the Rangers rank 12th out of the 16 playoff teams. Los Angeles has a pair of great centers, Anze Kopitar, and Carter, and two solid ones, Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards. The Rangers, meanwhile, don’t appear to match up quite as well at the pivotal position with Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, Derick Brassard and Dominic Moore.
TWO-WAY BLUE LINERS — Los Angeles and New York each have a playmaking defenseman. Drew Doughty has four goals, 12 assists and as many points (16) as he had in the 2012 playoffs when he helped the Kings hoist the Cup. Ryan McDonagh leads the Rangers with 10 assists and he’s tied for the team lead with 13 points.
IN THE NET — Quick and Henrik Lundqvist are not among the three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, but Quick won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the playoffs in 2012 when Los Angeles won its first Stanley Cup and Lundqvist was voted the league’s best goaltender that same year. Quick is giving up 2.86 goals a game this postseason and that’s at least one more goal than he gave up on average in the previous two postseasons. Lundqvist is allowing just two goals a game and he blanked Montreal in Game 6 for his ninth career shutout in the playoffs.
LAST, NOT LEAST — Both teams roll four lines of forwards and when their final trio is on the ice it is not necessarily a break for the other team. Sutter does not label his lines, but Richards appears to his fourth-line center and Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford are usually on his wings. Richards ranked fourth on the team in points during the regular season and has chipped in with eight points in the playoffs. Moore centers New York’s fourth line with Brian Boyle and Derek Dorsett. Moore scored the only goal in Game 6 to eliminate the Canadiens and has three goals in the playoffs after scoring just six times in the regular season.