Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Breaking Down The Stanley Cup Final

2012 Stanley Cup Final
New Jersey Devils vs. Los Angeles Kings

How They Got Here

The sixth-seeded Devils advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2003 by defeating the top-ranked New York Rangers in six games in the Eastern Conference Final. After the Devils defeated the Rangers at Madison Square Garden in Game 5 with the series tied 2-2 -- matching the result from the clubs' epic Eastern Conference Final in 1994 -- 22-year-old rookie forward Adam Henrique reversed the series outcome of 18 years ago by sending the Devils to the Stanley Cup Final with the winning goal in overtime of Game 6. Goaltender Martin Brodeur again proved a nemesis to his cross-Hudson rivals, posting a 4-2 record, 2.01 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

Facing another bitter Atlantic Division rival in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Devils eliminated the Philadelphia Flyers in five games. New Jersey rallied with four consecutive victories after dropping the opening game of the series, capturing each contest despite surrendering the first goal. Devils forward Ilya Kovalchuk led all scorers despite missing Game 2 due to injury, notching seven points (two goals, five assists). Both goals scored by New Jersey forward David Clarkson were game-winners.

The Devils faced their toughest test in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, outlasting the Florida Panthers in seven games thanks to overtime victories in both Game 6 and Game 7. Travis Zajac scored at 5:39 of the first extra period to extend the series to a seventh game, followed by Adam Henrique's goal at 3:47 of double overtime in the cliffhanger finale. Martin Brodeur collected his 24th career playoff shutout in Game 4, passing Patrick Roy into sole possession of first place on the all-time list.

The Kings advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in franchise history and first since 1993 by eliminating the Phoenix Coyotes in five games in the Western Conference Final. The Kings won all three games at Phoenix, capped by the series-clincher in overtime of Game 5, to extend their playoff road winning streak to an NHL-record eight games. They also became the second #8 seed to advance to the Final under the current playoff format and the first club to knock off the #1, #2 and #3 seeds in order to get there. Rookie forward Dwight King led all goal-scorers in the series with four, including two game-winners, and goaltender Jonathan Quick posted a 1.52 goals-against average and .939 save percentage.

The Kings roared through the Western Conference Semifinals with a thoroughly-dominating four-game sweep over the St. Louis Blues, who had finished with the NHL's third-best overall record during the regular season. The Kings’ top line of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams collected 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in the series, while the Blues’ top three scorers from the regular season -- David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo -- combined for just five points (one goal, four assists). The Blues went 0-for-17 with the man advantage in the series.

The Kings eliminated the #1 seed Vancouver Canucks in five games in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, shocking the defending West playoff champion and the club that had captured the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's best during the 2011-12 regular season. Captain Dustin Brown scored the insurance marker to wrap up Game 1, notched a pair of shorthanded goals in Game 2, tallied the winner in Game 3 and led all players in goals (four) and plus-minus (+4) during the series.

First Playoff Meeting: The Devils and Kings are meeting in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time.

Season Series: The Devils swept a pair of early-season games from the Kings, posting a 2-1 shootout victory Oct. 13 in New Jersey and a 3-0 win Oct. 25 at Los Angeles. Goaltender Johan Hedberg posted both victories in relief of Martin Brodeur, who played one period in the teams' first encounter before being sidelined with an upper-body injury that kept him out of the lineup until Nov. 2. Hedberg stopped all 16 shots he faced, plus shootout attempts by Simon Gagne and Anze Kopitar, in his winning relief appearance Oct. 13 and made 31 saves for his 18th career NHL shutout in the return match on Oct. 25.

Devils Go for Cup #4: The Devils are vying for their fourth Stanley Cup championship, following wins in 1995 (4-0 vs. Detroit), 2000 (4-2 vs. Dallas) and 2003 (4-3 vs. Anaheim). The Devils have suffered just one series defeat in the Final, dropping a seven-game series to the Colorado Avalanche in 2001. Goaltender Martin Brodeur is the only active Devils player to have represented the club in each of those four series. Forward Patrik Elias skated with New Jersey for its three Final appearances (and two Cup wins) in the four-year span from 2000 through 2003.

Kings' Historic Quest: The Kings are in quest of their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. In their only previous Stanley Cup Final appearance, Los Angeles dropped a 4-1 decision to the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.

Giant Killers: The Devils and Kings eliminated the #1 seed in their respective conferences (New Jersey over NY Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final, Los Angeles over Vancouver in the Western Conference Quarterfinals), marking the first time that both Stanley Cup Finalists had done so since 2007 (#4 Ottawa over #1 Buffalo and #2 Anaheim over #1 Detroit in the respective Conference Finals).

Against All Odds: The Devils are the first #6 conference seed to reach the Stanley Cup Final since the 2004 Calgary Flames, who were directed by current Los Angeles head coach Darryl Sutter. The Kings are only the second #8 seed to reach the Final since the conference-based playoff format was introduced in 1993-94 (Edmonton Oilers, 2006).

Two members of this year's Kings team also played on that #8-seeded Oilers squad -- center Jarret Stoll and defenseman Matt Greene.

Star-Spangled Captains: For the first time in NHL history, both Stanley Cup Finalists will be led by captains born in the United States. The Devils' captain is Minneapolis native Zach Parise, while the Kings are led by Dustin Brown of Ithaca, New York. Both 27 years of age, Parise and Brown were teammates on the 2010 United States Olympic team that captured a silver medal in Vancouver. The only previous U.S.-born captain to raise the Stanley Cup is defenseman Derian Hatcher (Sterling Heights, Michigan) of the 1999 Dallas Stars.

Brown leads the Kings in playoff scoring and ranks third in the League overall with 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 14 games. He is tied with teammate Anze Kopitar for the League lead in plus-minus (+13) and has tallied five shorthanded points (two goals, three assists), the highest playoff total since Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg in 2008.

Parise leads the Devils in playoff goals (seven) and ranks second on the club in points (7-7--14). He topped all New Jersey scorers in the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers, notching six points (three goals, three assists) in six games.

Road to Glory:The Kings are 8-0 on the road in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, outscoring their opponents 30-13. With their series-clinching victory at Phoenix in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final, they became the first team to win eight consecutive road playoff games in a single year and the first to notch 10 straight away from home over multiple playoff years. They also are the first club to carry an unblemished road record into the Stanley Cup Final since the introduction of the conference-based playoff format in 1993-94.

The Kings are two road wins shy of the NHL record for one postseason (10), shared by a group of clubs that includes the New Jersey Devils in their Stanley Cup-winning 1995 and 2000 playoff campaigns.

Turnarounds: Both Stanley Cup Finalists surged after indifferent starts to the regular season. The Devils were 12-12-1 through Dec. 3 but went 36-16-5 the rest of the way. The Kings entered Darryl Sutter's first game behind the bench on Dec. 21 with a 15-14-4 record and went 25-13-11 thereafter. As late as March 28, the Kings were on the outside looking in of the playoff race. Los Angeles went 3-0-3 down the stretch to claim the eighth seed in the West.

Express Train to Final: The Kings needed just 14 games to reach the Stanley Cup Final, eliminating the Vancouver Canucks in five games, the St. Louis Blues in four and the Phoenix Coyotes in five. That equals the fewest games needed to reach the Final since the best-of-seven format was adopted for all four rounds in 1986-87.

Fewest Games to Reach Stanley Cup Final (Since 1986-87)

Year SC Finalists GP, Rounds 1-3 SC Final Result
1987 Edmonton 5-4-5 Defeated Philadelphia 4-3
1988 Edmonton 5-4-5 Defeated Boston 4-0
1992 Chicago 6-4-4 Lost to Pittsburgh 4-0
1995 Detroit 5-4-5 Lost to New Jersey 4-0
2003 Anaheim 4-6-4 Lost to New Jersey 4-3
2008 Pittsburgh 4-5-5 Lost to Detroit 4-2
2012 Los Angeles 5-4-5

Rest vs. Rust: The Kings will play Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final eight days after capturing the Western Conference title in Phoenix. The following is a list of years in which a Stanley Cup Finalist entered the series off a break of equal or greater length (since 1967-68):

1984 - 9 days, Edmonton (ended CF May 1, started Final May 10) (won Cup)
1993 - 8 days, Montreal (ended CF May 24, started Final June 1) (won Cup)
1999 - 8 days, Buffalo (ended CF May 31, started Final June 8) (lost Final)
2003 - 11 days, Anaheim (ended CF May 16, started Final May 27) (lost Final)
2006 - 9 days, Edmonton (ended CF May 27, started Final June 5) (lost Final)
2007 - 9 days, Ottawa (ended CF May 19, started Final May 28) (lost Final)

Now Opponents, DeBoer, Richards Share Championship Past: The Stanley Cup Final will pit New Jersey head coach Peter DeBoer against Los Angeles Kings center Mike Richards, nine years after the pair teamed to capture the 2003 Memorial Cup with the OHL's Kitchener Rangers -- DeBoer as coach and Richards as captain and leading scorer. Another key player on the DeBoer-coached 2002-03 Kitchener squad: current Devils forward David Clarkson.

Dream Goaltending Match-up: The 2012 Stanley Cup Final promises a compelling match-up in goal between New Jersey's Martin Brodeur and Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick:

---------- 2012 PLAYOFF STATISTICS ----------
Goaltender GP Mins Avg W L SO GA SA SV%
Jonathan Quick 14 858 1.54 12 2 2 22 406 .946
Martin Brodeur 18 1090 2.04 12 5 1 37 479 .923

* Quick leads playoff goalies in goals-against average and save percentage. He has eight road wins in as many starts, posting a 1.55 goals-against average and .948 save percentage in those games, and has won each of his past 10 road playoff games dating to last year, matching the record streak set by Billy Smith (NY Islanders, 1979 to 1980). Quick allowed two goals or fewer in eight consecutive playoff starts, matching the single-season mark set by Terry Sawchuk with Detroit in 1952.

Coming off a franchise-record, 39-win season in 2010-11, Quick is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy after posting a 35-21-13 regular-season record to become the first Los Angeles goaltender to record 30 wins in three consecutive seasons. The 26-year-old Milford, Connecticut native led all NHL goaltenders with a franchise-record 10 shutouts and also ranked among League leaders in goals-against average (second, 1.95), save percentage (fifth, .929) and victories (T-fifth, 35).

* Brodeur is a four-time Vezina Trophy winner and three-time Stanley Cup champion. He has played in 24 career Stanley Cup Final games, posting a 15-9 record with a 1.91 goals-against average. The Montreal native is set to become the fifth goaltender in NHL history and first since Jacques Plante in 1970 to appear in the Stanley Cup Final after his 40th birthday:

Goaltender Club, Year Age GP in SC Final
Lester Patrick NYR, 1928 44 1 GP
George Hainsworth TOR, 1936 40 4 GP
Johnny Bower TOR, 1967 42 3 GP
Jacques Plante STL, 1969 40 2 GP
Jacques Plante STL, 1970 41 1 GP

* Brodeur picked up his fourth assist of the postseason, an NHL record for a netminder in one playoff year, in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against New York. He has 13 career postseason points (one goal, 12 assists), one shy of Grant Fuhr's all-time goaltending record.

Grant Fuhr 0 14 14
Martin Brodeur 1 12 13
Patrick Roy 0 11 11
Tom Barrasso 0 7 7
Kirk McLean 0 6 6

Other notable achievements by Brodeur in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs:

* posted his 24th career playoff shutout Apr. 19 against Florida, passing Patrick Roy into sole possession of first place on the all-time list.
* recorded his sixth career Game 7 victory Apr. 26 vs. Florida, tying the mark set by Roy.
* defeated Philadelphia 4-2 on May 6 -- his 40th birthday -- to become the first goaltender in NHL history to appear in a playoff game as a teenager and as a 40-year-old.
* extended his record streak of consecutive NHL playoff starts to 188 entering the Cup Final.

Unheralded Heroes: The Devils and Kings have received heroic performances from unheralded players in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs:

* Kings rookie forward Dwight King has five goals, including a pair of game-winners in the Western Conference Final against Phoenix. A fourth-round pick (109th overall) in the 2007 NHL Draft, King was recalled from the team’s minor league affiliate on Feb. 10 and recorded 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 27 regular-season games.

* New Jersey’s fourth line of Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta and Steve Bernier was a force in the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers, combining for nine points and a +9 rating. Gionta posted his first career multipoint game (one goal, one assist) and Carter notched the game-winner in the Devils’ pivotal 5-3 victory in Game 5.

* New Jersey's Bryce Salvador has 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in 18 playoff games, ranking second in scoring among NHL defensemen. Salvador's playoff points total is the most ever by a player who recorded fewer than 10 points during the regular season (min. 70 games). He tallied 0-9--9 in 82 regular-season games.

* Los Angeles forward Dustin Penner has scored two monumental game-winning goals that have served as bookends to the Kings' run to the Stanley Cup Final: he tallied the winner at 16:46 of the third period of the Kings' 4-2 win at Vancouver in Game 1 of the their Western Conference Quarterfinal Apr. 11 and notched the series-winner in overtime at Phoenix in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final May 22 that sent the Kings to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 19 years. Penner ranks fifth on the Kings in playoff scoring with 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 14 games after tallying 7-10--17 in 65 regular-season games.

Eye on the Calendar: Defenseman Willie Mitchell, who turned 35 last month, is the oldest player on the Kings roster and is appearing in the first Stanley Cup Final of his career. Devils players age 35+ (min. 1 playoff GP) also making their Stanley Cup Final debut are defenseman Marek Zidlicky (35), defenseman Bryce Salvador (36) and goaltender Johan Hedberg (39).

Change for the Better: Hired by the Kings on Dec. 20, Darryl Sutter is the ninth head coach to advance to the Stanley Cup Final after joining his club midseason. The Kings did not suffer a regulation loss in Sutter's first eight games behind the bench (5-0-3) and went 25-13-11 in the regular season overall for the new coach.

1932 Dick Irvin (TOR) took over for Art Duncan (defeated NYR in Final)
1959 Punch Imlach (TOR) took over for Billy Reay (lost to MTL in Final)
1968 Scotty Bowman (STL) took over for Lynn Patrick (lost to MTL in Final)
1971 Al MacNeil (MTL) took over for Claude Ruel (defeated CHI in Final)
1982 Roger Neilson (VAN) took over for Harry Neale (lost to NYI in Final)
2000 Larry Robinson (NJ) took over for Robbie Ftorek (defeated DAL in Final)
2009 Dan Bylsma (PIT) took over for Michel Therrien (defeated DET in Final).
2010 Peter Laviolette (PHI) took over for John Stevens (lost to CHI in Final)

Hired by the Devils in July 2011 after three years as head coach of the Florida Panthers, Peter DeBoer is attempting to win the Stanley Cup in the first season behind the bench with his new club as well. The Dunnville, Ontario native will celebrate his 44th birthday on June 13 -- the date of a potential Game 7.

Storybook Season for Henrique: New Jersey forward Adam Henrique has scored two playoff overtime goals, tying the NHL rookie record set by Montreal's Jacques Lemaire in 1968 and equaled by Montreal's Claude Lemieux in 1986. Both of Henrique's overtime goals have been series-clinchers, eliminating the Florida Panthers at 3:47 of the second overtime period in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and ending the New York Rangers' season after 1:03 of extra time in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final. Henrique is just the second player in League history to tally multiple series-ending overtime goals in one playoff year, joining Calgary's Martin Gelinas in 2004.

Henrique joins forwards Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers as finalists for the 2011-12 Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie. A third-round pick by the Devils in 2008 and winner of back-to-back Memorial Cups with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires in 2009 and 2010, Henrique filled a crucial void in the Devils lineup following an Achilles injury to No. 1 center Travis Zajac, who missed all but 15 regular-season games. Henrique made the most of his opportunity by tallying 51 points (16 goals, 35 assists) in 74 games. He led all rookies in assists and shorthanded goals (four) and ranked third in rookie scoring.

Shorthanded? Really?: The Kings power play has yet to click in the postseason (6-for-74, 8.1 percent) but their penalty killing has been brilliant (52-for-57, 91.2 percent). They have scored as many goals as they have allowed while shorthanded (a League-leading five SHG, five GA).

Regular-Season Ranking: The Devils and Kings finished ninth and 13th, respectively, in the NHL overall standings during the regular season, marking the first time since the League went to the best-of-seven format for all four rounds in 1987 that both Stanley Cup Finalists are from outside the regular season's top eight.

Year S.C. Champ Runner-Up Series Result
1987 EDM (1) PHI (2) 4-3
1988 EDM (3) BOS (4) 4-0
1989 CGY (1) MTL (2) 4-2
1990 EDM (5) BOS (1) 4-1
1991 PIT (7) MIN (17) 4-2
1992 PIT (6) CHI (8) 4-0
1993 MTL (6) LA (11) 4-1
1994 NYR (1) VAN (14) 4-3
1995 NJ (9) DET (1) 4-0
1996 COL (2) FLA (7) 4-0
1997 DET (5) PHI (4) 4-0
1998 DET (3) WAS (8) 4-0
1999 DAL (1) BUF (9) 4-2
2000 NJ (4) DAL (6) 4-2
2001 COL (1) NJ (3) 4-3
2002 DET (1) CAR (16) 4-1
2003 NJ (4) ANA (11) 4-3
2004 TB (2) CGY (12) 4-3
2006 CAR (4) EDM (14) 4-3
2007 ANA (4) OTT (9) 4-1
2008 DET (1) PIT (4) 4-2
2009 PIT (8) DET (3) 4-3
2010 CHI (3) PHI (18) 4-2
2011 BOS (7) VAN (1) 4-3

Kings' Cup Final Experience: The Kings boast nine players who have played in the Stanley Cup Final: Jeff Carter (PHI in 2010), Colin Fraser (CHI in 2010), Simon Gagne (PHI in 2010), Matt Greene (EDM in 2006), Dustin Penner (ANA in 2007), Mike Richards (PHI in 2010), Rob Scuderi (PIT in 2008 and 2009), Jarret Stoll (EDM in 2006) and Justin Williams (CAR in 2006). Four of these players (Fraser, Penner, Scuderi, Williams) own Stanley Cup rings.

Devils' Cup Final Experience: Three players on the Devils roster -- Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora -- previously have won the Stanley Cup with New Jersey. Brodeur has been a part of each Devils run to the Stanley Cup Final, winning three times (1995, 2000, 2003) and finishing as runner-up to Colorado in 2001. Elias went to the Stanley Cup Final with New Jersey three times in a four-year span from 2000 through 2003, winning twice. Sykora had back-to-back trips with the Devils in 2000 and 2001, winning once; he opposed the Devils in the 2003 Final with Anaheim; and advanced with Pittsburgh in 2008 and 2009, losing the 2008 series to Detroit and winning the re-match the following year. Devils fourth-line sensation Ryan Carter won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.

Welcome Back: Devils forward Dainius Zubrus is making his first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final since 1997, when the 18-year-old rookie was part of the Philadelphia Flyers squad that was swept in four games by the Detroit Red Wings. Zubrus has played in 1,151 career games (1,065 regular-season, 86 playoff), the most among this year's Finalists without a Cup ring.

Devils Opponents Better Watch Out Early: New Jersey has been overpowering its opponents in the first period during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, owning a 23-9 advantage in goals. By contrast, the club has been outscored 17-6 in the second period.

Kings Opponents Not Faring Well Late: The Kings have been tough late in games, outscoring their opponents 15-4 after the second intermission (13-4 in the third period, 2-0 in overtime).

European Travel Provides Passport to Final?: This marks the fourth consecutive year that a club that opened the regular season in Europe as part of the NHL Premiere series has advanced to the Stanley Cup Final seven months later. Each of the past three Stanley Cup champions (Pittsburgh in 2009, Chicago in 2010, Boston in 2011) started the season in Europe.

Season Team Cities Reg. Season Conf. Rank Playoffs
2008-09 Pittsburgh Stockholm 45-28-9, 99 pts 4th, East Won Stanley Cup
2009-10 Chicago Helsinki 52-22-8, 112 pts 2nd, West Won Stanley Cup
2010-11 Boston Prague 46-25-11, 103 pts 3rd, East Won Stanley Cup
2011-12 Los Angeles Stockholm/Berlin 40-27-15, 95 pts 8th, West

Tale of the Tape: How the playing rosters of the Stanley Cup Finalists compare (among players to have dressed for at least one game in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs):

Avg. Height and Weight: New Jersey 6'1", 204 lbs; Los Angeles 6'1", 208 lbs.
Avg. Age: New Jersey 30.0; Los Angeles 26.5.
New Jersey -- USA 7, Canada 6, Sweden 3, Czech Republic 3, Russia 2, Ukraine 1, Lithuania 1
Los Angeles -- Canada 13, USA 6, Russia 2, Slovenia 1

(Courtesy NHL media)

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