The marathon also known as the NHL Playoffs is about to end, as the Western Conference champion Los Angeles Kings and Eastern Conference champion New Jersey Devils square off in the Stanley Cup Final. It is one of the most exciting times on the hockey calendar, but it also signals the end is near for the 2011-2012 season. Within two weeks, the only ice we will see on a Saturday night will be in a glass or in a cooler at the cottage.
The opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup is what every young hockey player dreams about; it is what every NHL player uses as motivation throughout their career. The emotions of all players will be on full display - no one wants to be this close to their dream and fall short. In seven games or less, the dream will come true for the players on one team as they lift the historic trophy at center ice, while the players on the losing side will head off the ice thinking about what could have been.
In a conversation last summer with a friend and NHL Alumni member that has lost and won a Stanley Cup Final, I asked, “Is there any consolation in being the Conference champion when you lose in the Final?” His very quick reply was “No one remembers who finished second.”
That is one of the fascinating aspects of the NHL Playoffs and making it to the final round - you could have an incredible season as an individual and as a team, but if you do not win your final game of the season there is nothing but an empty feeling when it is all over. Players never know if they will ever make it back to the Final. You could win in your rookie season and never make it back, or play over 1,000 regular season games and never reach the Final at all - there is a reason the Stanley Cup is considered the hardest championship trophy to win!
With so much time between the Conference Finals and the start of the final round, there has been no shortage of analysis and commentary from fans and the experts. Most are expecting the Kings to win and they have every reason to think that. Los Angeles has knocked off the top-three seeds in the Western Conference and at times, it has looked easy for them. They have a great goaltender in Jonathan Quick, they have benefited from offensive contributions from their defensemen and they have all four forward lines firing on all cylinders. Well, so do the Devils...
It sounds cliché, but these teams are very evenly matched and since they do not play each other very often in the regular season, there is little past history to draw from. Both teams have great coaches that will attempt to cast their team in the ‘underdog’ role they have become accustomed to and the in-game line matching could be the difference-maker in this series. In a season where ‘expect the unexpected’ has been the norm, we will certainly see new heroes emerge for each team in this series and the coaches will attempt to find more ice time for the unsung heroes that catch fire in this round. While the stars will shine in the Stanley Cup Final, as they always do, so will players like Jarrett Stoll, Dwight King, Stephen Gionta and Ryan Carter.
One thing we know for certain, the New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings will leave it all on the ice, giving it everything they have to come out on top. After fighting through three rounds of the playoffs, elevating their game to another level each time, they will have to find that extra gear once again. The question is who finds that gear first.
It could all come down to which organization is ready for the pressures of the Stanley Cup Final - the Devils have been here before, so the ‘official’ XHockey Extra pick remains the same: Devils win in a hard-fought 6 game series.
That’s it for this week’s XHockey Extra - see you back here next Monday! Join in the conversation - ‘Like’ XHockeyProducts on Facebook and follow us on Twitter - who are you picking to win the Stanley Cup?
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