Seven weeks ago, the New York Rangers entered the NHL playoffs as a longshot to win the title. On Wednesday night, they’ll face the Los Angeles Kings in Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals, with a chance to claim their first championship in 20 years.
It won’t be easy for the Rangers to bring the Cup back to the Big Apple. Just like they were in the last two rounds, New York is the underdog against L.A. They’ll start the series on the road, where their betting odds for the opener have been set at +135. The Kings’ moneyline is -155 at most Las Vegas casinos.
New York hasn’t had an easy road to the finals, playing 20 of 21 possible games, and not having home-ice advantage since the opening series. They survived the first three rounds on the back of Henrik Lundqvist, who finally has a shot to win a championship in his ninth season. He’s been as good as any goalie in the postseason, allowing 2.03 goals per game and saving 92.8 percent of the shots sent his way.
Lundqvist has silenced a lot of critics, after taking heat in the past for never leading the Rangers to the finals. In the playoffs, he’s even outperformed Kings' goalie Jonathan Quick, who ranks among the best in the league. The 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner has given up 2.86 goals per game on a 90.6 save percentage.
The outcome of the series will depend largely on the play of the two goaltenders. Lundqvist and Quick are two of the best at their position in the NHL, even though they have different styles.
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"He's extremely aggressive. He's like a gymnast out there,” Lundqvist said of Quick on Tuesday. “He's so quick. He's so powerful. I sit back. I try to stay deep in my net and maybe more in position. In the end, it's about stopping the puck and he does it really well. It's going to be a fun challenge for me and you have to expect going into the playoffs that every team has a great goalie. But 'Quickie' is obviously up there in the tops in the league."
Both players should be fresh for Game One. Quick was last in goal on Sunday when L.A. beat the Blackhawks in Game Seven of the Western Conference finals. Lundqvist has been off for a week, since the Rangers clinched their bid to the finals on Thursday.
While the Rangers’ defense has been its strength in the playoffs, Lunqvist will have to deal with an offense that had much more success in the first three rounds. L.A. is averaging 3.48 goals in 21 postseason contests. Anze Kopitar leads them with 24 points, and former Ranger Marian Gaborik has more postseason goals than any player with 12. New York dealt the right winger before the 2013 trade deadline, and they’re well aware of how dangerous he can be.
"He was a great guy; phenomenal," defenseman Ryan McDonagh told NHL.com. "He was always working hard here with us and scored a lot of big goals. He has tremendous skill and is a great skater. He's going to be a big handful for us.”
Game One is set to begin at 8 p.m. ET at Staples Center.