Well if anyone tells you that they saw this matchup coming, let me know so I can call them out for lying. Regardless of who wins this series, it will be the lowest seed to ever win the Stanley Cup. Let’s take a closer look at this unlikely matchup.
Goaltending: Being a hockey goaltender isn’t always the most secure profession. Go ahead and look up the career of Jim Carey, (good luck on google not autocorrecting it to the actor) who was named the best goaltender in the NHL in the 95-96 season, then promptly disappeared off the face of the earth. Tim Thomas, one of the best goalies in the game today, was named the starting goalie of the Bruins at the age of 32. Guys considered the “future of goaltending” fade into obscurity while guys taken in the 7th round occasionally become franchise goaltenders. Like the vast majority of Stanley Cup winning teams (not all of them however, see: 2010 Chicago Blackhawks), whichever team lifts the Stanley Cup this year will be victorious due to their goaltender.
Brodeur: Martin Brodeur is 40 years old. He’s already lifted the Cup over his head three times, in fact he did it in his second NHL season, all the way back in 1995. He holds the NHL records for wins, shutouts, and games played. He’s spent his entire career in New Jersey. Frankly, I wouldn’t wish a 21-year stint in Jersey on my worst enemies. What Brodeur is fighting for in this finals is the status of GOAT – Greatest Of All Time. Four Stanley Cups would tie him with Patrick Roy, but Brodeur’s longevity and consistency would give him the edge. The National Hockey League was organized in 1917, and over the many, many years, nobody else but Roy has come close to matching Brodeur’s legacy. If there was ever something to fight for, it’s the honor of being the greatest hockey goaltender in history. Brodeur becomes that with one more Cup win.
Quick: Jonathan Quick is 26 years old. Born in Connecticut, he posted a 25-2 record with 9 shutouts his senior year of high school at Avon Old Farms, which I’m shocked to learn is an actual high school and not a health food store. He went on to UMass – Amherst, where he lead his team to their first NCAA finals appearance. Yet he never had the hype: a year after being drafted by the Los Angeles Kings, they decided to use their 1st round pick on another goaltender: Jonathan Bernier. Before playing one game in a Kings uniform, Bernier was anointed franchise goaltender, and the general mindset of Kings fans was “whenever Bernier is ready, forget whatever scrub is starting in goal”. December 16th, 2008, former Kings goalie Erik Ersberg suffered an injury, and the Kings needed to call up one of their AHL goalies: Bernier, or Quick. They chose Quick, and he’s been their starting goaltender ever since. He was a winner in high school, a winner in college, it should come as no surprise he kept winning in the pros. There’s always a chance he could fade into obscurity, but anyone whose seen him play during this season and playoffs has a feeling he’s gonna be the face of the Los Angeles Kings, and USA hockey, for awhile now.
USA: Whenever I turn on the Olympics, Winter or Summer, I tend to find myself cheering for whichever athlete is from America. So what if I’ve never heard of any of these female hurdlers, I simply want the one representing my country to beat the best hurdlers Russia, Kenya, and all the other countries have to offer. In a very large number of sports, Americans tend to dominate. But hockey has always been a Canadian sport, to the point where I often go to Canadian websites instead of ESPN to get my news. In the history of the NHL, Derian Hatcher is the only American-born captain to hoist the Stanley Cup, for the Stars back in 1999. Slovakia has produced the same number of Cup-winning captains as our country. But that changes this year, as both team captains are from the USA.
Parise: Contract years happen in seemingly every sport. They make sense though. If your boss tells you “hey, today’s your performance review, impress me and you’ll get a significant raise”, you’d probably be the best employee ever, doing everything possible to get that fat raise. If you didn’t already know, on July 1st, Zach Parise becomes an unrestricted free agent. Before the playoffs began, Parise was already going to be the top free agent forward, now he’s helped his team knock off the Flyers and Rangers back to back, and his value just gets higher and higher. There’s a chance he resigns with the Devils, but with Ilya Kovalchuk taking up so much cap space, it might be hard in the salary cap era to build a team around two players who make so much money. So we’re faced with a situation I can’t ever remember happening in my lifetime. Zach Parise could lift the Cup for New Jersey, celebrate in the parade, and then sign with another team less than a month later. His options will be as open as Lebron James when he hit free agency: any team without the cap room to sign him would happily trade away their established players if Parise shows interest. One team with just over $10 million in cap space who is rumored to be interested in Parise? The Los Angeles Kings.
Brown: The other day I was reading online about my favorite current TV show, Game of Thrones, when my eyes came across something they shouldn’t have: a spoiler of a character who has died in the books but not yet the TV show. Without any sort of Men In Black weapon to erase my memory, I started to get pissed off at the jerk who finds pleasure in ruining my viewing experience. But there are some people who make a living out of pissing other people off: Professional wrestling bad guys, Glenn Beck, but in hockey we lovingly refer to these types of players as simply “Agitators”. It’s a simple formula: piss off a player on the other team, they retaliate by punching you in the face, the referee sees it and your team goes on a Power Play. Now most agitators aren’t expected to do much else other than agitate, which is why the best of them is Kings captain Dustin Brown. He puts up points, and plays a very strong defensive game, but you absolutely need to classify this guy as an agitator. At the end of the Coyotes series, after a questionable hit by Brown and the series-clinching goal – possibly the franchise-clinching goal if the Coyotes relocate in the offseason – the traditional post-game handshakes were filled with venom. It’s a tradition that in playoff hockey, you beat the crap outta the other team, despising their players, until the series is over. Then, you shake hands to prove you respect the game of hockey and the other team. After the Kings-Coyotes series, captain Shane Doan and Martin Hanzal (so hot right now) took the opportunity to trash-talk Brown as they shook his hand, causing a controversy. It doesn’t matter if you think their trash-talk was justifiable or classless, what matters is Dustin Brown got under their skin, as he will continue to do. Perfect example of the “guy you love when he plays for you, hate when he plays against you” stereotype.
Prediction: No matter who wins the Cup, the Devils (a 6th seed) or the Kings (an 8th seed) will be the lowest seed ever to win hockey’s grandest prize. Both teams are filled with players who have dreamed about the Cup since they put on ice skates for the first time. If I’m going on what I’ve seen in the playoffs so far, I have to give the edge to the Kings. Ever since the trade deadline deal for Jeff Carter, this has been a completely different team: offensively, defensively, and especially in goal. They’ve taken down the 1, 2, and 3 seeds in order, winning every series in 5 or less games. However, despite their regular season records, I still believe the Devils have had the harder road to the finals: the Flyers and Rangers are simply better teams than the Blues and Coyotes. Though while it would be a nice story for Brodeur to win his 4th cup and establish himself as the greatest goaltender of all time, I truly believe it’s better for the sport of hockey if Los Angeles gets its first Cup. For the past couple of years, LA has belonged to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. I specifically loved finding eight-dollar Kings tickets on stubhub: why go see a movie when you could see a hockey game for the same price? But the Kings are a team with depth and youth at all positions, their uniforms are simply awesome, and the bandwagony nature of Los Angeles could turn the 2nd largest American city into a die-hard hockey market. That’s good for Los Angeles, good for the NHL, and good for ice hockey in general. I’m gonna take the Kings in 6, raising the Cup at the Staples Center, a fitting end to what has been an awesome playoffs.