The New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings are set to face off in the Stanley Cup finals. Though not the teams most expected to have survived, there is no denying that both deserve the right to be the last two clubs standing.
Both finalists have taken very different paths to reach this point. The Kings were the #8 (last) seed in the Western Conference with only 95 points, which meant they would have to face the President’s Trophy recipients — the league leading Vancouver Canucks (111 points) — in the first round. The Kings shocked the hockey world by dismantling the Canucks in only five games.The Kings followed that up in the second round by dominating the second-seeded St. Louis Blues, winning in a four-game sweep. Add into the equation that they capped off the Western Conference Finals by taking down the third-seeded Phoenix Coyotes in only five games, and you have one of the most intriguing Cinderella stories in recent memory. Remember, this is a team that has experienced little success as a franchise; their last Stanley Cup appearance was in 1993. Maybe this wild run will generate more hockey enthusiasts in L.A., a place that is not exactly a “hockey town” and where the Kings have always taken a backseat to the other major sports teams.
The Devils’ path to the Stanley Cup Finals was quite different. Unlike the Kings, the Devils experienced much success during their stay in the Garden State, winning the Stanley Cup in 1995, 2000, and 2003. They were also one of the most dominant teams in the NHL, making the playoffs an impressive 13 straight seasons (1996-2010). However, New Jersey never had deep runs in the postseason after winning it all in 2003, and had a miserable 2010-2011 campaign that kept them out of the postseason
New season, new team, new opportunities. That is how New Jersey took on the 2011-2012 season, as they finished in 6th place in the Eastern Conference standings with 102 points. Despite being heavily favored in the first round against the third-seeded Panthers, the Devils had to stave off elimination with dramatic overtime wins in Game 6 and 7 to take the series from Florida.
The Devils went on to drop the series opener to the high-powered Philadelphia Flyers in the next round, but rebounded nicely to take the next four games and set up a Hudson River battle against the New York Rangers for the Eastern Conference title.
New Jersey and New York traded wins to set up a pivotal Game 5, which the Devils took with a 5-3 victory. A hotly fought 3-2 overtime win in Game 6 secured their trip to the Finals.
Both the Devils and Kings have exhibited gritty play, heart and an entertaining flare for the dramatic in getting to this point. Perhaps it will be even more fun to watch now knowing that neither team was expected to be amongst the last two skating and that either could prevail. However, should L.A. win, it would be the perfect fairy tale ending to a remarkable Cinderella story.
Which team do you expect to take the Stanley Cup home?