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Neutral Zone Wrap: Get ready for the finals

by | Rotowire.com
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Assuming no one saw this coming. A six seed taking on an eight seed, but it's not as if either finalist finished way behind heading in to the postseason. Let's just call this the usual wackiness that happens this time of the year. For those who don't normally follow hockey, these playoffs have been as easy to predict as guaranteeing which team Rick Nash will end up with this summer. (Spoiler alert: It won't be Columbus).

Congrats to both the Devils and the Kings for reaching hockey's pinnacle. And to that one guy's dog who filled out the only correct playoff bracket on the planet. But enough about fictitious Fantasy glory. Let's see what these two have to do to get a clue. Or win it all. Whatever comes first.

Stanley Cup Finals Preview

New Jersey (No. 6 seed in the East) vs. Los Angeles (No. 8 seed in theWest)

Season series: New Jersey 2-0

Guess Ilya Kovalchuk (now on top in postseason scoring with 18 points) is really worth all that $100 million ... After heating up the first two series, Travis Zajac (10 in 11) fell back to Earth (two in seven)... Paging Patrik Elias (only six, with a lone goal in the Rangers series). Would someone please find out to where he has disappeared? ... Not bad when your fourth line (Stephen Gionta, Ryan Carter, and Steve Bernier combining for 19 points) becomes a regular contributor ... Marek Zidlicky (eight, including four on the power-play) may be the blueliner everyone expects to produce but Bryce Salvador not only leads Jersey defensemen in points (11) but can claim the best plus-minus (plus-10) of any Devil...Is there anything Dustin Brown (leads or is tied for first with plus-13, 24 penalty minutes, 49 shots on goal, 67 hits, two short-handed goals) can't do? ... After their adventures in Philly, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter (totaling 20, including four power-play goals) have been able to chip in very nicely ... Never really heard much from Trevor Lewis (13 in 72) during the regular season, but way to step it up lately -- especially against Phoenix (four in five) ... Another surprise up front has been rookie Dwight King (four in five), who posted solid numbers in two different leagues (14 in 27 in the NHL and 29 in 50 in the AHL) ... There is life beyond Drew Doughty (10) on defense, although neither Slava Voynov (three) nor Willie Mitchell (two) has regularly found the scoresheet.

Prediction: Both head-to-head meetings (2-1 and 3-0) were way back in October, so you can't really take much from them...The Devils' roster may contain more playoff experience, but there's no discounting how well the Kings have worked as a unit. The two sides have increased momentum as the rounds have progressed, so no advantage there. The city of Los Angeles has been waiting for a local winner since the franchise began 45 years ago (sorry, Anaheim doesn't count), although many residents still think the Kings play out of Sacramento. So, yeah, I'll stick to the boring pick of ... Kings in six.

The Conn Smythe candidates become increasingly obvious at this stage. You could almost swap any of these players at any spot in the following Top 5: 1. Dustin Brown; 2. Jonathan Quick; 3. Martin Brodeur; 4. Ilya Kovalchuk; 5. Adam Henrique. (Henrique may not possess the eye-popping stats (11), but you can't argue with two overtime game-series winning goals.)

Well, it's been an exciting season. But, as you well know, hockey never sleeps. There's the draft next month, but the real excitement begins July 1 when free agent season opens for business. So after the on-ice activity has concluded, sit tight and dream about the players your team will acquire (or jettison). I will return soon. Promise.

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Player News
Kevin Shattenkirk
Blues' Shattenkirk Confirmed To Be In Saturday
Kevin Shattenkirk, D, STL
12:57 AM
News: Coach Ken Hitchcock confirmed after Friday's practice that Kevin Shattenkirk (abdominal surgery) will return to the lineup Saturday against the Blue Jackets. The Blues have officially activated him from injured reserve.
Analysis: The Blues cushioned the loss of Kevin Shattenkirk a bit by acquiring Zbynek Michalek and Robert Bortuzzo at the trade deadline, but they'll welcome the All-Star's return with open arms for the stretch run. Prior to going down with the injury, Shattenkirk ranked among the league scoring leaders from the blue line, producing eight goals and 40 points in 49 games. Expect Shattenkirk to see his usual 20-plus minutes of ice time in his first game since Feb. 1.

Lauri Korpikoski
Coyotes' Korpikoski (Mouth) Out Saturday
Lauri Korpikoski, LW, ARI
12:49 AM
News: Lauri Korpikoski (mouth) won't play Saturday against the Penguins, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: Lauri Korpikoski skipped Friday's practice due to the persistence of a swollen mouth as the result of a high stick to the face Tuesday. While he remains day-to-day with the issue, Saturday won't be his return date. Tye McGinn will likely continue to dress in his place.

Kari Lehtonen
Stars' Lehtonen Gets Start Saturday
Kari Lehtonen, G, DAL
12:49 AM
News: Kari Lehtonen will be in the crease for Saturday's game against the Oilers, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports.
Analysis: The Stars will begin a back-to-back set Friday, and with the team still trying to force its way back into the playoff picture, it's conceivable that Kari Lehtonen could get the nod again Saturday in Vancouver. However, no decision on that front will likely be made until Lehtonen takes on the Oilers in what should be a favorable matchup for the goaltender. Edmonton ranks in the bottom fifth of the league in both goals and shot attempts per game, and with Lehtonen reeling off wins in seven of his last eight games, he'll make for an easy activation Friday.

Mike Smith
Coyotes Turn To Smith In Net Saturday
Mike Smith, G, ARI
12:42 AM
News: Mike Smith will make his fifth consecutive start in net Saturday against the Penguins, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: Mike Smith has been faced with a barrage of shots recently, averaging 35 saves over the span. He's won each of the last two contests, and he'll look to make it a third Saturday. However, Smith will need to be up to the task, as he will take on a Penguins offense averaging 2.72 goals per game.

Matt Fraser
Oilers' Fraser To Play Friday
Matt Fraser, LW, EDM
12:41 AM
News: Matt Fraser (concussion) will return to the lineup Friday against the Stars.
Analysis: Matt Fraser has missed the Oilers' previous four games with the concussion, which he suffered on a hit to the head from the Leafs' Nazem Kadri in a March 17 contest. Fittingly, Kadri was handed a four-game suspension for that hit, and now Fraser will rejoin the lineup after an absence of the same length. The winger is projected to skate on the Oilers' fourth line Friday alongside Luke Gazdic and Rob Klinkhammer.

Mark Fayne
Oilers' Fayne Deemed Unavailable Friday
Mark Fayne, D, EDM
12:38 AM
News: Mark Fayne (shoulder) will not play Friday against the Stars.
Analysis: Neither Mark Fayne nor Matt Hendricks (back) will be available Friday after leaving Wednesday's 4-3 win over the Avalanche with the injuries. The Oilers called up Brandon Davidson from AHL Oklahoma City on Thursday to cover for the absence of Fayne, who has compiled eight points and a minus-21 rating over 74 games this season.

Matt Hendricks
Oilers' Hendricks Out Friday
Matt Hendricks, C, EDM
12:34 AM
News: Matt Hendricks (back) will not play Friday against the Stars.
Analysis: Matt Hendricks succumbed to the injury in Wednesday's win over the Avalanche, skating just 8:27 before leaving the contest. The winger provides toughness in the Oilers' bottom-six ranks with 205 hits and 76 PIM on the season, but his limited offense and his poor plus/minus rating doesn't make him an appealing fantasy target.

Boyd Gordon
Oilers' Gordon Out Another Game
Boyd Gordon, C, EDM
12:32 AM
News: Boyd Gordon (back) will not play Friday against the Stars.
Analysis: Though the Oilers will miss Boyd Gordon's skills in the faceoff circle, the center's absence will cause considerably fewer ripples in the fantasy realm. Gordon has tallied only 13 points in 68 games this season while primarily skating on the Oilers' fourth line.

Alex Stalock
Sharks' Stalock Starts Saturday
Alex Stalock, G, SJ
12:30 AM
News: Alex Stalock will start in net Saturday against the Flyers, Kevin Kurz of CSN Bay Area reports.
Analysis: Alex Stalock hasn't made an appearance in net since March 18, but will finally return to the net Saturday. In 17 games this season, the netminder has posted a 6-7-1 record with a 2.65 GAA and .903 save percentage. He'll receive the benefit of facing a weak offensive opponent Saturday in the Flyers, who average a middling 2.57 goals per game.

Cam Ward
Canes' Ward To Start In Net Saturday
Cam Ward, G, CAR
12:29 AM
News: Cam Ward will be in the crease for Saturday's game against the Penguins, Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Analysis: The Hurricanes will go back to Cam Ward for a second straight game after he stopped 27 shots in Thursday's upset 5-2 victory over the Penguins. Coach Bill Peters has generally embraced a timeshare between Ward and Anton Khudobin, and seems unlikely to deviate from those plans over the final two weeks of the season. Ward's 2.43 GAA and .910 save percentage have been passable this season, but with the Hurricanes headed for a sub-.500 finish, the victories don't figure to trickle in for either of the team's goalies on a regular basis.

 
 
 
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