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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
Corey Crawford
Blackhawks' Crawford Back In For Game 3
Corey Crawford, G, CHI
12:57 AM
News: Corey Crawford will be back in the crease for Tuesday's Game 3 against the Wild, Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune reports.
Analysis: After delivering victories for the Blackhawks in the first two games of the series, Corey Crawford will unsurprisingly remain in the crease as his team looks to extend its playoff winning streak against the Wild to nine games. Should he struggle as the series shifts to Minnesota, Crawford probably would still have to worry about getting replaced by Scott Darling as the Blackhawks' primary netminder, but for now, coach Joel Quenneville will ride Crawford while he's playing well.

Ryan Pulock
Isles' Pulock Could Make Team As A PP Specialist
Ryan Pulock, D, NYI
5/4/2015
News: Ryan Pulock's best chance to make the Islanders out of training camp could be as the point man on the power play, according to SNY.tv.
Analysis: The Islanders took a doughnut on the power play versus the Capitals in the playoffs and the PP also wasn't up to par during the final weeks of the regular season. One of Ryan Pulock's best attributes is his cannon of a shot from the point, something the Islanders could desperately use, especially if Lubomir Visnovsky decides to retire.

Jay Beagle
Caps' Beagle Gets Game-Winner
Jay Beagle, C, WAS
5/4/2015
News: Jay Beagle scored the lone goal in Monday's Game 3 win over the Rangers.
Analysis: The shot came from behind the net and deflected off the skate of a Ranger defender, but Jay Beagle's tally ended up being the deciding tally in another tightly contested game. The four points are already a career-high in a single postseason for Beagle, but it may not necessarily be production that's sustainable.

Darnell Nurse
Oilers' Nurse Called Up To AHL
Darnell Nurse, D, EDM
5/4/2015
News: Darnell Nurse has been summoned to play in the second round of the AHL playoffs for Oklahoma City, according to the Edmonton Journal.
Analysis: Darnell Nurse just finished playing against what will more than likely be his future teammate, Connor McDavid, in the junior hockey playoffs and now will play for the Barons. Nurse should be in training camp for the Oilers this September but should begin next season in Oklahoma City.

Braden Holtby
Caps' Holtby Perfect In Game 3
Braden Holtby, G, WAS
5/4/2015
News: Braden Holtby denied all 30 shots in Monday's Game 3 win over the Rangers.
Analysis: Braden Holtby has been stellar this postseason as he's posted a .948 save percentage in nine games and he's kept getting better as he's now at .958 in the second round. The offense in front of him was only able to muster one goal, so the shutout was crucial to preserve the win and grab the series lead. The Caps will likely need another big performance out of Holtby to take a commanding 3-1 series lead in Wednesday's Game 4.

Henrik Lundqvist
Rangers' Lundqvist Sharp In Loss
Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR
5/4/2015
News: Henrik Lundqvist turned aside 21 of 22 shots but was on the losing end of Monday's Game 3 against the Capitals.
Analysis: Henrik Lundqvist had another strong outing, but his mates couldn't find the back of the net as they were dealt the loss despite the King's fifth one-goal game of the playoffs. The one goal that did find it's way in came off a deflection from behind the net, but the Rangers will lean on Lundqvist to be just as solid again if they want to tie up the series in Wednesday's Game 4.

Kerby Rychel
Jackets' Rychel Cleared To Work Out
Kerby Rychel, LW, CLB
5/4/2015
News: Kerby Rychel (concussion) has been cleared to resume working out, Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: Kerby Rychel has been out since February with the head injury, but finally seems to be making progress in his recovery. If all goes well in his subsequent workout sessions, he should be good to go for the start of training camp in the fall, when he'll have a legitimate chance of cracking the Blue Jackets' roster.

Karri Ramo
Flames' Ramo To Start Game 3
Karri Ramo, G, CGY
5/4/2015
News: Karri Ramo will remain in goal for Tuesday's Game 3 against the Ducks, Pat Steinberg of Sportsnet.ca reports.
Analysis: Karri Ramo replaced Jonas Hiller as the Flames' starter in Game 2, stopping 31 of 33 shots in the loss. Although the Flames find themselves down 2-0 in the series, Ramo's strong performance in defeat Sunday will allow him to pick up another turn in net. Coach Bob Hartley has shown an inclination to ride the hot goalie this season, and it doesn't look like he'll plan on changing those tendencies anytime soon.

Tim Gleason
Caps' Gleason Will Play Monday
Tim Gleason, D, WAS
5/4/2015
News: Coach Barry Trotz said Tim Gleason (undisclosed) will not be in danger of missing Monday's Game 3 against the Rangers, Andrew Gross of The Record reports.
Analysis: The Capitals recalled Nate Schmidt from AHL Hershey on Sunday as insurance in the event Tim Gleason was unavailable, but it appears the move was strictly precautionary. Look for Gleason to see around 15 minutes of ice time on the Capitals' third defensive pairing.

David Desharnais
Habs' Desharnais Could Be Option For Game 3 Or 4
David Desharnais, C, MON
5/4/2015
News: Coach Michel Therrien said David Desharnais (illness) could possibly play in one of the Habs' two upcoming games in Tampa Bay, ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun reports.
Analysis: David Desharnais didn't travel with the team to Tampa Bay on Monday, but if he notices some more improvement with his condition, he'll likely join the Canadiens later on during their stay in Florida. He likely has a more realistic shot at playing in Thursday's Game 4 rather than Game 3 on Wednesday, which would give him an additional day to show the coaching staff that he's healthy.

 
 
 
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