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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
Michael Keranen
Wild, Keranen Agree To One-Year Deal
Michael Keranen, LW, MIN
12:21 AM
News: Karanen agreed to a one-year, two-way deal with the Wild on Friday, Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports.
Analysis: Michael Keranen appeared in 70 games for AHL Iowa this season, registering 10 goals and 27 assists to go with a minus-12 rating. He'll look to crack the Wild's roster at some point in 2015-16.

Kevin Klein
Rangers' Klein Assists Twice In Game 4 Win
Kevin Klein, D, NYR
5/22/2015
News: Kevin Klein dished out two helpers, went plus-2, collected two PIM, blocked two shots and laid four hits in Friday's Game 4 victory over the Lightning.
Analysis: That's a lot of work for just 17:43 on the ice. It's Kevin Klein's first multi-point game of these playoffs, which started on a delay for him due to a broken arm. We've yet to see Klein find twine in the postseason after he did so nine times in 65 regular-season games, but he's been getting involved with the offense regularly, so it wouldn't be a surprise if the veteran were to find his way onto the scoresheet again soon.

Ben Bishop
Bishop Tagged For Five As Bolts Drop Game 4
Ben Bishop, G, TB
5/22/2015
News: Ben Bishop gave up five goals on just 24 shots Friday, leaving him with a series-tying Game-4 loss to the Rangers.
Analysis: A rough one for Ben Bishop, who saw his teammates fire 39 shots on opposing netminder Henrik Lundqvist, but this time they only got through the Rangers' goalie once. For all that Lundqvist had been criticized for giving up six goals in consecutive games, Bishop has been no stud himself in this series, as he's now allowed five goals twice in a row. He'll try to right the ship in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden on Sunday night.

Kevin Hayes
Rangers' Hayes Providing Steady Offense
Kevin Hayes, RW, NYR
5/22/2015
News: Kevin Hayes assisted on both of Rick Nash's goals -- one on the power play -- Friday as the Rangers took Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final from the Lightning by a 5-1 tally.
Analysis: Kevin Hayes has been providing consistent offense since Game 7 against Washington -- he scored a goal in that one, keying a run of five points in five games. The young forward has looked lost at times in these playoffs, but he generates takeaways and offense brilliantly, and the fact that he was able to help Nash wake up Friday is quite promising.

Rick Nash
Rangers' Nash Snaps Slump With Two Goals, Assist
Rick Nash, LW, NYR
5/22/2015
News: Rick Nash ended his four-game scoring drought with two goals -- one on the power play -- and an assist in Friday's Game 4 victory over Tampa Bay.
Analysis: Rick Nash's late-first-period goal, scored on a breakaway backhander past Ben Bishop, energized the Rangers and led to a big day for several guys who have been struggling of late -- in addition to Nash's bust-out, Martin St. Louis and Keith Yandle both scored their first goals of the playoffs, and Kevin Klein had his first multi-point game of the postseason. We've been waiting for Nash to get it going, and if he remains an offensive factor moving forward, he'll give the Rangers a great chance to win this series and move on to play for the Stanley Cup.

Martin St. Louis
Rangers' St. Louis Scores First Of Playoffs
Martin St. Louis, RW, NYR
5/22/2015
News: Martin St. Louis finally scored his first goal of the playoffs Friday in Game 4 against the Lightning, tallying on a third-period power play.
Analysis: The game was still very much in the balance with the Rangers leading 3-1 at the time, but Martin St. Louis gave New York a little extra cushion and really deflated the Lightning, who appeared to be in disarray for the rest of the game after his goal. These playoffs have certainly been a struggle for St. Louis, who's looking like he's coming to the end of his illustrious career, but he's at least starting to show a little more over the last few games. The Rangers will need him to provide more offense as they try to win two of the next three to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

Keith Yandle
Yandle Finally Breaks Through For Rangers
Keith Yandle, D, NYR
5/22/2015
News: Keith Yandle scored his first goal of the playoffs and handed out two assists -- one on the power play -- in Friday's Game 4 victory over Tampa Bay.
Analysis: The goal was a lucky one -- he fired a shot that was headed well wide of Tampa goalie Ben Bishop, but ended up deflecting in off a Lightning defenseman and into the net. Nonetheless, it's a fitting reward for Keith Yandle's tremendously improved play over the last few games. He's got nine points in these playoffs now, with five of them (and a plus-4 rating) having come in the last two games.

Henrik Lundqvist
Lundqvist's Heroics Help Rangers Tie Series
Henrik Lundqvist, G, NYR
5/22/2015
News: Henrik Lundqvist was named Game 4's first star Friday after turning aside 38 of 39 shots in a 5-1 win over Tampa Bay.
Analysis: This one was much closer than it looked on the scoreboard most of the way, but Henrik Lundqvist was able to bounce back from consecutive six-goal disasters to shut down the Tampa Bay offense -- most critically in the second period, when the Bolts fired 19 shots on goal to the Rangers' six. Lundqvist's huge saves in that period kept the Lightning from turning the tide of the game after their first (and only) goal, and then the Rangers' offense went to work. Henrik and the Rangers will be back in action Sunday for Game 5 at Madison Square Garden.

Patrick Maroon
Ducks' Maroon Tallies First Point Of Series
Patrick Maroon, LW, ANA
5/22/2015
News: Patrick Maroon scored his first goal of the Western Conference Final on Thursday, helping along a 2-1 victory over the Blackhawks in Game 3.
Analysis: Patrick Maroon had been silent in both games at the Honda Center to start the series, but wasted no time in Game 3, as he opened the scoring on a power play in the first. The goal is his fifth of the postseason, tying him with Matt Beleskey for second on the team behind Corey Perry (eight).

Joakim Nordstrom
Nordstrom Back In For 'Hawks
Joakim Nordstrom, C, CHI
5/22/2015
News: Joakim Nordstrom made just his third appearance of the playoffs Thursday in a Game 3 loss to Anaheim, skating 7:06 and going minus-1 with a shot on goal and three hits.
Analysis: Joakim Nordstrom hasn't seen much playing time in the postseason, obviously, but he and Kris Versteeg were surprising additions to Thursday's lineup, with Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen sitting out to make room. Even if Nordstrom stays on the ice come Saturday's Game 4, he's a very low-upside fantasy option.

 
 
 
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