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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
John Mitchell
Avs' Mitchell (Face) Out Second Straight Game
John Mitchell, C, COL
11/26/2014
News: John Mitchell (leg) will not play Tuesday against the Coyotes, Mike Chambers of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: John Mitchell didn't even make the trip to Arizona for the game, as he continues to recover from the injury he's believed to have sustained last Thursday against the Capitals. Since it doesn't sound like he's resumed skating yet, it appears doubtful that Mitchell will be able to play in Wednesday's home date with the Blackhawks.

Alex Tanguay
Avs Reverse Course, Rule Tanguay Out Tuesday
Alex Tanguay, LW, COL
11/26/2014
News: Alex Tanguay (fractured jaw), who was expected to return to the lineup Tuesday against the Coyotes, will instead miss his second consecutive game, Mike Chambers of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: After it was indicated a day earlier that Alex Tanguay wouldn't have to miss further time due to the jaw injury, coach Patrick Roy said the forward was still experiencing blurred vision and pain on the side of his head following Tuesday's morning skate. Fortunately, it doesn't sound like the setback is significant for Tanguay at the moment, so with an extra day off, the possibility exists that he could be ready to go when the Avs return home for a game Wednesday versus the Blackhawks.

Clayton Stoner
Ducks' Stoner Skates Tuesday Morning
Clayton Stoner, D, ANA
11/26/2014
News: Clayton Stoner (illness) took part in Tuesday's morning skate but doesn't think he'll be cleared to return until the weekend, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Merely being on the ice amounts to a good sign for Clayton Stoner, as it was feared that he had been the latest Ducks player to succumb to the debilitating mumps virus. Stoner's symptoms were believed to be similar to the virus, but team doctors determined his particular illness wasn't contagious after he never experienced a fever. He's still need to skate for a few days to get his conditioning back up to par before coach Bruce Boudreau decides whether or not to use him Friday versus the Blackhawks.

Donald Brashear
Ex-NHLer Brashear Signs With Swedish Team
Donald Brashear, LW, ATL
11/26/2014
News: Donald Brashear signed a contract with MODO of the Swedish Hockey League on Tuesday.
Analysis: The move seemingly comes out of nowhere, as Donald Brashear hasn't played professional hockey since the 2009-10. It appears Brashear's relationship with former Flyers teammate Peter Forsberg, who serves as MODO's assistant GM, might have influenced the club's decision to bring him aboard. The long-time tough guy will be tasked with protecting MODO's stars, which most notably includes Maple Leafs prospect William Nylander, a top-10 pick in last June's NHL Entry Draft.

Sergei Bobrovsky
Jackets To Start Bobrovsky On Tuesday
Sergei Bobrovsky, G, CLB
11/26/2014
News: Sergei Bobrovsky will be in the net Tuesday against the Jets.
Analysis: Since holding the Sharks to one goal on 37 shots in his return from injured reserve Nov. 15, Sergei Bobrovsky has dropped his last three turns, yielding at least three goals in all of them. Fortunately, he'll have a good chance to turn the tide versus a struggling Jets attack that rank 29th in the NHL in scoring with 1.95 goals per game.

Bo Horvat
Horvat To Stick With Canucks
Bo Horvat, C, VAN
11/26/2014
News: Bo Horvat will remain with the Canucks rather than return to his junior team after his nine-game trial ends.
Analysis: Recalled by the Canucks earlier in November after missing the season's first month while recovering from a shoulder injury, Bo Horvat needed to impress out of the gate to warrant staying in Vancouver, and he was able to do just that. He's been especially superb over the Canucks' last two games, potting his first NHL goal on Nov. 20 and gathering three assists in Sunday's victory Sunday night. The 19-year-old could notice increased ice time after the three-assist performance, so it's certainly worthwhile to track him the next few games and possibly pick him up if he continues to thrive.

Brian Elliott
Blues' Elliot Out With Lower-Body Injury
Brian Elliott, G, STL
7:11 PM
News: Brian Elliott has a lower body injury and will not return to Tuesday's game, NHL.com's Lou Korac reports.
Analysis: He collided with a member of the Senators in Tuesday's game, and while the contact was incidental, it was enough to keep Brian Elliott from returning. He was replaced by Jake Allen and should be considered day-to-day.

David Jones
Flames' Jones Set To Return Wednesday
David Jones, RW, CGY
6:58 PM
News: Coach Bob Hartley said he expects David Jones (upper body) back in the lineup Wednesday versus the Sharks, Randy Sportak of the Calgary Sun reports.
Analysis: After he was able to practice fully Monday, it looked like David Jones might be an option for Tuesday's game against the Ducks, but the Flames elected to give him an additional day of recovery time. The Flames will need to send one of their current skaters to the minors in order to activate Jones, who missed four games with the upper-body injury.

Kari Lehtonen
Stars' Lehtonen Confirmed For Tuesday
Kari Lehtonen, G, DAL
5:07 PM
News: Kari Lehtonen led the Stars on to the ice and will be between the pipes Tuesday against the Oilers, NHL.com's Mark Stepneski reports.
Analysis: Confirming what was already widely assumed, Kari Lehtonen will make his eighth straight start in goal. Viktor Fasth will man the net for the opposition.

Milan Michalek
Sens Scratch Michalek On Tuesday
Milan Michalek, LW, OTT
4:39 PM
News: Milan Michalek wasn't on the ice for pregame warmups and will be a healthy scratch for Tuesday's game against the Blues, Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reports.
Analysis: The Senators have dropped six of their last eight games, and though Milan Michalek hasn't been a total void during that stretch (four points), coach Paul MacLean seems inclined to shake up his lineup in an attempt to find some more productive trios. Mika Zibanejad will also spend Tuesday's game with Michalek in the press box, as both Colin Greening and Erik Condra step in to replace them.

 
 
 
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