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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 Perry
Ducks' Perry Skates Wednesday
Corey Perry, RW, ANA
11:56 AM
News: Corey Perry (knee) skated on his own back in Anaheim on Wednesday, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Corey Perry isn't traveling with the Ducks on their road trip while he remains more than a few days away from playing, but his return to the ice does offer hope that he's coming close to the end of his recovery timetable. If he demonstrates strong progress over the next few days, he could be activated in time for next Monday's home game against the Sharks. Otherwise, his return wouldn't come until after the Christmas break.

Francois Beauchemin
Ducks' Beauchemin Not Likely To Play Thursday
Francois Beauchemin, D, ANA
11:51 AM
News: Francois Beauchemin (finger) isn't expected to play Thursday against the Canadiens, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Though Francois Beauchemin continues to make progress with his broken finger, he seems intent on making sure he's 100 percent healthy before playing. The Ducks are still optimistic about his chances of being available over the weekend.

Eddie Lack
Canucks Going With Lack On Wednesday
Eddie Lack, G, VAN
11:45 AM
News: Eddie Lack will be in the crease Wednesday against the Stars, Jim Jamieson of the Vancouver Province reports.
Analysis: Coach Willie Desjardins said that the team had scheduled Eddie Lack for this turn all along, so his fantasy owners need not read too much into him getting the nod over Ryan Miller in a non-back-to-back scenario. Lack's numbers over 10 appearances this season are rather pedestrian (2.77 GAA, .911 save percentage), but the Stars have received even worse play from their goalies. It wouldn't be surprising if Wednesday's contest turned into a high-scoring affair.

Mike Weaver
Habs' Weaver Cleared For Contact
Mike Weaver, D, MON
11:36 AM
News: Mike Weaver (concussion) was cleared for contact during Wednesday's practice.
Analysis: The concussion symptoms seem to have dissipated for Mike Weaver, who has been out since Dec. 6. The Canadiens will still have to activate him from IR before he's able to return to the lineup, which could happen after he logs another practice or two.

Derick Brassard
Mumps Confirmed For Rangers' Brassard
Derick Brassard, C, NYR
11:29 AM
News: Derick Brassard (illness) has been confirmed to have a case of the mumps, Steve Zipay of Newsday reports.
Analysis: Derick Brassard will remain away from the Rangers until his contagious symptoms have subsided. He's the 15th NHL player confirmed to have acquired the mumps this season, and the second Rangers player after Tanner Glass was diagnosed with the virus in late November.

Vincent Lecavalier
Flyers' Lecavalier Likely To Play
Vincent Lecavalier, C, PHI
11:27 AM
News: Coach Craig Berube said after Wednesday's practice that there is a "good chance" Vincent Lecavalier will play Thursday against the Panthers, Tim Panaccio of CSN Philadelphia reports.
Analysis: Vincent Lecavalier has spent the previous seven games in the press box, but it looks like Berube has finally warmed up to the idea of returning the pricey veteran into the lineup. Berube said Lecavalier would likely play at his natural center spot Thursday, though probably in a bottom-six role, making it difficult for him to deliver much value.

Stephen Weiss
Red Wings' Weiss Expected Back Before Christmas
Stephen Weiss, C, DET
11:23 AM
News: Stephen Weiss (shoulder) is expected to return to the Red Wings lineup before Christmas, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press reports.
Analysis: The Red Wings probably won't have a firmer target date for Stephen Weiss' return until he starts practicing with the team, but fortunately, it seems that the team is ruling out an absence of more than a month for the forward. Weiss' two-year stint in Detroit has largely been a tumultuous one due to his repeated setbacks on the health front, but he has been outstanding in the 11 games he's suited up for this season, netting four goals and 10 points.

Johan Franzen
Red Wings' Franzen Expected To Play Friday
Johan Franzen, LW, DET
11:21 AM
News: Johan Franzen (illness) is expected to play Friday against the Islanders, Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press reports.
Analysis: It doesn't sound like Johan Franzen has experienced any symptoms related to the mumps virus that has been making its way around the league, so with a couple more days to recuperate, he should be ready to play. His availability for Friday's game should be confirmed after the Red Wings hold their morning skate that day.

John Curry
Wild Recall Curry
John Curry, G, MIN
11:18 AM
News: John Curry was recalled from AHL Iowa on Wednesday, Chad Graff of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.
Analysis: With both Niklas Backstrom and Darcy Kuemper battling stomach illnesses and uncertain to suit up Wednesday, John Curry will be on hand as an insurance option. It appears Backstrom's illness isn't as severe as Kuemper's, so he's generally expected to make the start, likely leaving Curry to serve as the backup.

Chris Kunitz
Pens' Kunitz Close To Return, But Not For Thursday
Chris Kunitz, LW, PIT
11:16 AM
News: Chris Kunitz (foot) is considered close to a return, but will not play Thursday against the Avalanche, Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports.
Analysis: Chris Kunitz first resumed practicing with the team Wednesday, so it's understandable that the Penguins aren't willing to rush him back into a game a day later when he probably still needs to get his conditioning up to snuff. Assuming that his broken foot doesn't cause further problems while he skates the next couple of days, look for Kunitz to potentially suit up for Saturday's tilt with the Panthers.

 
 
 
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