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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
Mikael Backlund
Flames' Backlund More Injured Than Thought
Mikael Backlund, C, CGY
12:55 AM
News: Mikael Backlund's abdominal strain is worse than originally thought, Kristen Odland of the Calgary Herald reports.
Analysis: Mikael Backlund was originally expected to be ready for the start of the regular season, but head coach Bob Hartley stated Monday that he's worried about Backlund's status. The team hasn't given any sort of timetable for the center's return, so keep an eye out for an update in the next few days.

Jhonas Enroth
Sabres' Enroth Starts Tuesday
Jhonas Enroth, G, BUF
9/22/2014
News: The Sabres will start Jhonas Enroth against Carolina on Tuesday.
Analysis: Jhonas Enroth is battling Michal Neuvirth for the starting job and will get his first challenge Tuesday. Nathan Lieuwen played the full game in the Sabres' first preseason game Sunday, so head coach Ted Nolan might play Enroth for the entire game. A strong performance will help solidify Enroth's case to the Sabres' No. 1 goaltender.

Josh Bailey
Bailey Gets First Shot At Top Line For The Isles
Josh Bailey, LW, NYI
9/22/2014
News: Josh Bailey scored his first goal of the preseason Monday versus the Senators.
Analysis: What makes this worthy of an update isn't the goal he scored but rather he was given the first opportunity to play on the top line with John Tavares. Training camp is likely to be an open tryout for several Islanders to prove they should play on the wing opposite Tavares and see their Fantasy value rise accordingly.

Pavel Datsyuk
Red Wings' Datsyuk Suffers Shoulder Injury
Pavel Datsyuk, C, DET
9/22/2014
News: Pavel Datsyuk injured his shoulder in Monday's preseason opener against the Penguins, MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports.
Analysis: Pavel Datsyuk returned to training camp at full health after undergoing a minor knee procedure in April, but it didn't take long for him to get nicked up again. While he played well in his return to the ice, notching a goal and assist Monday, the painful check he absorbed from defenseman Robert Scuderi ended up marring his night. The Red Wings should relay more information on his condition Tuesday, but needless to say, it's not encouraging to see the 36-year-old already falling victim to injury.

Beau Bennett
Pens' Bennett Scores Monday
Beau Bennett, RW, PIT
9/22/2014
News: Beau Bennett scored Pittsburgh's lone goal Monday against Detroit, netting a wrister from 30 feet.
Analysis: The winger ranks near the top of his team in terms of skill, but he's skated on a line with Steve Downie and Brandon Sutter in the early going. Beau Bennett may have to wait for an injury to secure a top-six spot and a place on the first-unit power play, but it's a good bet he ends up on a top-two line -- provided he stays healthy.

Eric Fehr
Caps' Fehr Gets Two Points In Loss To Flyers
Eric Fehr, RW, WAS
9/22/2014
News: Eric Fehr finished with a goal and an assist, along with two shots in 17:12 of ice time during Monday's 5-4 loss to the Flyers.
Analysis: Eric Fehr played on a line with Marcus Johansson, one of the contenders for the team's second-line center job, and rookie Jakub Vrana. Given his versatility, Fehr will be a valuable player for the Capitals this season, but it is not yet clear whether he will get top-six forward minutes yet. Fehr spent most of last season centering Jason Chimera and Joel Ward, and although it was a productive unit, the team looks like they are moving him back to wing for the 2014-2015 season. Unless he becomes a fixture alongside the likes of Alex Ovechkin or Nicklas Backstrom, Fehr's fantasy value is likely limited to deeper leagues.

Troy Brouwer
Caps' Brouwer Has Goal, Assist In Loss To Flyers
Troy Brouwer, RW, WAS
9/22/2014
News: Troy Brouwer finished with a goal and an assist to go along with three SOG in 18:00 of ice-time during the Capitals' 5-4 loss to the Flyers on Monday.
Analysis: Both of Troy Brouwer's points came on the power-play. He played on an even-strength line with Evgeny Kuznetsov, believed to have the inside track on the team's second-line center job. It's looking like Brouwer will be a fixture on a scoring line in DC this coming season, giving the power-forward some sleeper potential in deeper leagues.

Alexander Semin
Canes' Semin To Miss Second Preseason Game
Alexander Semin, RW, CAR
9/22/2014
News: Alexander Semin will be held out of the Canes' second preseason game Tuesday against the Sabres, Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Analysis: Alexander Semin had offseason surgery on his wrist, and the move to limit his preseason game action by new coach Bill Peters is reportedly just a cautionary move. So far, there has been no word of Semin re-injuring his wrist in training camp, so we fully expect him to start the regular season on schedule at this point.

Adam McQuaid
B's McQuaid Back At Full Strength
Adam McQuaid, D, BOS
9/22/2014
News: Adam McQuaid participated in Sunday's team scrimmage, a sign that he's fully recovered from his May right ankle surgery, Stephen Harris of the Boston Herald reports.
Analysis: An array of second-half injuries limited Adam McQuaid to just 32 games last season, but the physical rearguard should be ready to go for the start of the 2014-15 campaign. Though he's now healthy, the Bruins could transition McQuaid into more of a seventh defenseman role this season, with young guns Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Kevan Miller all on track to earn close to full-time roles along the Bruins' blue line.

Anton Khudobin
Canes' Khudobin To Start Preseason Game Tuesday
Anton Khudobin, G, CAR
9/22/2014
News: Anton Khudobin will start the Canes' second preseason game Tuesday against the Sabres, Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer reports.
Analysis: The Canes lost 4-3 to the Blue Jackets on Sunday with Cam Ward starting in net, however Ward did receive a positive review from new head coach Bill Peters. Given Ward's hefty contract, along with the length of his tenure in Raleigh, Anton Khudobin will likely have to stand on his head in the preseason to have a real shot at opening the season as the team's No. 1 netminder.

 
 
 
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