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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
Kari Lehtonen
Stars' Lehtonen Stops 35 To Beat Oilers
Kari Lehtonen, G, DAL
12:34 PM
News: Kari Lehtonen made 35 saves on 37 shots in Tuesday's victory over Edmonton.
Analysis: That's three straight wins for Kari Lehtonen now, and if he gave up four goals in one of them, well, at least he faced 41 shots in that game. All in all, he's showing good signs of getting his game on track after a disappointing start to the season.

Viktor Fasth
Oilers Fall Despite Fasth's 31 Stops
Viktor Fasth, G, EDM
12:27 PM
News: Viktor Fasth allowed three goals on 34 shots in Tuesday's 3-2 loss to Dallas.
Analysis: A pair of Tyler Seguin goals in the second period ended up giving the Stars enough cushion to beat Edmonton, and Viktor Fasth can hardly be faulted for being Seguin's latest victim. Nonetheless, he's now taken losses in three straight starts and six out of eight on the season.

John Klingberg
Stars' Klingberg Starring
John Klingberg, D, DAL
12:22 PM
News: John Klingberg extended his goal streak to three games and his point streak to five in Tuesday's win over Edmonton, going plus-3 with his third marker of the year and an assist.
Analysis: John Klingberg's achieved near-instant stardom in his first taste of the NHL, having started with three scoreless contests before exploding for eight points over the last five games.

Tyler Seguin
Stars' Seguin Heating Up Again
Tyler Seguin, C, DAL
12:12 PM
News: Tyler Seguin scored a pair of goals on five shots and went plus-2 in Tuesday's win over Edmonton.
Analysis: Uh oh, he's starting another one of those super-hot streaks now. That's five goals, an assist and a plus-7 rating for Tyler Seguin over the last four games.

Jacob Trouba
Jets' Trouba Notches Two Helpers
Jacob Trouba, D, WPG
12:01 PM
News: Jacob Trouba picked up a pair of assists on Evander Kane power-play goals -- the second an empty-netter -- in Tuesday's win over Columbus.
Analysis: It's not exactly front-page news, but Jacob Trouba does have three points over the last three games after totaling just three over his first 20 contests of the year. He's had a little bit of bad puck luck, but remains superbly talented and is skating major minutes -- 24:11 on Tuesday -- for the Jets.

Mike Smith
Coyotes' Smith Allows Four In Loss
Mike Smith, G, ARI
3:07 AM
News: Mike Smith allowed four goals on 35 shots in Tuesday's loss to Arizona.
Analysis: With yet another loss, Mike Smith falls to 0-6-1 in his last seven starts. Yikes. He's had a couple good starts mixed in there, but four-plus-goal outings like this have been far from unusual for Smith this year.

Reto Berra
Avs Pull Berra Early
Reto Berra, G, COL
3:04 AM
News: Reto Berra was pulled after playing just 10:53 on Tuesday and giving up three goals on eight shots. Calvin Pickard was perfect in his place, stopping 25 of 25.
Analysis: Looking down the season stat line, it becomes quite clear that Reto Berra is about as low-end as NHL goalies come. The Avs must be hungering for Semyon Varlmaov to come back from his groin issue.

Frederik Andersen
Andersen's 32 Stops Help Ducks To Win
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA
2:59 AM
News: Frederik Andersen saved 32 of 34 shots Tuesday in a 3-2 victory over Calgary.
Analysis: That's three straight wins for Frederik Andersen, who's back to building momentum following a period of inconsistent play. With John Gibson (groin) still out, he should be starting nearly every game.

Colin Wilson
Two Helpers For Preds' Wilson
Colin Wilson, C, NSH
2:55 AM
News: Colin Wilson notched a pair of assists in Tuesday's shootout win over the Kings.
Analysis: He's been producing over the last four games, racking up two goals, three assists and a plus-4. However, Colin Wilson's overall production has, as usual, been fairly sporadic, as he has just nine points in 19 games for the season.

Craig Smith
Preds' Smith Notches Two Points In Win
Craig Smith, C, NSH
2:52 AM
News: Craig Smith gathered a goal and an assist in Tuesday's shootout win over the Kings, finishing plus-1 with four shots on goal and two takeaways.
Analysis: Craig Smith's been rolling along nicely of late, with two goals, three helpers, a plus-5 rating, six PIM and 21 shots on goal over the last five games. He's still a decent bit short of last season's scoring pace, but things are definitely coming along.

 
 
 
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