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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
Seth Jones
Preds' Jones Continues To Excel
Seth Jones, D, NSH
8:56 AM
News: Seth Jones set up Colin Wilson's second-period power-play goal in Tuesday's 4-3 win over the Avalanche.
Analysis: Since Ryan Ellis went down with a lower-body injury earlier in January, Seth Jones has thrived while taking on an expanded role defensively for the Predators. The 20-year-old has enjoyed the most productive stretch of his brief career, tallying an assist in four of his last five games. Jones' talent has always been matched by few, and now that he's finally starting to make good on it, he's a worthy roster addition for those looking for blue line help.

Jonathan Bernier
Leafs Turn To Bernier On Wednesday
Jonathan Bernier, G, TOR
8:54 AM
News: Jonathan Bernier is slated to start Wednesday's game against New Jersey, NHL.com's Mike Morreale reports.
Analysis: In his first game back from the All-Star break, Jonathan Bernier -- who has dropped his last four decisions -- will try to help the Leafs end a six-game slide that has landed the team in a three-way tie for 10th place in the Eastern Conference, with 47 points.

Al Montoya
Panthers' Montoya Perfect In Relief Tuesday
Al Montoya, G, FLA
8:53 AM
News: Al Montoya, working in relief of a struggling Roberto Luongo, denied all 10 shots that came his way in Tuesday's 5-4 loss to the Red Wings.
Analysis: Luongo was sent to the pine in the second period after allowing five goals on 17 shots. For Al Montoya, his last two appearances have come in relief and it's hard to count on a goalie lacking consistent starts between the pipes.

Filip Forsberg
Preds' Forsberg Nets 16th Goal
Filip Forsberg, C, NSH
8:52 AM
News: Filip Forsberg netted his 16th goal of the season in Tuesday's 4-3 overtime win over the Avalanche.
Analysis: With the goal, Filip Forsberg was able to maintain the team lead in the category ahead of Colin Wilson, who also scored in the win. The youngster is still flying high after scoring two goals in this past weekend's All-Star Game, and should remain a high-end fantasy asset in the second half.

Craig Smith
Preds' Smith Bags Game-Winner
Craig Smith, C, NSH
8:47 AM
News: Craig Smith scored the game-winning goal in Tuesday's overtime victory over the Avalanche.
Analysis: Craig Smith claimed first star honors after beating Avs goalie Semyon Varlamov on a breakaway at the 2:46 mark of the extra period. It's the 14th goal of the season for the 25-year-old, who ranks fourth on the team in that category.

Colin Wilson
Preds' Wilson Gets PP Goal
Colin Wilson, C, NSH
8:45 AM
News: Colin Wilson recorded a power-play goal in Tuesday's win over the Avalanche.
Analysis: Colin Wilson saw a four-game point streak come to an end earlier this month, but his continued presence on a talented second line that includes Mike Fisher and James Neal along with the Preds' secondary power-play unit should allow him to maintain some value. With 32 points in 44 games, the 25-year-old is well on his way to blowing past his previous full season-best of 35 points.

Gabriel Dumont
Habs Recall Dumont
Gabriel Dumont, C, MON
8:39 AM
News: The Canadiens have recalled Gabriel Dumont from AHL Hamilton, the Montreal Gazette reports.
Analysis: Gabriel Dumont, who has recorded 27 points and 54 penalty minutes in 40 games with Hamilton this season, gives the Habs some added depth up front, but a wait-and-see approach is in order from a fantasy perspective.

Andrej Sustr
Bolts' Sustr Picks Up Rare Point
Andrej Sustr, D, TB
8:36 AM
News: Andrej Sustr picked up an assist and two PIM in Tuesday's loss to the Hurricanes.
Analysis: Andrej Sustr has only been out of the lineup for three games this season, but he's not been able to do much while seeing a regular role. As neither an offensive-minded rearguard nor much of a grinder, Sustr's point, hit, and PIM totals aren't particularly impressive, despite the fact he's averaging over 20 minutes of ice time.

Brett Bellemore
Canes' Bellemore Registers Assist In Win
Brett Bellemore, D, CAR
8:32 AM
News: Brett Bellemore notched an assist in Tuesday's 4-2 win over the Lightning.
Analysis: The 26-year-old Brett Bellemore routinely shuffles out of the lineup as a healthy scratch periodically and often sees fewer than 18 minutes when he plays, making it difficult to extract much value out of him. Tuesday's assist was his fourth point in 25 games this season.

Travis Zajac
New Jersey's Zajac A Game-Time Decision
Travis Zajac, C, NJ
8:27 AM
News: Travis Zajac (illness) is a game-time decision for Wednesday's game against the Leafs, Rich Chere of the Star Ledger reports.
Analysis: After missing practice Tuesday, Travis Zajac was on the ice Wednesday morning, but his status for the team's evening contest against Toronto has yet to be solidified at this stage.

 
 
 
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