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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
Tyler Kennedy
Sharks' Kennedy (Upper Body) Won't Return Saturday
Tyler Kennedy, C, SJ
12:48 AM
News: Tyler Kennedy (upper body) will not return from injured reserve for Saturday's game with the Sabres, David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Analysis: There was some optimism Tyler Kennedy might be back in action Saturday after he took part in line rushes during Friday's practice, but the team decided he could use a little more recovery time. The Sharks could choose to activate him for Sunday's game against the Ducks or at some point later in the upcoming week.

Semyon Varlamov
Avs' Varlamov Prepared To Start Sunday
Semyon Varlamov, G, COL
12:41 AM
News: Semyon Varlamov will be in the net Sunday against the Jets, Mike Chambers of the Denver Post reports.
Analysis: Semyon Varlamov performed only so-so Friday in his first start since being sidelined with a groin injury, limiting the Jets to three goals on 29 shot attempts. Fortunately, the Avs' sputtering offense finally decided to show up Friday, busting out for seven scores in the runaway victory. It's probably a long shot for Varlamov to replicate last season's total of 41 wins, but if his mates play up to their talent level with any consistency, Varlamov should finish with a record well above .500.

Ryan Callahan
Bolts Move Callahan To IR
Ryan Callahan, RW, TB
12:33 AM
News: Ryan Callahan (lower body) was moved to injured reserve Saturday, Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune reports.
Analysis: The placement on IR will be retroactive to Ryan Callahan's most-recent game on Oct. 20, allowing the forward to return to action as soon as the team's medical staff deems him fit to play. Callahan was able to get in a skate Friday, but because the Bolts are labeling his injury as week-to-week, there's no guarantee that he'll be back in action within a few games.

Alex Killorn
Bolts Place Killorn On IR
Alex Killorn, C, TB
12:30 AM
News: Alex Killorn (upper body) was placed on injured reserve Saturday but is considered close to a return, Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune reports.
Analysis: With Alex Killorn already ruled out Saturday for the Bolts' fourth straight game, he'll be placed on injured reserve retroactively and will be able to play as soon as the team determines he's healthy. Killorn suffered the injury during Monday's morning skate when he collided hard into the end boards with his shoulder and head, resulting in some soreness and tightness but no concussion-like symptoms. If he's able to get in a practice in the next two days, he could be cleared to return to action Tuesday against the Coyotes.

Brett Connolly
Bolts' Connolly Week-To-Week With Injury
Brett Connolly, RW, TB
12:25 AM
News: Brett Connolly suffered a lower-body injury in Friday's game against the Jets and is considered week-to-week, Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune reports.
Analysis: The 22-year-old Brett Connolly seemed to be on the cusp of a breakthrough in his first eight games of the season, notching two goals while seeing time on the team's second line. However, it looks like the injury will present an unfortunate roadblock for him to build on those early successes, as Connolly figures to miss the next several games. Michael Blunden and Jonathan Marchessault were recalled from AHL Syracuse on Saturday to provide the Bolts with some extra forward options while Connolly remains unavailable.

J.T. Brown
Bolts' Brown Ruled Out Saturday
J.T. Brown, RW, TB
12:18 AM
News: J.T. Brown is day-to-day with an upper-body injury and will not play Saturday against the Wild, Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune reports.
Analysis: It's assumed that J.T. Brown suffered the injury at some point in Friday's loss to the Wild. Fellow winger Brett Connolly also fell victim to injury and will not be available Saturday, prompting the team to promote Jonathan Marchessault and Michael Blunden to the NHL squad to replenish some depth at forward.

Jonathan Quick
Kings Expected To Stick With Quick On Sunday
Jonathan Quick, G, LA
12:13 AM
News: Jonathan Quick is expected to draw the start in goal Sunday against the Blue Jackets, Jon Rosen of LAKingsInsider.com reports.
Analysis: Jonathan Quick was the first goalie off the ice at Saturday's practice, a likely sign that he'll be receiving the nod for Sunday's tilt. The 28-year-old has certainly justified his big-money contract through six appearances in 2014-15, going 4-1-1 with a 1.54 goals-against average and .958 save percentage.

Martin Hanzal
Coyotes' Hanzal Expected To Return Tuesday
Martin Hanzal, C, ARI
12:10 AM
News: Coach Dave Tippett said he expects Martin Hanzal (lower body) to return to action Tuesday against the Lightning, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: Martin Hanzal was able to get in a skate Saturday morning, and while he won't be cleared to return for the game later that evening against the Panthers, the forward noted that he was feeling better than anticipated during the session. If Hanzal is able to get in a practice on either Sunday or Monday, the team's trianing staff figures to sign off on his return to game action.

David Moss
Long-Term Absence Could Be In Play For Yotes' Moss
David Moss, RW, ARI
12:05 AM
News: David Moss (upper body) appears to be dealing with a long-term injury, Sarah McLellan of the Arizona Republic reports.
Analysis: David Moss hasn't resumed skating since leaving Thursday's game with the upper-body injury and will face more tests Saturday to receive a clearer diagnosis of his condition. If the tests confirm that Moss' injury is more than a day-to-day concern as expected, look for the Coyotes to place him on injured reserve at some point next week.

Thomas Vanek
Wild's Vanek Grabs Pair Of Helpers Saturday
Thomas Vanek, LW, MIN
10/25/2014
News: Thomas Vanek dished out two assists in Saturday's win over the visiting Lightning.
Analysis: Slowly but surely, Thomas Vanek is adjusting to life in the State of Hockey and getting his points (four in six games). The Wild have been great so far, posting a 4-2 record and getting offensive production throughout their lineup while outscoring opponents 19-6. Vanek is surrounded by a talented supporting cast both at even strength (Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle) and on the power play (Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and Mikko Koivu), so the former 43-goal scorer should flirt with a point-per-game pace this season, with many of his tallies coming in bunches.

 
 
 
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