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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
Nick Bjugstad
Panthers' Bjugstad In A Rough Patch
Nick Bjugstad, C, FLA
12:45 AM
News: Nick Bjugstad posted a minus-2 with one shot on goal in Thursday night's 3-0 loss to the Blackhawks.
Analysis: Nick Bjugstad started February on fire with seven points in his first nine games of the month including a stretch with four goals in five games. However, the past five games have not been as kind to the 22-year-old. Bjugstad has only taken 11 shots on goal and has posted a minus-7 plus/minus, dragging his plus/minus for the season to minus-9. He still leads the team in points (36) and goals (21), but will need to regain his scoring form for the already light-scoring Panthers.

Jonas Gustavsson
Red Wings' Gustavsson To Start Saturday
Jonas Gustavsson, G, DET
12:20 AM
News: Jonas Gustavsson will start Saturday's game in Nashville, MLive.com's Ansar Khan reports.
Analysis: It's a bit surprising to see Jonas Gustavsson get the nod, as Detroit won't play again until Wednesday's game against the Rangers. The matchup is as tough as they come, with Nashville currently leading the race for the President's Trophy.

Bobby Ryan
Sens' Ryan Records Five SOG, Assist In Win
Bobby Ryan, RW, OTT
12:14 AM
News: Bobby Ryan assisted on the game's lone goal in Thursday's 1-0 win over the Kings.
Analysis: Bobby Ryan is working on a modest three-game point streak, which are starting to become ordinary for him in his second season in Ottawa. The Sens' leading scorer with 45 points, Ryan has been especially productive since the All-Star break. He's accumulated three goals and nine assists in his last 12 games.

Sergei Bobrovsky
Jackets' Bobrovsky (Groin) May Start Saturday
Sergei Bobrovsky, G, CLB
12:08 AM
News: Sergei Bobrovsky (groin) will skate on his own Saturday morning, and the Blue Jackets will then make a decision on their starter for Saturday's game against the Devils, Shawn Mitchell of the Columbus Dispatch reports.
Analysis: The team will not skate until 5 PM, but Sergei Bobrovsky is going to work out on his own in the morning. If he doesn't make it back for Saturday's game, Bobrovsky could still start Sunday's contest in Pittsburgh.

Craig Smith
Preds' Smith Pots 20th In Loss
Craig Smith, C, NSH
12:07 AM
News: Craig Smith netted his 20th goal of the season in Thursday's 3-2 loss to the Wild.
Analysis: Craig Smith is on track to fall short of last year's career-high total of 52 points, but he's at least in the midst of his hottest run of production of the season. He's accumulated six goals and two assists in his last seven games, making him a trendy waiver wire addition in recent days.

Brian Elliott
Blues' Elliott To Start Vs. Oilers On Saturday
Brian Elliott, G, STL
12:05 AM
News: Brian Elliott will start Saturday's game in Edmonton, Jeremy Rutherford of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Analysis: With Brian Elliott starting Saturday night, there's a good chance Jake Allen will get the nod for Sunday's game in Vancouver. However, the Blues have yet to name a starter for that game. First, Elliott will try to make the most of a favorable matchup, facing an Edmonton team with just 46 points this season.

Nate Thompson
Ducks' Thompson (Lower Body) Out Friday
Nate Thompson, C, ANA
12:00 AM
News: Nate Thompson (lower body) remains day-to-day, but he will not play in Friday's game against the Kings, Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register reports.
Analysis: Chris Wagner will center the Ducks' fourth line, working in between Tim Jackman and Patrick Maroon.

Braden Holtby
Caps' Holtby Suffers Third Straight Loss
Braden Holtby, G, WAS
2/27/2015
News: Braden Holtby suffered his third straight loss Friday, giving up two goals on 37 shots against Carolina.
Analysis: It wasn't Braden Holtby's fault, as he played remarkable in the team's shutout loss to the Hurricanes. The 25-year-old still owns a 29-15-9 record on the season with a .924 save percentage and 2.20 GAA. While he's picked up a few losses of late, his play Friday is example of why this losing streak won't last for much longer. He's so good that he needs to be an automatic roll every game.

Anton Khudobin
Canes' Khudobin Pitches First Shutout Of Season
Anton Khudobin, G, CAR
2/27/2015
News: Anton Khudobin recorded his first shutout of the season Friday, stopping all 28 shots he faced in a win over Washington.
Analysis: A much-needed win for Anton Khudobin, who had lost four straight games, allowing a whopping 16 goals in that span. The 28-year-old is now 7-11-3 on the season with a .906 save percentage and 2.60 GAA. Cam Ward doesn't get many nights off, but when he does, Khudobin is a reliable backup option. Expect the team to turn to Ward Saturday against the Islanders.

Josh Jooris
Flames' Jooris Scores 11th Goal
Josh Jooris, C, CGY
2/27/2015
News: Josh Jooris potted his 11th goal of the season in Friday's loss to the Islanders.
Analysis: That's points in back-to-back games for Josh Jooris, who is up to 11 goals and 19 points in 45 games on the season. While he's producing on Calgary's third line, he's been quite inconsistent, recently going six straight games without a point. If you can deal with the slumps, the 24-year-old is worth owning in deeper leagues.

 
 
 
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