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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
Aleksander Barkov
Panthers' Barkov Back In Thursday
Aleksander Barkov, C, FLA
11/21/2014
News: Aleksander Barkov (illness) will be back in the lineup Thursday against the Sharks, Steve Goldstein of FOX Sports Florida reports.
Analysis: Aleksander Barkov was scratched from Tuesday's game with an illness, but demonstrated he was healthy by taking part in the Panthers' early skate without incident. The 19-year-old has all the promise in the world, but his production has yet to match his immense gifts. He's tallied just two goals and an assist over 13 games this season.

Darcy Kuemper
Wild's Kuemper Confirmed To Start
Darcy Kuemper, G, MIN
11/21/2014
News: Darcy Kuemper has been confirmed to start in goal Thursday against the Flyers.
Analysis: Darcy Kuemper gave way to Niklas Backstrom for the start Sunday against the Jets, but still managed to earn a victory after stopping all three shots he faced in relief while the Wild offense tallied the go-ahead goal. Ray Emery is expected to receive the start in the opposite net.

William Karlsson
Ducks' Karlsson Placed On IR
William Karlsson, C, ANA
11/21/2014
News: William Karlsson (illness) was placed on injured reserve Thursday.
Analysis: William Karlsson didn't travel with the team to Vancouver while he remains under the weather, and because he hadn't played since Nov. 16, the Ducks decided to create some roster flexibility by moving him to IR. As a result, Karlsson will also have to miss Sunday's game against the Coyotes, but would be eligible to return any time thereafter.

Roberto Luongo
Panthers To Start Luongo On Thursday
Roberto Luongo, G, FLA
11/21/2014
News: Roberto Luongo will receive the start in goal Thursday against the Sharks, Steve Goldstein of FOX Sports Florida reports.
Analysis: Roberto Luongo guided the Panthers to a 4-1 win over the Sharks the last time the two teams met on Nov. 11, stopping 21 of 22 shots in the victory. He's since stumbled his last two times out after that, but still owns a respectable 2.45 GAA and .921 save percentage over his 31 outings this season.

Francois Beauchemin
Ducks Activate Beauchemin
Francois Beauchemin, D, ANA
11/21/2014
News: Francois Beauchemin (illness) has been activated from injured reserve and will play Thursday versus the Canucks.
Analysis: With the debilitating mumps virus now behind him, Francois Beauchemin will assume his usual spot on a pairing with Hampus Lindholm, where he's averaged a team-leading 22:51 of ice time this season. He's not especially active as a puck-mover, however, creating a wide chasm between his real-life and fantasy value.

Frederik Andersen
Ducks Going With Andersen On Thursday
Frederik Andersen, G, ANA
11/21/2014
News: Frederik Andersen will be in the net Thursday against the Canucks.
Analysis: After winning his first six starts of the season, Frederik Andersen now sits on the other side of the spectrum with a six-game losing streak heading into Thursday's match. During that time, Andersen has managed just a .887 save percentage and was removed from the game early on two occasions, making him difficult for fantasy owners to trust at this time.

Jay Harrison
Canes' Harrison Back In Thursday
Jay Harrison, D, CAR
11/21/2014
News: Jay Harrison (lower body) will be back in the lineup Thursday against the Kings.
Analysis: Now healthy after a three-game absence, Jay Harrison will replace John-Michael Liles in the Hurricanes' lineup. Harrison has three points and a minus-2 rating over 13 games this season.

Alexander Semin
Canes' Semin Healthy Scratch Again Thursday
Alexander Semin, RW, CAR
11/21/2014
News: Alexander Semin will be a healthy scratch Thursday against the Kings.
Analysis: It's the second time this month that Alexander Semin has been a healthy scratch, as coach Bill Peters appears to be growing frustrated with his lack of production. Semin has no goals and five points over 14 games and has seen his average ice time drop over three minutes from a season earlier.

Trevor van Riemsdyk
Surgery A Success For Hawks' Van Riemsdyk
Trevor van Riemsdyk, D, CHI
11/21/2014
News: Van Riemsdyk underwent successful surgery Thursday to repair his broken kneecap, Brian Hedger of NHL.com reports.
Analysis: The blueliner is expected to make a full recovery in three-to-four months. He supplied one point in 18 games prior to succumbing to the injury.

Braden Holtby
Caps' Holtby Gets Starting Nod Thursday
Braden Holtby, G, WAS
11/21/2014
News: Braden Holtby will be in the net Thursday against the Avalanche.
Analysis: Braden Holtby enters Thursday's game with wins in three of his last four contests, during which he's surrendered a total of six goals. He'll try to keep rolling against an Avs attack that ranks 27th in the NHL with 2.4 goals per game.

 
 
 
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