The road to the Stanley Cup has not been easy for either the New York Rangers or the Los Angeles Kings. Until now, no team in NHL history had made it to the Cup finals after going seven games in each of the first two rounds — then New York and Los Angeles both took that path this season.
“It’s definitely been a grind, but that’s why you play hockey,” Kings forward Jeff Carter said. “We know what we went through to get here, and we’re willing to go through a little more.”
The Kings may have to grind it out with a little less puck luck.
During the regular season the Kings converted 138 of their 2,60 even-strength shots on goal (6.7 percent) and 42 of 423 shots on the power play (9.9 percent).
In the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs the Kings have converted 9.2 percent of their even-strength chances and 18.9 percent with the man advantage, allowing them to outscore opponents 73 to 60 overall. Here is the problem: This puck luck won’t last.
The Kings are chock full of talent, but it is unlikely they have suddenly figured out how to convert at a higher rate when facing a superior level of competition in the playoffs. For example, they are scoring more goals in the playoffs as a percentage of shots during even strength at a higher rate than they did on the power play during the regular season.
The Kings are also scoring power-play goals at twice the rate in the postseason with the same personnel. Jake Muzzin, for example, had a shooting percentage of 2.9 percent during the regular seasons but has converted 13.2 percent of his playoff shots. That’s a high number for a blue liner averaging 1.8 shots per game who winds up mostly from beyond the left faceoff circle (average distance of 47.2 feet per shot).
After scoring 11 goals on 103 shots during the regular season (10.7 percent) between Columbus and Los Angeles, Marian Gaborik is sizzling in the postseason with 12 goals on 65 shots (18.5 percent). Gaborik is not afraid to get up close and personal with the opposing goalie (27.1 feet of average distance of shots) but converting at close to 19 percent for a career 13 percent shooter is always going to fall back down to earth. And so could half the team’s roster.
And let’s not forget there is an elite level goaltender on the other side of the ice in Henrik Lundqvist, whose .928 save percentage leads all goalies in the postseason, making it all the more difficult for the Kings to put the puck in net.