The Los Angeles Kings are just one win away from sweeping the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup finals and ending their one-year drought as champions.
“This series, being up 3-0, we’re a confident group again,” said forward Jeff Carter.
Carter is one of many on the Kings who should be considered for the Conn Smythe, awarded annually to the player judged most valuable to his team during the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs. His first-period goal with 0.7 of a second remaining in Game 3 was a back breaker for New York and he is second in goals scored (10) for the playoffs. Carter has also helped Los Angeles outshoot the competition 175 to 130 during even strength.
Another goal-scorer who should be considered is Marian Gaborik, who leads the playoffs with 13 goals and has 21 points overall. The trade-deadline acquisition hasn’t been able to tilt the ice tremendously in the Kings’ favor (48.8 percent of even-strength shots when he is on the ice) but the Kings might not even be this far in the playoffs if not for Gaborik’s heroics.
Speaking of heroics, is their a bigger playoff hero than Justin Williams? He has scored five points (two goals and three assists) in three Game 7s and has five goals and six assists in the seven elimination games the Kings have found themselves in. Plus, he gave Los Angeles a ton of momentum with his overtime game winner in the series opener.
“I’ve said this many times: Justin is the most underrated player on our team by a mile, he doesn’t get enough credit for what he does,” said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty after Game 1. “There are two guys on this team that I want to give the puck to, and that’s him and [Anze Kopitar]. When they have the puck plays happen.”
Kopitar leads the playoffs in scoring with 26 points, which includes 12 primary assists, but his stock for most valuable player may have fallen with just two assists and zero goals in the Cup finals. However, the Selke Trophy finalist (award for the league’s best defensive forward) contributes more than just offense. Kopitar has helped shutdown two of the Rangers top scoring threats (Brad Richards and Derek Stepan) plus has been on the ice for just 20 shots against at even strength in the finals.
Doughty has also provided some solid two-way play. He is the leading scorer among defensemen with 17 points in 24 games and seven of his 12 assists have been the primary set up – which is unusual for a blue liner. Doughty sees time all phases of the game (more than 21 minutes a night at even strength, almost four minutes on the power play and nearly three minutes on the penalty kill). Plus, despite facing the opposition’s top players every night he still has given the Kings the shot advantage (238 to 224 at even strength).
However, has anyone stepped up their game more than netminder Johnathan Quick? He has saved 91 of the 97 shots he has faced in the finals and has outplayed opposing goaltender Henrik Lundqvist in this series, especially during Game 3.
Using the “home plate” area in front of the goalies as the qualifier, 19 of the 32 shots Quick faced were Grade-A scoring chances in Game 3, compared to 10 in Game 1 and 12 in Game 2, both of which went to overtime. Quick faced more than 12 Grade-A shots in the final two periods of Game 3 alone, including eight of 17 shots in the second period, five of which were near the edge of his crease.
If Quick pitches another shutout in Game 4 for the sweep then I think it is his to lose, however, if it becomes a shooting match or the series gets extended, look for the hero du jour from above to get the honors.