New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings meet for Stanley Cup

We are down to the final two in the battle for the Stanley Cup
We are down to the final two in the battle for the Stanley Cup

It is down to two and it could well come down to a battle of the hot netminders, Alex Johnson investigates...

A hot netminder has been the difference in many a Stanley Cup Final series and we'll see if that is Lundqvist or Quick in 2014.

After 1230 regular season games and 88 in the post-season, the NHL campaign comes down to this; a best of seven series between the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers starting on Wednesday at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.

The Eastern Conference winners, the Rangers, arrive in town slightly more rested than the Kings having won their series with the Montreal Canadiens in six games while generally looking the stronger side. 

It's the first time in 20 years that New York have made the Final. In the victorious 1994 season, captain Mark Messier made his infamous guarantee, one of the more iconic moments in North American sports history. 

Down three games to two to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Final, Messier guaranteed that the Rangers would win Game 6 to force a seventh game, and then went out and scored a hat-trick. 

It's the equivalent of a Test side in cricket being forced to follow on and the captain of said side guaranteeing victory before going out and scoring a century and taking five wickets in the second innings.

Alas there's no-one as talented or inspirational as Messier for the Rangers this post-season as they prepare for a series in which netminding is expected to be centre stage. 

Henrik Lundqvist will be in net for the Eastern Conference champions and is generally considered to be the best goalie in the NHL, as was ably demonstrated by his 1-0 shutout performance in Game 6 of the Conference Finals against the Montreal Canadiens at Madison Square Garden.

It has been a rough and tumble type of post-season for the Rangers, who finished the regular campaign second in the Metropolitan Division some 12 points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins. 

The new NHL playoff format introduced this year emphasises Divisional rivalries, with second and third in each of the four Divisions matched up in the opening round of the post-season while the Division winners in each Conference play Wild Cards. 

As such, New York played the Philadelphia Flyers in the opening round and were taken to the full seven games by their opponents in a bruising affair. They then went on to beat the Penguins over seven games.

While the Rangers arrive in the Stanley Cup Final with wins over the Flyers, Penguins and Canadiens, the Western Conference champion Kings are history makers before even stepping onto the ice. Never before has a team played three complete seven game series and won all three to make it to the Final. 

This was the record of LA this post-season with a side that has appeared to thrive with their backs to the wall. Seven of seven in elimination games, the Kings stormed back from a three game deficit to defeat the San Jose Sharks in the opening round before seeing off the Anaheim Ducks and the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.

As with New York, the Kings have a superstar in net in the form of Jonathan Quick. Absolutely dominant throughout the playoffs while winning the Most Valuable Player award in 2012, when LA won their first ever Stanley Cup, Quick has not been as sharp this post-season. 

However, the general overall quality of the Kings has compensated for any falloff in play, culminating in the series against the Blackhawks in which Los Angeles averaged four goals a contest.

A hot netminder has been the difference in many a Stanley Cup Final series and we'll see if that is Lundqvist or Quick in 2014.

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