Cup finals preview: Kings-Rangers

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The New York Rangers will write quite the story if they can capture their first Stanley Cup in 20 years.

Because unless you're been living under an Eastern rock this past year, you know that the Los Angeles Kings are favorites, surviving the journey in the much deeper Western Conference -- aka Big Boy hockey.

The Kings beat San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago to get here, three of the top seven teams in the NHL's overall standings this year.

This is not to disrespect the Rangers at all, they beat the teams they were handed, but those teams don't compare to the A-listers L.A. had to go through.

But where the Rangers may have an edge is that they've been sitting at home waiting for the Western Conference finals to end, getting an extra three days rest, as the Kings failed to close things out in Game 6 at home and had to travel to Chicago and pull out a thrilling Game overtime 7 win.

Where is L.A.'s energy level now? They've played the maximum seven games all three rounds to get here, all three series physically demanding.

New York played one less game, but the Rangers had a nice break before the Cup finals and haven't played as much of a physical brand of hockey.

The series features two of the game's top coaches in Alain Vigneault and Darryl Sutter, different in style but similar in their ultimate result: pushing the right buttons to get the maximum out of their lineups. And they share an important quality: They both have a great feeling for their benches and are excellent at in-game adjustments.

Sutter got the best of Vigneault in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs, the No. 8 seeded Kings beating Vigneault's No. 1 seeded Canucks in five games.

The NHL can only salivate at the marquee matchup it has here, New York and Los Angeles, two big-time markets putting hockey on center stage.

Now it's up to the Rangers to show they can hang with hockey's royalty, the Kings having played the most playoff games of any team in the NHL over the past three years, looking for their second Cup title in that span.

Spotlight On

Rangers: Ryan McDonagh

This is a chance for the Rangers star blueliner to prove he belongs in the same conversation as Kings stud Drew Doughty, the Conn Smythe favorite at this point of the playoffs. McDonagh was incredible in the Eastern Conference finals, putting up 10 points (two goals-eight assists) in six games versus Montreal and playing a key role in the lone goal by Dominic Moore in Game 6. McDonagh's closing speed on attackers is sensational. Now on the national stage, more people will realize what a special player this 24-year-old is.

Kings: Drew Doughty

For my money, there is no better defenseman in the world. He was the best player at the Sochi Olympics and is proving once again that he loves the big stage, playing the best hockey of any player in these Stanley Cup playoffs. Hockey fans in the East who don't get to see him play much are in for a treat. If the Rangers thought handling P.K. Subban was a challenge, get ready for a whole new level. Drew Doughty is the bomb. Plain and simple.

Hero In Waiting

Rangers: Rick Nash

Hard to believe Rangers fans were actually booing this guy during the second round just because he hadn't scored yet. The dude was getting a million shots on net. In any case, after scoring three goals in the Eastern Conference finals, those boos have turned to cheers. If the Rangers are going to pull off the upset, the two-time Olympic gold medalist will need to be front and center, his size and strength a needed ingredient against the league's heaviest and most physical team.

Kings: Marian Gaborik

Well you know he's going to love getting his pound of flesh from his former team, the Rangers, who traded him to Columbus before the Jackets traded him to the Kings. The Slovak star is trying to win his first Stanley Cup, so that's really all the motivation he needs, but rubbing it in to the Rangers is going to be even sweeter for him.

Fatal Flaw

Rangers: The battle at center

Derek Stepan, Brad Richards, Derick Brassard and Dominic Moore go up against Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards. This is a seismic matchup issue for the Blueshirts.

Kings: Jonathan Quick?

I can't believe I'm even writing that but the truth must be said here: While Quick has stepped up in big games this spring, he has been lit up at times and his numbers show it. The reality is, the Rangers' biggest advantage entering the Stanley Cup playoffs is that King Henrik has had a more consistent and impressive postseason. Lundqvist leads all playoff goalies in save percentage and he's clearly New York's best shot at stealing this series.

Intangibles

Rangers: Martin St. Louis, acquired at the trade deadline, continues to play through his grief and his teammates continue to rally around their teammate, who lost his mother France St. Louis on May 8 but has played brilliantly through the emotional pain. There's just something about this Rangers team in terms of their close-knit dressing room. They're underdogs, they know it, but they will feed off that.

Kings: Down 3-0 to the Sharks in the opening round and 3-2 to the Ducks in the second round, then 2-0 in Game 7 to Chicago on Sunday night, the Kings still came back to win each time, adding to their reputation as clutch playoff warriors. This veteran group has played a lot of playoff hockey in the past three years and they have that hard-earned belief that no matter what happens, they're going to get the job done. It's the kind of confidence that only comes from winning big games. These guys truly believe they'll never lose a series. These guys don't know what pressure is. This is as strong a team mentally as we've seen in a long time.

Prediction

I would have predicted a five-game win for the Kings had they taken care of business in Game 6 at home against the Blackhawks. Instead, the Kings were taxed to the limit by Chicago, had to fly to Chicago and back, and poured every ounce they had in finishing off the Blackhawks. I feel better about New York making this a series because of it. Still ... West is best.  Kings in 7.

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