May 12 2012; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers players celebrate their win over the Washington Capitals in game seven in the Eastern Conference semifinals of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Rangers won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

NHL's Final Four is Set: NJ Devils vs NY Rangers; LA Kings vs Phoenix Coyotes

Two rounds of the NHL post season have now come and gone. If nothing else, outside of the Sharks cameo appearance in this year’s post season, you cannot say the playoffs this year have been dull. The New York Rangers, the top seed in the Eastern Conference and the lone remaining original six team left in this years post season play won their second consecutive seven game series in defeating the 7th seeded Washington Capitals 2-1 at Madison Square Garden in New York City Saturday Night. The win gives the Rangers a rematch with their rival in the New Jersey Devils. This will be a revival of the 1994 classic Eastern Conference Finals (that series won by the Rangers in seven games. The Rangers then defeated the Vancouver Canucks to win the Stanley Cup in the only way they could have, in seven games). New Jersey meanwhile won a hard fought seven game series of their own against the Florida Panthers in the first round. In the second round, the Devils had a surprisingly easy time with a gassed Philadelphia Flyers team winning a five game series that the could have just as easily swept.

Meanwhile in the Western Conference, as I have said may times already, we are getting the match up nobody saw coming. The Los Angeles Kings versus the Phoenix Coyotes from the Pacific Division, with neither team even clinching a playoff birth until the last few days of the regular season. While the Devils-Rangers series will be the turnpike series, the Kings-Coyotes will be the I-10 (or Freeway) series. The LA Kings found their way to the Western Conference Finals by becoming the first ever eight seed to pull of an upset of the top two seeds in the conference in Vancouver and St Louis respectively. What’s even more impressive is the Kings only needing nine total games to pull off this amazing feat. The Kings of all four remaining teams have had the most impressive run thus far. The LA Kings right now are unarguably playing the best hockey of all remaining teams, and doing so at the absolutely positively right time. Meanwhile not to be out done, the Phoenix Coyotes after winning their first ever Pacific Division Title have made the most of their opportunities in a hard fought six game win versus the Chicago Blackhawks. Afterward, the Coyotes rode the back of goalie Mike Smith, and the inspired play of Shane Doan and Ray Whitney to put away the amazingly disappointing Nashville Predators in five games. The Coyotes beat the Predators by simply outplaying them, putting them down then keeping them down.

Looking At Each Series:

Mar. 19, 2012; New York, NY, USA; New York Rangers left wing Brandon Dubinsky (17) takes a shot on New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur (30) during the third period at Madison Square Garden. Rangers won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

Eastern Conference Final: (6) New Jersey Devils vs (1) New York Rangers- The Rangers and Devils met six times during the regular season with the Rangers taking the overall season series by a narrow 3-2-1 margin. The Rangers are lead by Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik who have combined for 10 goals and 11 assist so far in these playoffs. Meanwhile Rangers Net Minder Henrik Lundqvist is sporting an impressive 1.68 Goals Against Average through 14 post season contest and has been toughest for the Rangers when they have needed it the most. The Rangers on the whole are not the highest scoring team in the league however seem to always find a way to get just enough to win. Lundqvist has a reputation of making the slimmest of margins hold up for the men in blue. New Jersey meanwhile is not without it’s leaders, with Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Ilya Kovalchuk leading the way with a combined 14 goals and 16 assists. Then there is Martin Brodeur who is having a career reviving season, being as tough in the net as he ever was and playing like he’s 21 again (just recently turning 40).

Schedule: Game 1 at New York 5/14 at 8pm ET/5pm PT; Game 2 at New York 5/16 8pm ET/5pm PT; Game 3 at New Jersey 5/19 1pm ET/10am PT; Game 4 at New Jersey 5/21 8pm ET/5pm PT; *Game 5 at New York 5/23 8pm ET/5pm PT; *Game 6 at New Jersey 5/25 8pm ET/5pm PT; *Game 7 at New York 5/27 8pm ET/5pm PT (*-if necessary) All Games on NBC or NBC Sports Net (USA); CBC-TV (Canada)…

*Kingshark Prediction: NY Rangers win in 7 games…it seems the Rangers have a knack for doing that, and winning in dramatic fashion…why should that change?

Jan. 5, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Kings right wing Dustin Brown (23) takes a shot as Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson (23) and goalie Mike Smith (41) defend the goal during the third period of the game at the Staples Center. Kings won 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Western Conference Finals: (8) Los Angeles Kings vs (3) Phoenix Coyotes- Now be honest, did anyone of you pick this before the season or even as late as April 8th? I know I didn’t and would not have had a reason to do so. Just maybe I could see one, but certainly not both the Kings and Coyotes. No Way. Yet, amazingly and as crazy as it sounds even now, here it is. Two teams that on March 14th were below 9th place in the Western Conference Standings. The Sharks racing to the top and…ah, never mind. As for this matchup, there is a good argument for as to why each team could win this series. Both are lead by strong goalies playing at the top of their respective games. Jonathan Quick for the Kings, Mike Smith for the Coyotes. The Kings are lead by the inspired play of Captain Dustin Brown who has answered the question many Kings fans have had, “What can Brown do for you?” If you are the LA Kings, plenty! Brown along with teammate Anze Kopitar have combined for nine goals and 12 assists in leading the men in black. As for Quick, he simply has been amazing in these playoffs and has matured as the net minder many thought he would become. After a rough go in a first round loss to the Sharks last season, Quick has rebounded with a 1.55 goals allowed average doing this versus the Canucks and Blues. If Quick can stay on top of his game, he gives Los Angeles it’s best shot at winning this series. As for the desert dogs, the Coyotes journey to this point of the season is certainly not by accident. Mike Smith has been anything but an anonymous name for the Coyotes in goal, not only in the regular season (shutting out the Sharks three times), but has also allowed Phoenix the opportunity to stay in games and allow for his team find ways to win. Shane Doan is the team Captain and undisputed leader of the Coyotes. Former Shark Ray Whitney is making 40 look like the new 21 (see Martin Brodeur in Eastern Conference Preview). The Coyotes are also getting huge contributions from Mikkel Boedker and Keith Yandle who have combined for 11 assists and three goals. This could be quite a series that could go either way and go the distance, and don’t be surprised of it does.

Schedule: Game 1 at Phoenix 5/13 4:30pm PT/7:30pm ET; Game 2 at Phoenix  5/15 5:30pm PT/8:30pm; Game 3 at Los Angeles 5/17 5:30pm PT/8:30pm ET; Game 4 at Los Angeles 5/20 12Noon PT/3pm ET; *-Game 5 at Phoenix 5/22 6pm PT/9pm ET; *-Game 6 at Los Angeles 5/24 6pm PT/9pm ET; *-Game 7 at Phoenix 5/26 5pm PT/8pm ET (*-if necessary)… All Games on NBC Sports Net or NBC (USA); TSN or CBC-TV (Canada)…

*Kingshark Prediction- Between the two teams in some ways it’s tough to pick a clear winner. However I will go with the Los Angeles Kings though the Coyotes will be a tough out. I’m going with the Kings in 6 games, they are just the younger and stronger line up and if they continue to go as they have been doing versus the Canucks and Blues, I just can’t see LA getting beaten. Mike Smith will be tough, however I just feel it will be a lot tougher for Phoenix to beat Jonathan Quick four times.

I’m going to be looking for an LA vs New York Stanley Cup Final…the two biggest media markets in the NHL fighting for the Cup. Maybe that’s what the NHL needs this season…

 

The King Shark

 

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