By Stu Hackel
So here’s the Stanley Cup Final no one could have anticipated in early April. Kirk Penton of The Winnipeg Sun figured out that this is the “worst” match-up in 20 years: “New Jersey was ninth overall and the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Kings were 13th overall and eighth in the Western Conference,” he wrote. “Their regular-season placings total 22. The only higher sum was in 1991, when the No. 7 Pittsburgh Penguins beat the No. 16 Minnesota North Stars. In fact, not since the playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1980 has the better seed among the finalists been as low as No. 9 overall.” But he was quick to say that this was just a technicality, insisting “New Jersey and Los Angeles should be solid entertainment.” True that.
As low as their seeds may have been, the Devils and Kings belong in this series. The Kings were underachievers for most of the regular season, in part due to not having Mike Richards at full strength after he was concussed in December. The Devils were without their top center, Travis Zajac, for 67 games. And both teams had to adjust to new systems brought in by new coaches — one at the start of the season, one during it — that emphasized aggressive forechecking. The saying goes that “It’s not the best teams that get to play for the Cup but the teams playing the best.” Now that they’re healthy and comfortable playing a style that fits their personnel, it’s hard to argue that these two currently aren’t the best teams in hockey.