Greetings from Los Angeles, California, the home of celebrities, racist basketball owners, the two most exciting players in baseball, Kobe Bryant’s legacy, and the best hockey team on the planet.
Beginning Wednesday night, the city of Los Angeles and Staples Center will be hosting the Stanley Cup Finals for the second time in three years. Who would have ever thought five years ago that the Kings would be the shining light of the Los Angeles sports scene. The Lakers have fallen into the La Brea Tar Pits, the Clippers have had their highest highs (Basketball Reasons!!!!) and their lowest lows, the Dodgers have been in bankruptcy, sold, spent billions, and been banned from television, USC Football had Lane Kiffin, UCLA basketball had Ben Howland’s decaying career, and the Ducks and Angels franchises are based Disney movies, which is to say they’re not real (sorry Anaheim).
The city of Los Angeles and its sports fans (Yes, we’re all sports crazy…..No, we’re not always on-time to games…Get over it!) have never needed the Kings more than we have over the past three years. Without the Kings, Los Angeles might as well have been Cleveland or Milwaukee since 2010. However, thanks to Philip Anschutz, Tim Leiweke (we haven’t forgotten you), Dean Lombardi, and Darryl Sutter the Los Angeles Kings have turned into the crown jewel of the NHL, along with the Chicago Blackhawks, and are on the verge of winning a second title in three seasons.
All that stands in their way now is a bunch of blue shirts and a guy they call The King. With that in mind I decided to take a look into my fake inbox and answer fake emails that I’m guessing you’re all thinking about leading up to the duel between the two biggest cities in the United States. If these aren’t the actual questions you had on your mind, I have nothing for you. You can send us actual emails at [email protected] and maybe we’ll do a real mailbag down the line. Until then, this is what’s racing through my mind.
Q: Was the Western Conference Finals the best NHL playoff series the Kings have ever been involved in and is it the best series of the last 20 years?
Without question the series between the Kings and Blackhawks was the finest I have ever seen. First of all, the set-up was perfect. The last two Stanley Cup Champions meeting up in the Western Conference Finals, in a rematch of last seasons WCF no less. That’s like pairing a fantastic steak with a craft brew at a dinner with the last two playmates of the year. But here’s the thing: the series lived up to the hype and surpassed it….by like 100x it surpassed it.
The WCF had everything. Comebacks, drama, goaltending, scoring, overtimes. You name it, it had it. A Game 7 overtime? There’s nothing more exciting in hockey than that, except for that special time of year when the Sharks and Canucks bow out of the playoffs as fast as Kim Kardashian bows out of a marriage (gods speed, Kanye).
So where does it rank on the all-time Kings list? Well, there are probably only two other series that can even compete with it. Most “new” Kings fans would say that the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals is the best series the Kings have ever played in. From a success standpoint, sure. However, it wasn’t the best and certainly not the most entertaining. The only comparable series to the ’14 WCF was the 1993 Campbell Conference Finals between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Kings. To be honest, I was four when that series took place and at the time couldn’t tell you the difference between Glenn Anderson and a Power Ranger. I didn’t even know what a Glenn Anderson was.
So, for my money the ’14 WCF Finals was the greatest series I’ve ever seen the Kings play in and the best I’ve ever seen played by two hockey teams anywhere. Where it stacks on the all-time list is up to the experts. However, when you hear analyst like Mike Milbury and Keith Jones say it’s one of the best series they’ve ever seen, you know it’s near the top of the all-time list.
But I’m irrational and my rankings mean nothing. After going through the ups and downs of that series I’m fine with saying it’s the best series I’ve ever seen played in any sport. But that’s because that series sent me through the ringer. I lived it. So did all of you. The only way I can describe my emotions after the Game 7 OT winner is heaven on earth. If you could have only seen my celebration. No one who was with me at the time will ever forget me running through the house and jumping into the pool without giving out a single celebratory high five. Nope, the cannonball/dive/flop was all for me.
Q: How excited are you for Doc Emrick?
To quote every woman in the world…”I. Can’t. Even!”
Yes, I’m that excited. Doc Emrick’s magical voice was built to call playoff hockey, just like Gus Johnson was built for March Madness (shame on you CBS), and Vin Scully was born to call Dodgers baseball. It’s a match made in heaven.
However, fans of the Western Conference are not treated to Emrick’s calls during the playoffs. Instead, because Emrick lives on the East Coast, he is assigned to work the games of the inferior conference. How that makes sense in beyond my comprehension. The ’14 WCF may have been the finest playoff hockey series in recent memory; however, it was slightly diminished because Doc wasn’t on the call.
Now that the Kings are once again in the Stanley Cup Finals, we will once again be treated to the Doc that we deserve. Here’s how badly I want to hear Doc Emrick: I’ll be at Game 1 on Wednesday and I’m strongly considering bringing headphones to the game, opening up my NBC Live Extra app (free plug!), and listening to Doc describe what I’m watching live. I don’t know if that’s genius or incredibly ridiculous but I’m thinking about it.
Q: What’s the history of LA/NY in Sports Finals?
The last time New York and L.A. met in the finals it was between the Sparks and the Liberty in the WNBA. I have no comment for that. The Sparks won, nobody watched, forget I even brought it up.
The last time New York and L.A met in the finals was in 1981 when the Dodgers and Yankees met in the World Series. The Tommy Lasorda led Dodgers dropped the first two games in the series only to sweep the next four and win their 5th championship in franchise history. The Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees have met four times in the World Series. The Dodgers won in ’63 and ’81. The Yankees won in ’77 and ’78 on the back of Mr. October, Reggie Jackson.
The Knicks and Lakers met in the 1970, 1972, and 1973 finals. The Knicks won in ’70 with Willis Reed hobbling out for warmups in Game 7, hitting his first two shots, and cheering on the Knicks the rest of the game. Of course, no one remembers that Walt Frazier had 36 points, 19 rebounds, and 7 assists. Anyways, the Lakers met with the Knicks again in ’72, a season in which they won 69 games and 33 consecutive games, and took home the title five games. The Knicks and Lakers would once again meet in ’73 where the Knicks exacted their revenge in five games. That series featured 13 Hall of Famers (9 players, 4 coaches) including the two most legendary coaches of the NBA’s modern era: Phil Jackson and Pat Riley. It’s the last time the Knicks won anything of value. The Lakers have won 10 titles since ’73. I’ll take it.
What does this mean for this series? Absolutely nothing. I just wanted to remember that the Dodgers twice beat the Yankees and that the Lakers used to be awesome. Damn you David Stern.
Q: Does having home ice advantage help or hurt the Kings?
The real is answer is that there isn’t an answer. The Kings have had the home ice advantage in only two of their last ten playoff series, both coming last season. The Kings did take down the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks in those series; however, that was last years team and we have no idea if having an extra game on home ice will matter to the 2013-14 team.
We do know this: the Kings aren’t afraid of playing on the road. The 2012 Stanley Cup Champion Kings were road warriors, going 10-1 on the road during the playoffs, which is the best mark in league history. The 2013-14 version of the Kings have gone 7-5 on the road; however, they’ve won 3 Game 7′s on the road, which is a first in league history.
It never hurts to have more home games and a potential Game 7 in Los Angeles is a dream come true for sports fans. I’d venture to guess that it would help the Kings, but we really just don’t know. I guess we’re about to find out.
Q: What should we know about the Rangers fans and Madison Square Garden?
Ranger fans are crazy and love themselves some hockey. We all know about New York sports fans. They’re loud, annoying, in your face, and won’t shut up about their teams. They’re completely irrational. You know what? I love it. I wish more sports fans were irrationally confident about their teams. It makes everything more intriguing and livens up the conversation. The Blueshirts are going to show up in big numbers in New York, and they’re going to pay massive prices to see their Rangers compete in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1994.
Just to repeat, New Yorkers are going to pay MASSIVE prices to see the Rangers in Games 3 and 4. The average listed resale ticket price for Game 3 in New York is $2,197, while Game 4 is $2,347, according to ESPN and TiqIQ.
You should also know that MSG is one of the best arenas in the world to see a sporting event, like Staples Center, and has more history on one slab of concrete than the entire city of San Jose. MSG is going to be absolutely electric come Game 3. The Kings are used to playing in hostile enviornments (see: Chicago) and will be ready to play. But the fans are going to be all over the Kings. If you’re a Kings fan going to a game in New York, be prepared to take that Kopitar jersey to the cleaners the next day.
Q: What’s the biggest concern going up against the Rangers?
Oh, we’re actually going to get into some hockey?
The Rangers have been on a fantastic postseason roll and have taken out the entire state of Pennsylvania and the entire country of Quebec (yes, it’s its own country). They’ve done it with speed, defense, timely scoring, and one of, if not the, best goaltender in the game in Henrik Lundqvist. Get used to hearing the name “King Henrik” a lot over the next two weeks.
The Rangers are every bit as fast as the Chicago Blackhawks and have some dynamic playmakers in Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis, among others. The Kings defense, especially all-everything stud Drew Doughty, are going to have to be mindful of the Rangers speed. However, the Rangers speed doesn’t concern me nearly as much as Lundqvist, and there’s not much you can do about him.
Q: Are you a wimpy hockey fan if you are scared of Henrik Lundqvist?
No, you are absolutely not a wimpy hockey fan. He’s absolutely frightening. He looks like a male model. His nickname is King. You should be scared. I know I am.
If a 2012 picture of Jonathan Quick is in the dictionary next to “playing on your head” then Lundqvist’s picture from this season is right along side it. He’s a monster. He’s ferocious. He’s the most technically sound and gifted goalie in the game today.
So, how do you beat him? Well, no one has figured it out yet but the Kings may have some answers. The Kings lead the NHL is goals per game in the playoffs with 3.50 GFA. Who knew that the Kings, who had stalled out on offense more times this season than a 1984 Ford Pinto, had this type of offensive game in them? If the Kings can continue to put pucks on net and scoop up some timely rebounds, they may be able to annoy King Henrik. Just don’t be surprised if we see a lot of 2-1 and 3-2 games in this series. I have a feeling the 5-4 and 6-2 games are long gone.
Q: The Kings are the favorites in Vegas to win their second title in 3 years. In fact, they are -165 to win the series, while the Rangers are +145 to win. Does this mean anything? Should we be gambling right now?
The answer to “Should we be gambling right now” should always be a definitive YES! If you’re asking me if I’ve wagered on the NHL playoffs I would plead the 5th; however, you know the answer. Now, I wouldn’t support gambling on your team. It’s a horrible idea that leads to pain, heartache, stomach cramps, and 1 AM trips to the local liquor store. The Stanley Cup Finals cause enough anxiety. You don’t need any more in your life.
What this does mean is that Vegas clearly favors the Kings to win this series and for good reason. First, the Western Conference is far superior to the Eastern Conference and regardless of who came out of the West they were going to be favored against the New York Rangers. Second, the Kings are the more experience team, have the home ice advantage, and won a Stanley Cup two years ago.
However, this number is fairly high considering that in the NBA Finals the San Antonio Spurs are -130 to win the championship, while the Heat are +115. I don’t check up on series prices very often………
Anyways, do yourself a favor and stick to the NBA for the next couple of weeks. It’ll be a good decision for your long-term health.
Q: Who are the players most likely to win the Conn Smythe Trophy?
If you are going to gamble, which I have clearly advised against for health reasons, I would stick to the betting on the potential Conn Smythe winners. There are only four choices here:
Drew Doughty (+550)
Anze Kopitar (+500)
Henrik Lundqvist (+300)
Ryan McDonagh (+1450)
If you bet on all four you’ll have a winner. Unless something crazy happens. In that case I’m not liable and I’ll be out of the country and you won’t be able to find me. Unless somehow you get Liam Neeson to track me down “Taken” style. If that’s the case then I’m screwed. You don’t evade the Neeson.
Q: Two seasons ago Jonathan Quick was the most feared goalie in the NHL and produced one of the finest postseasons in the history of hockey. Where has that man gone and is he making an epic comeback for the Finals?
I don’t know where than man has gone, but whoever is wearing his sweater is doing a pretty damn fine job so far this postseason. In 2012, Quick turned in possibly the finest goaltending performance in the history of the NHL playoffs. In those playoffs he went 16-4 with a 1.41 GAA, a .946 save %, turned in 3 shutouts, and won the Conn Smythe Trophy. They should have given him two or three trophies along with a house, a Ferrari, a lifetime contract, unlimited wings at Hooters, and all of the monies.
In 20 playoff games in 2012 Quick gave up a total of 29 goals! 29!!!! By comparison, Quick has given up 51 goals in these playoffs in 21 games. Heck, even Lundqvist, who is playing out of his mind, has given up 39 goals in 20 games so far this postseason. No one compares to Quick in 2012.
While Quick may not be the same goalie he was two years ago, he is still one of the best in the NHL and has a knack for coming up with huge save after huge save. Take Game 7 against the Blackhawks for example. Yes, he gave up four goals in the first two periods. However, he made save after save against Chicago in the 3rd period and overtime. When the Kings most needed Quick to morph into his “Jedi-Octopus” alter-ego, he did. That’s all the Kings need from Quick. They don’t need him to be completely lights out, he just needs to give them a chance to win.
Q: Does a win mean the Kings are a dynasty?
In short, no. Two championships in three years is nothing to shake a stick at. It would be a huge deal and the Kings would be remembered as one of the finest teams of the decade, if not the era. However, the Blackhawks just won two titles in four years and they would have needed a third in five years to be considered a dynasty.
In my mind you can only be considered a dynasty if you’ve won three or more titles in a period of less than six years. The Miami Heat can be considered a dynasty if they take down the Spurs this season. Three championships in four years, plus making the finals in four straight years, plus having LeBron James at the peak of his superpowers? Now that’s a dynasty. The 00-02 Lakers were a dynasty. The 2001-2005 New England Patriots were a dynasty. The 82-90 Edmonton Oilers were probably the last NHL dynasty. By comparison, the 08-11 Lakers were not a dynasty. They would have needed to win in 2011 to be considered one.
Two championships, three straight Western Conference Finals, and an all-time series against the Blackhawks is a great start on your way to a dynasty, but it’s not quite there yet. Kings fans should just be focusing on winning the Cup this season. History will take care of itself.
Q: They call you “The Oracle”. Can you give us a prediction for the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals?
Kings in 6. Drew Doughty wins the Conn Smythe Trophy. Everybody in Los Angeles buys a Kings flag to put on there car. Those flags will last about two weeks until they’re shredded and smell like car fumes and In-N-Out Burger. As for me, I’ll probably get a lot of weird looks in Brazil for celebrating, screaming, and/or crying at 4AM.
Q: That’s right, you’ll be in Brazil for Games 5, 6, and 7. How are you going to survive?
To be honest, I have no idea. I’m going to be an absolute wreck. It’s times like these that I truly appreciate technology and pray to the hockey gods that I have wifi. If you don’t think I’ll be up from 11 PM to 3 AM watching hockey in some bar in Rio de Janeiro you clearly don’t know who I am. I’ll be up, I’ll be watching, Brazilians will be confused. Soccer hooligans will curse me out in 47.5 different languages. Does anyone know how to say “What’s your wifi password” in Portuguese?
Q: Last question…..how’s that playoff beard coming?
No comment. Enjoy Game 1!