Anze Kopitar is a great hockey player. He is so dominate at both ends of the ice. Some people don’t understand how hard it is to be as skilled both offensively and defensively as Kopitar is. The way you play the game in the opponent’s and your own zone is not comparable; it takes two different kinds of skill set. Every hockey coach on the planet loves the kind of player Anze Kopitar is. Whenever there is an empty sheet of ice around the puck, expect to see No. 11 in black arrive in one or two seconds. Kopitar reminds me of Datsyuk. Especially when it comes to the insane amount of time both of them seem to have with the puck. Both of them can fight off one or two defensemen with one hand while protecting the puck with the other. Both can sneak across the opponent’s defensive zone just inside the blue line to deliver a perfect drop pass, or continue to skate down behind the opponent’s net and buy some time for their teammates. Their stickhandling is top-notch, with Datsyuk having the upper hand on Kopitar. Both centermen can make nifty little passes in tight areas and neither one of them ever gets stuck in a corner or gets into too much trouble in front of the opposition’s net. Look for Kopitar to keep dominating the rest of the Stanley Cup Final and earn himself a first Conn Smythe Trophy.
Henrik Lundqvist is one of the greatest competitors in the game. The way he fights off pucks, sticks, skates and everything else that enters his crease is impressive. Especially considering how calm he looks doing it. I don’t think Lundqvist gets enough credit for his stick play ability. It is a big part of his positioning: to get pucks out of the areas he doesn’t feel comfortable with them being in. The Rangers have won every of their games in this year’s playoff except for the first two victories against Philadelphia because of Lundqvist. And the Rangers know just how important he is for their team. Last night when Lundqvist got hit by Jeff Carter’s shoulder and fell to the ice, the Rangers’ players just stopped in their tracks. They didn’t even retaliate when their star goaltender was attacked behind his own net. They just watched in horror while the Swede struggled to get up. After a scary 20-30 seconds, Lundqvist was able to shake it off and continue the rest of the game without any noticeable limitations to his play.
How great of a goaltender is Jonathan Quick really? Wait, hear me out people! I know a lot of you consider him among the Top 5 or even the Top 3 goaltenders in the league. I am not so sure. The last two playoffs, Quick has been outstanding and his postseason numbers prove that. But there is a difference between being a great playoff performer and an all-around great goaltender. His 2011-2012 season speaks for itself and he was almost indisputably the reason the Kings got to the playoffs that season, earning him a Vezina Trophy nomination along the way. I still don’t consider Jonathan Quick a Top 3 goaltender in the National Hockey League, due to how uneven he can be. Sometimes Quick’s play drops to below average. We have seen it most presently in this year’s playoffs, but also in the past. I consider Lundqvist, Rask and Price the best in the game, with Quick, Bobrovsky & Crawford chasing behind. I am not sold on Ben Bishop or Semyon Varlamov yet; I think Mike Smith never will top his amazing 2011-2012 season, and Pekka Rinne has been too injure-prone this season to be up there. The difference between the top goalies in the NHL and the rest is their lack of bad stretches. If they do have a bad stretch, it doesn’t last for long and they always come out better because of it. In this year’s playoff, The Kings have been forced to outscore teams like the San Jose Sharks, the Anaheim Ducks and now the New York Rangers, because of Quick’s sloppy play in net. With that being said, I would still feel pretty darn good heading into the playoffs with Jonathan Quick in net. He makes big, timely saves and he is tremendous when the game is on the line. At the end of the day, all you want from your goaltender is for him to give you the chance to win every game and Jonathan Quick does just that.
After watching the first round of this year’s playoffs, it became clear just how much better the Western Conference teams were than the ones playing in the Eastern Conference. It became even clearer in the second round watching the Chicago Blackhawks flex their muscles against a lesser opponent in the Minnesota Wild and the entertaining series between the Anaheim Ducks and the L.A. Kings. Of course, it was the most evident during the Conference Finals. The seven game series between the Blackhawks and the Kings were one for the ages. They played fast, tough, and intense hockey that left no room for errors. Watching that series and comparing it to the Eastern Conference Final between the New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens, it was clear that the Stanley Cup was going to either the city of Chicago or Los Angeles. I thought the cup final would end in five or even four games. Sweeping an opponent is very difficult in the playoffs and doing it in a Stanley Cup Final is god damn near impossible. That is how big of a difference I thought the skill level was between the two Conference Final series. Actually, I am not sure if any Eastern Conference team would have survived even the first round if they had played out west, except for the Boston Bruins. The dominance of the Western Conference teams have increased over the past three seasons and next year it is possible that we get a new cup winner out of California.