AN EASTERN CONFERENCE SCOUT SIZES UP
Everything starts with the goalie. Even at 40, when Martin Brodeur is on his game, he is tough to beat. And their captain, Zach Parise
(above), is playing some of the best hockey of his career. He plays so hard, and he is bringing the rest of the team, including winger Ilya Kovalchuk, with him. Now for the first time the Devils have some real depth down the middle with the emergence of rookie center Adam Henrique. As a team they're playing hard. They outworked the Flyers, and they outworked the Rangers as well.
Their defense is very average. On paper they have a few solid guys, but none I would call spectacular. Most people think that to win you have to have at least one outstanding defenseman—someone like Zdeno Chara, Chris Pronger or Nick Lidstrom. This is a team, however, that doesn't have that. Instead, they're following coach Peter DeBoer's forechecking system and playing great. It's a more aggressive style than we're used to seeing out of New Jersey, but it has similarities to the Devils' old dump-and-chase style. They funnel the puck to the walls, force your defensemen there and then beat your forwards in one-on-one battles. For the Kings to have a chance, their forwards have to win some of those battles.
A WESTERN CONFERENCE SCOUT SIZES UP
Since coach Darryl Sutter arrived in December, they have been much more aggressive on the puck—actually, more aggressive in all three zones. I don't know if it's a system change or if the team is just responding to a new voice from the bench, but it has seemed to spark their offense. Up front they have been getting unexpected scoring from depth players like Dwight King and Dustin Penner. And compared with Los Angeles teams of the past, they are much stronger and deeper down the middle with centers Anze Kopitar
Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll. Their captain, Dustin Brown, has been playing spectacularly. He's not a vocal leader, but his play this spring has spoken volumes.
Defensively, they are extremely balanced. Each of their pairs has a combination of physicality and mobility: Look at puck mover Drew Doughty teamed with a defensive stalwart like Rob Scuderi. The biggest beneficiary of the solid blue line corps is goalie Jonathan Quick, though he has been fantastic for them in his own right. One thing Los Angeles has seemed to lack in these playoffs is overall team speed. Really, in a lot of ways, they are very similar to New Jersey. But the Devils don't have a dynamic defenseman like Doughty.
SI'S PREDICTION KINGS IN SIX