There's nothing quite like the NHL, where a No. 8 seed that fielded the second-worst offense of anyone during the regular season can be the heavy Stanley Cup Final favorite.
I understand why everyone likes the Kings so much. They've had a great postseason, and when you have a goaltender like Jonathan Quick, people jump on your bandwagon. At the same time, I don't quite understand is why everyone assumes that the Kings, who are averaging 2.85 goals per game in the playoffs after averaging 2.25 in the regular season, are some great, well-rounded team.
Getting Jeff Carter during the season certainly didn't hurt the Los Angeles offense. In Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Dustin Brown, the Kings have some talent — enough that I couldn't believe how badly they struggled to score all year. But struggle, mightily, they did, over 82 games. I'm more inclined to believe that's what the Kings really are that what they've done in 14 playoff games. They're no lock to keep scoring against Marty Brodeur and the NHL's ninth-rated defense.
What Quick and the Kings' defense, which is averaging a league-low 1.53 goals per game in the playoffs, have done in the postseason could be less of a small sample size fluke. They were, after all, the No. 2 defensive team in the NHL during the regular season. At the same time, great goalies and great defenses have been beaten like a drum countless times before in playoff series, including several times this postseason. Remember Marc-Andre Fleury and the Penguins in Round 1? Brian Elliott's Blues, Pekka Rinne's Predators, Henrik Lundqvist's Rangers and Mike Smith's Coyotes were all ousted during series in which their opponents had little trouble lighting the lamp.
Brodeur was once unparalleled as a goalie, but he's no match for a Quick these days. He is, however, still effective. His Devils were also supposed to be at a goaltending disadvantage against Lundqvist and the Rangers in the last round, and that storyline didn't play out as many planned.
New Jersey had just a middle-of-the-pack offense this season, but its 216 regular-season goals were 28 more than the Kings scored. In Ilya Kovalchuk, the Devils have the best pure offensive player in this series, even if Kovalchuk's defense sometimes makes Patrick Kane's look solid. In guys like Patrik Elias and Zach Parise, they have other capable scorers. Bryce Salvador and Marek Zidlicky have been effective from the blue line.
All of this is to say that, while I will concede that Quick is the superior goalie, I think the Devils are the better group of skaters. What's that mean in a seven-game series? Maybe not a whole lot, since hockey is about as fluky in small samples as baseball, but something, certainly. Partly for that reason, and partly just to be different from everyone else, I'm picking New Jersey. Devils in seven.