The New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings meet in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final on Wednesday on Hockey Night In Canada (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 8 p.m. ET), but before the puck drops we want to know: what will truly decide who lifts Lord Stanley's mug?
We're going to guess there are plenty of you out there screaming at the above sentence: "The team that scores more goals than the other team," but since we're focusing on what makes THAT happen, we've narrowed the 'X-factor' down to three options:
Ah, the classic battle of youth vs. experience. Jonathan Quick, 26, with 249 career NHL games, led his Kings with the same type of play all year until the team (29th in the league in offence) learned how to score. Martin Brodeur, 40, with 199 career playoff games, has steadily gotten better this post-season, according to his save percentage numbers.
As you can see here, both have had their share of ups and downs through the 2012 playoffs, but will the play of one of these netminders be what decides whose name will be engraved on the Stanley Cup?
New Jersey: This was the first year behind the Devils' bench for Peter DeBoer, and a year after narrowly missing the playoffs, and as the following facts show, he seems to have struck the right chords:
- led his team through a first round Game 7 on the road
- kept his cool through a five-game series against the latest incarnation of the Broad Street Bullies
- ditto for the Battle of the Hudson (albeit in six games) against John Tortorella and the Rangers
Los Angeles: Darryl Sutter inherited an underperforming L.A. team just before the NHL's holiday break and guided them to a record of 37-15-11 since he took over, including playoffs. Sutter also seems to hail from the same "cool as a cucumber" mould that DeBoer is, making a screaming match between benches quite unlikely.
One thing Sutter has in his favour is his team's innate ability to laugh in the face of home-ice advantage. The eighth-seeded Kings knocked off the West's No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds without losing on the road and not holding the last change or the preferable face-off position in those games. He's also no stranger to the Cup final, having led the Calgary Flames there in 2004, whereas this was DeBoer's first foray in the NHL playoffs.
3. Special teams
New Jersey: After posting the best penalty kill unit during the regular season, the Devils did an about-face, only killing 74.2 per cent through the first three rounds. The power play is a different story, ranking second among teams in the playoffs (18.2 per cent or 12-for-66).
Los Angeles: If it wasn't so ludicrous to say, one might tell the Kings to start taking more penalties. They're so proficient on the PK, they boast a 91.2 per cent rate of effectiveness. and five shorthanded goals. The power play, on the other hand, well…maybe the less said about the six goals in 74 chances, the better.
Now that we've laid them out, which of these aspects do you think will most influence who wins the 2012 Stanley Cup final?