June 3, 2014 at 8:04 pm

Stanley Cup Finals preview: Rangers, Kings both step up for a Stanley Cup

Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, with his .928 save percentage, is seeing the puck better than anyone. (Ryan Remiorz / Associated Press)

Just get into the playoffs.

You never know what’ll happen.

In recent years, that theory has proved correct.

Take the Rangers and Kings, who open the Stanley Cup Finals tonight at Staples Center.

These teams were hardly dominant during the regular season. Both struggled — particularly the Rangers early — and hardly looked the part of finalists.

But here they are, ready to claim the prize.

“We worked our way and improved how we played,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “We came along in the second half and found a way to get in. Ever since we’ve gotten in, all the series have been so competitive and so hard-fought.

“We’ve gotten the goaltending we need and we’ve found ways to win.”

During the regular season, the Rangers were second in the Metropolitan Division, 13 points behind the Penguins, to earn the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.

“There were some down moments this year,” forward Brad Richards said. “It took a while to get everybody going. We all know now if you just get in and get hot.”

And hot they got, knocking off the Flyers and Penguins in seven games each, and then the Canadiens in six.

As for the Kings, they weren’t much better during the regular season.

They finished third in the Pacific Division, 16 points behind the Ducks and 11 behind the Sharks.

And all they went out and accomplished was knocking both those teams out in seven games each, including rallying from a 3-0 deficit against the Sharks.

Then, all the Kings did was take out the defending champion Blackhawks in seven games, winning twice on the road, no less.

Now, they have an opportunity to win a second Cup in three seasons.

“L.A. is not just a place to come and play a hockey game and work on your tan,” forward Justin Williams said. “It’s a tough loop in California right now to play. We want to put L.A. on the map and put it significantly on the map with regards to hockey.”

The key to the series, however, may fall on — shock of all shocks — the goaltending.

Jonathan Quick was outstanding during the Kings run to the the 2012 Stanley Cup, but hasn’t been as sharp these playoffs.

Spanning the end of Game 6 and start of Game 7, Quick allowed five goals on 10 shots to the Blackhawks. He settled down, however, and led the Kings to their seventh consecutive victory in elimination games.

On the other end is Henrik Lundqvist, quite possibly the best goaltender in the NHL without a Stanley Cup.

Lundqvist, a Conn Smythe (playoff MVP) contender, leads all goaltenders with a .928 save percentage, is second with a 2.03 goals-against average, and stopped 102-of-105 shots the last three games against the Penguins.

“The entire team has really stepped up in key moments throughout the year,” Lundqvist said. “Especially in the playoffs. It makes it even more special. That’s a big thing when you’re playing in the playoffs.”

Breakdown

Records: Los Angeles 46-28-8 (100 points), N.Y. Rangers 45-31-6 (96)

Series: Tied 1-1

Story lines: The Kings line of C Jeff Carter between LW Tanner Pearson and RW Tyler Toffoli was outstanding against the Blackhawks, cycling the puck and using its size. ... Kings D Drew Doughty averaged 30 minutes in the West finals. ... Rangers RW Martin St. Louis was acquired at the trade deadline and quickly became a leader. ... The Rangers have killed off 55 of 64 (85.9 percent) penalities.

Key player: Kings RW Marian Gaborik. He has an NHL-leading 12 goals in the playoffs (11 during an injury-marred regular season). Having played four seasons in New York, he’s likely to be a favorite target of booing Rangers fans.

Prediction: Los Angeles in 6

Schedule

Best-of-seven (x-if necesssry)

TV: All games on NBC unless noted

Wednesday: at Los Angeles, 8 p.m.

Saturday: at Los Angeles, 7 p.m.

Monday: at New York, 8 p.m. NBCSN

Wednesday, June 11: at New York, 8 p.m. NBCSN

x-Friday, June 13: at Los Angeles, 8 p.m.

x-Monday, June 16: at New York, 8 p.m.

x-Wednesday, June 18: at Los Angeles, 8 p.m.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com
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