The battle-tested Los Angeles Kings are favorites to lift the 2014 Stanley Cup, but the New York Rangers have proven they are underdogs with plenty of bite.
“I like our chances,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said as his team prepared for the cross-country trek to Los Angeles, where the Kings will host game one of the National Hockey League’s best-of-seven championship series on Wednesday.
The Kings, who won the title in 2012, dethroned defending champions Chicago in overtime of a seventh game on Sunday to reach the final.
“I know LA has been there before, I know they’ve won before, I know they’ve played in three game-sevens and won them all and just beat the Stanley Cup champions — I get that,” said Vigneault, who isn’t bothered by the underdog tag.
“Throughout these playoffs, and it’s not going to change now, we’ve been the underdog,” he said. “But what we’ve done is focus on how we play and what we need to do on the ice. That’s definitely what we’re going to do come Wednesday.”
The Kings owe their favorite’s status to tremendous depth at both ends of the ice.
After struggling to score goals early in the regular season, the Kings are the highest-scoring team in the playoffs.
Former Ranger Marian Gaborik, acquired by Los Angeles at the trade deadline, leads all players in the post-season with 12 goals and seven assists.
Jeff Carter, who had eight goals to help the Kings seize the trophy two years ago, has nine goals in this post-season.
Drew Doughty is just the biggest star of a tough defensive corps and if goaltender Jonathan Quick’s inconsistency has been a concern at times, he boasts a solid overall record in post-season play.
Despite their many weapons, the Kings have had to fight their way back to the title series.
Their 5-4 overtime win over the reigning champion Chicago Blackhawks in game seven of the Western Conference finals made them the first team in league history to reach the Stanley Cup Final with three game-seven victories on the road.
Against San Jose in the opening round, the Kings became just the fourth team in NHL history to rally for a series win after trailing 3-0.
They won games six and seven to finish off the Anaheim Ducks in the second round.
The three teams the Kings had to get past were all among the top seven in the NHL’s overall standings this year.
The Rangers edged the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games in the first round, then rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games in the second.
They closed out the Montreal Canadiens in six games in the Eastern Conference finals to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since winning it all in 1994.
New York fans starved for a championship were driving up the ticket prices for games three and four at venerable Madison Square Garden, with even the cheaper seats going for upwards of $1,000 on the resale site Stubhub.com.
For New York fans, the coast-to-coast clash is a battle of the Kings against “King” Henrik Lundqvist.
The Swedish goaltender is a big reason the Rangers are back on the NHL’s biggest stage, having fashioned the best post-season of his career with a 2.03 goals allowed average and a .928 save percentage in 20 games.
Lundqvist, 32, won Olympic gold with Sweden in 2006, but will be playing for his first Stanley Cup.
In December he inked a seven-year contract extension with the Rangers worth a reported $59.5 million.
He admitted that the negotiations were a distraction, and he endured some ups and downs in the regular season that make this first championship chance even sweeter.
“I really want to win a Cup here,” Lundqvist said back in December. “It’s my biggest goal.”