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AP column: LA rolls through Chicago, New York is next

Most Intriguing Stanley Cup Storylines

By JIM LITKE
AP Sports Columnist

CHICAGO (AP) -- Let's get to the news first: The Rangers are cooked.

It hardly mattered in that sense - but only in that sense - whether the Kings or Blackhawks won Game 7 of the Western Conference finals. The task falls to Los Angeles after a 5-4 overtime win Sunday night, but the truth is either would have thumped New York. The series that just ended was the real Stanley Cup finals.

The difference between the two best teams in the game, not coincidentally the NHL's last two champions, turned out to be about as wide as Blackhawks defenseman Nick Leddy's right shoulder. That's where the shot from the left point by Kings defenseman Alec Martinez struck first, a little less than six minutes into overtime, before the puck bounced up and traced a lazy arc over goaltender Corey Crawford's desperate attempt to readjust his glove hand on the fly. No surprise there.

Both of the Kings' previous playoff series - against San Jose and Anaheim - went to seven games, and they won both deciding games on the road. In all, they faced elimination seven times and won them all, too. They trailed three times in this one, by two goals early, in a building where Chicago had gone 7-1 throughout the postseason.

"We'd prefer not to get to Game 7," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "But when you're playing the defending champion, there's a good chance of it. As I said earlier, when it was 3-3 coming into tonight, it could have been the other way, the three wins and the three losses.

"We said if we won this game," he added a moment later, "it was going to be a great series. That was our mindset."

Sutter wasn't just being his usual deadpan self.

There hasn't been a playoff series any better than this one in hockey for a while, or in any other game for that matter. Two games went to overtime and the first of those, Game 5, featured a withering stretch of uninterrupted up-and-down play in the first overtime that lasted nearly eight minutes without a whistle. It took roughly 26 minutes to televise the 20 minutes of running clock time.

Contrast that to an NFL game, which takes just under three hours to televise on average, with about 11 minutes of live action and another 70 minutes of shots of the players standing around. Anyone who did that in this series was going to get scorched.

"Last year, they smacked us around - five games, but it could have been four and I think we were a better team this year and evenly matched," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "So I don't think it was revenge. ... The respect level on both sides is very high - not to say we don't respect anybody that we've beat in the past."

Turns out the Rangers and Kings split their only two meetings this season, but Los Angeles went 20-7-3 in their matches against the rest of the junior varsity, as plenty of hockey insiders dubbed the Eastern Conference, for a winning percentage of 70 percent. The Blackhawks went 19-7-6 against the East (69 percent), but it's not just at the top where the West is best. The rest of the Western Conference posted a slightly less-scintillating 55 percent win total overall, averaging nearly a quarter of a goal more (2.74 vs. 2.52) per game.

Fans like to say you can throw out the numbers in a championship series, and they could be right. The Rangers have one of the best goaltenders on the planet in Henrik Lundqvist, but the Kings Jonathan Quick is in the conversation. The Rangers have a proven goal scorer in Martin St. Louis and some speed spread across three lines.

But it's not nearly enough to hold off the deep, fast, rugged, opportunistic Kings, even factoring in the wear-and-tear Los Angeles endured just to book a place in the final. And in fact, the Kings were so drained after Game 7 in Chicago that just thinking about the Rangers was a chore.

Asked what he remembered about their split with New York, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty drew a blank.

"Nothing," he said. "Sorry."

"I'll deal with that," Sutter said tersely, "tomorrow."

When the question came up again a few minutes later, he lapsed into coachspeak: "Great goaltending. Great defense. Great forwards. Great special teams."

"So no chance?" came a follow-up.

"I'd say it's against us," Sutter replied. No doubt the bookies in Las Vegas were thrilled to hear that. "We're up against it again."

Don't believe it. The one guy in the building Sunday night who knew as much tried to hold his tongue. He wasn't entirely successful.

"I'll let you guys sort that out," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I would have liked to have figured out how we matched up against them (the Rangers) ourselves."

But a moment later, Quenneville couldn't help but marvel.

"They find a way, LA. They're never out of a hockey game, out of a series. They're ..." he paused a final time, searching for the right word, "dangerous."

Exactly. Only this time, they won't need their usual quota of games to prove it.

Kings in six or less.

---

Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at Twitter.com/JimLitke.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.

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Tom June 02 2014 at 10:17 AM

Good golly is Hockey still going on? Who knew?

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gidget6368 June 02 2014 at 4:18 PM

Sorry LA, NY Rangers all the way. GOOOOOOO RANGERS

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toddisit June 02 2014 at 12:15 PM

I'm not a believer that any team is a heavy favorite, no dynasties out there. I would assume LA has a slight edge because they knocked off defending champs, not much though. Either way, don't care, stopped watching hockey years ago.

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Mandoist June 02 2014 at 3:32 PM

I hate it when none of the best teams make the finals. Think I'll go fishing.

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gbreit1 June 02 2014 at 1:58 PM

Sounds like Jim is either a Homer or a Chicago fan. The Canadians were also supposed to run though the Rangers and they're now playing golf. How much you want to make a bet that this doof never put on a pair of skates or picked up a stick, caught or hit a baseball or have done anything athletic in his life expect report poorly on the topic.

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rjd1doc June 02 2014 at 2:35 PM

Is it me or are these 2 looking at each other more like lovers than hockey players in the cover photo??? Looks creepy, yea, heck, it's probably just me. Now I'm worried.

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Bill June 02 2014 at 3:05 PM

Go Rangers!! I am a Boston Bruins fan and will stay loyal to The Eastern Conference and root for The Rangers to win the cup. I was born in Boston (1939) and have always lived in MA. but I have never bought into the idiotic baloney that we must not root for a NY team simply because they represent NY. GO RANGERS!!!

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1 reply
Mandoist Bill June 02 2014 at 3:41 PM

Traitor!!

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rbcookrider June 02 2014 at 4:00 PM

Los Angeles King!!! Silver and Black Attack!

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rbcookrider June 02 2014 at 4:02 PM

How come no black guys play Hockey? Is the N.H.L. Racist?

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anderson June 02 2014 at 11:39 PM

LA did not roll through Chicago...........where the hell does this guy get off anyway.

Even as an LA fan, any idioit knows they watched the Stanley Cup final on Sunday night........the two best teams have already played........

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