KINGS AND DEVILISH THINGS: Hailing different coastlines, Los Angeles and New Jersey will drop the puck for the right to lift Lord Stanley starting tonight. Photo courtesy Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

And then there were two. In the regular season, 30 teams had their eyes on one particular oversized silver trophy. By the start of the playoffs, that field was narrowed down to just 16. Now only the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils remain, and the puck drops on their series tonight.

The Kings have quickly made themselves out to be the darlings of this year’s postseason. Shoved into a first-round series against the team with the best record in the regular season, the Vancouver Canucks, the Kings went over the border and turned a few heads with a Game 1 victory. Was it luck? It appears not, because the Kings jumped out to a 3-0 game lead in the series before the mighty Canucks clinched their first victory. By Game Five, the series was over and Los Angeles had dethroned the top team in the west.

But the road didn’t get much easier for the Kings in the second round. They say goaltending wins you Stanley Cups and the second-seeded St. Louis Blues had a doozy of a duo in their goaltenders. Heading into the playoffs, Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliot both had a GAA under 2.00. But neither of them seemed to get a word in edgewise as the Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick was just that and much, much more. His .941 save percentage stole the show as the Kings SWEPT the Blues in four games.

QUICK KICK: Whether it be via his stick, glove, or pads, not many pucks are getting past Jonathan Quick these days. Photo courtesy Jeff Gross/Getty Images

By the conference finals, no one was prepared to take Los Angeles lightly. But by then, it might’ve been too late. The Kings had awakened the sleeping giant that is the television market they play in and, for the first time in a long time, Los Angeles sports fans weren’t talking about the Lakers or the Dodgers. Los Angeles, facing the Phoenix Coyotes, jumped out to their THIRD 3-0 series lead. This time around, though, L.A. had help from one of their namesakes. Left Winger Dwight King caught fire and scored four goals in the series as Los Angeles dismissed the Coyotes in five games. And that Jonathan Quick? His save percentage once again stood at an astounding .939.

Over in the east, the New Jersey Devils road to tonight’s game was a little bumpier. Facing off against the Florida Panthers in the first round, the Devils quickly dropped two straight after taking Game 1. A 3-0 victory in Game 5 by the Panthers put them on the brink of elimination. From there, you only need basic math skills to figure out what happened. But, again, it wasn’t easy. Both Game 6 and Game 7 went to at least one overtime, with the Devils squeaking by in both games.

So what did an escape from the first round earn them? A date with the hottest team in the conference. At the start of the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins were picked by many to win it all. Apparently the Philadelphia Flyers didn’t get that memo, because they browbeat the Pens into an 3-game hole. Pittsburgh scrounged up two victories, but by then it was too late. And yet, in the second round, it was the Flyers themselves who looked an awful lot like the first-round Penguins. Philly pulled out a close overtime victory at home in Game 1, but that would be their only ‘W’. New Jersey caught fire and, behind the stick of Left Winger Ilya Kovalchuk (seven points in five games), the Devils prevailed.

But they weren’t in the clear just yet. In the conference finals, they faced the top-seeded New York Rangers who had just dismissed the Washington Capitals after THEY eliminated the defending-champion Boston Bruins. And after Game 3, when the Devils found themselves down 2 games to 1, it appeared New York might be more than New Jersey can handle. But the Devils proved that they can put together a string of victories once again and eliminated the Rangers with a Game 6 overtime goal.

New Jersey will have the home ice advantage (ironically for the first time all postseason), but the Kings are not ones to cower at playing on the road. For the Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, you have to figure that this will be his last shot at a cup after pushing the big four-oh. He says he has no plans to retire, but how many more shots will this unlikely championship contender get at Lord Stanley? And if they do win, how is there not a better note to retire on?

On the other side, the tight-lipped L.A. goalie isn’t saying much of anything. Never one to warm up to the media, Jonathan Quick is choosing to let his play speak for itself. And with the net-minding he’s done this Spring, who can blame him? Still, it leaves the hungry media with little to work with as the media days wrap up, though the comparisons to a young Eminem are pretty funny.

So now we come down to the last series of the season with two of the unlikeliest of contestants still alive. A #6 seed will play a #8 seed, but neither team is playing like an underdog. Collectively, they have vanquished the favorites. Vancouver? Vanquished. Philly? Fried. St. Louis? Serrated. New York? Neutralized.

Make no mistake: this isn’t David vs. Goliath or even David vs. David. These are two talented hockey clubs that are peaking at absolutely the right time.


Los Angeles in Six Games.

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