The Los Angeles Kings sure aren’t playing anything like an 8-seed in this year’s Stanley Cup Finals. Mowing through the Western Conference playoffs with dominating series victories over the #1 seed Vancouver Canucks, #2 St. Louis Blues, and #3 Phoenix Coyotes, the Kings now look to Game 4 tonight against the Devils with a 3-0 lead in the series and a chance to be crowned Stanley Cup Champions for the first time in franchise history dating back to 1967. With face-off set for 5:22 PM at Staples Center tonight, Los Angeles will get ready to finish off a series sweep for the second time in this year’s playoff run, but will no doubt be up against the best effort from a proud New Jersey Devils team hell-bent on taking a little embarrassment away from an otherwise poor showing in this year’s Stanley Cup Finals.
While all the hockey analysts around North America have concluded that this series is all but over for the Devils, and history shows only 3 teams have come back from a 3-0 series deficit (just one in the Cup Finals, the Toronto Maple Leafs back in 1942), tonight’s game is really all about whether the Kings can improve their Game 4 play, in which they’ve been somewhat flat in the previous 3 series’ thus far. LA has lost 2 of the 3 Game 4’s they’ve played despite being up 3-0 in all 4 playoff series in 2012, so you can expect that Kings coach Darryl Sutter will have his team very mindful of playing aggressive, disciplined hockey in what is sure to be an electric and nerve-rattling setting in Los Angeles. New Jersey will come out with everything they’ve got on offense, meaning that the Kings defense has to be even more attentive to the Devils’ playmakers, including Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. No doubt guys like Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell, Slava Voynov and Rob Scuderi will all be up to the challenge this evening, but it will take extra focus to maintain an aggressive style, and avoid sitting back and waiting for the Devils to come at them.
As in Game 3, where the Kings dominated by going after pucks, even on the penalty kill, and forcing the Devils out of their zone on every dumped-in puck, tonight they’ll have to play with that same intensity, never quitting to finish checks on a player or chase down loose pucks. Luckily for the Kings tonight on defense, they’ll have the best goalie throughout the 2012 NHL Playoffs in their corner with Jonathan Quick. Only allowing 2 goals through three games in this series, and 24 through 17 games in the playoffs (1.36 GAA, .950 save percentage), this guy is close to becoming one of the best goalies in the entire history of the NHL playoffs. If the Kings win tonight, there can’t be any question who lifts the Vezina Trophy for the top goalie in the league, and arguably Quick should have his case made for the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the top player in the playoffs, as well.
For New Jersey, this series really hadn’t been that much of a lopsided affair until one instance of a Devils 5-on-3 power play in Game 3. Though the Devils only mustered 2 goals in the first two games combined, the Kings only had 2 goals in regulation as well. The Devils, truly, have just not had the bounce of the puck on their side, losing the first two games in overtime sessions in which arguably the Devils both dominated in possession and shots. Countless open-goal looks have been there, and the crossbar has been hit enough times to make Devils’ fans want to bend every rink’s goal frame up a quarter of an inch. However, there was a definitive change in New Jersey’s playing style and their emotions in Game 3 that may have the biggest impact on tonight’s game and preparation for it. After failing to score on the 5-on-3 penalty during the 2nd period of Game 2, the attitude just changed across those dressed in red, white, and black. Frustrations bubbled up, the game got more chippy, and Los Angeles felt all of it. The intensity of the game shifted towards the Kings bench, and from that moment on, the game was all Los Angeles’. Martin Brodeur gave up the most goals he’s allowed all throughout the playoffs. Ilya Kovalchuk, the team’s leading scorer, was nowhere to be found. LA scored twice on the power play despite being under 10 percent with the man advantage for the entire playoffs. Everything unraveled for New Jersey.
Though the ending of this series seems no longer in doubt, the Devils still have plenty left in the tank to prove to the hockey world that they deserved to be playing the hottest team in the NHL in the Stanley Cup finals. Let’s not forget the dramatic comebacks in their series against the New York Rangers, dominating the last two games against arguably a better squad with a better goalie. The fight is not done for a proud group, who tonight will be tasked with taking the energy out of a raucous arena filled with screaming fans who won’t stop with their cheers unless the Devils force them to. There’s so much talent here, from veterans Patrik Elias, Danius Zubrus, Bryce Salvador and Petr Sykora to newcomer Adam Henrique that once something positive happens for the Devils the feel of the game could change drastically. It’s essential then this evening for New Jersey to get out to the lead from the early going, and get their stars active and productive. Take LA off their confident streak, and take the fans out of the game, and the Devils can concentrate on getting back to their style of play: offensively aggressive, and stonewall defensive. The first goal has never been so important for them as it is tonight. It’s important though that the Devils not only concentrate on the first goal, but also the first response to that goal, should they get it. Los Angeles has dictated playoff games thus far by jumping out first on most nights, and responding immediately when scored upon. With Jersey getting a goal and holding a lead through the period, the tide will no doubt turn in their favor in more ways than one.
Betting lines for the Los Angeles Kings vs. New Jersey Devils, Game 4 at Sportsbetting Sportsbook.
The Los Angeles Kings, despite their struggles in Game 4’s at home this playoff run, are the favorite for tonight’s showdown, getting -180 odds to win straight up on the money line. The New Jersey Devils are underdogs again at +160 odds, but based on the Kings’ history, this might be the best opportunity of the series to back them as the underdog, given their desire to save some face and push another game back to New Jersey.
Against the Spread, the Kings will have to cover 1.5 goals to earn spread pickers +162 odds. If the Kings get out ahead by a goal and can hold late, there is always that big possibility that with New Jersey emptying their net, that an empty-net goal could seal the deal for spread pickers taking LA. For New Jersey, they’ll have 1.5 goals to play with against the spread, but will get fairly weak odds at -185.
For the over/under, if you’ve been following playoff hockey, you already know what the total points line is set at: 4.5 goals. This has been the standard for the last two rounds of the NHL playoffs, and for this series in particular, the line has yet to be broken through, even despite a 4-goal effort from the Kings in Game 3. Expect once more to find the scoring hard to come by, unless the Kings can break out early and get on a roll. Otherwise, expect another stingy defensive start from both teams to weigh heavily on the chance for another game pushed to the underside of total points.
For what could essentially be the last game of the 2011-12 NHL season, make sure you get your wagers place for an epic showdown this evening. Find the best wagers at the Sportsbetting Sportbook, and take your best shot at wagering on this huge game today!