Last spring, I started taking a relatively simple mathematical look at each series, using shots on goal and goaltender save percentages to determine which team might be expected to win the series.
The Conference Finals brought split results, just like the first two rounds, so now the Cup Final will determine on which side of the ledger this year's shot and save percentage forecasts finish.
Since I'm the first one to emphasize that overall statistics (or standings) are not necessarily representative of the current value for a team, especially with respect to injuries, these statistics merely provide a baseline for the series, perhaps providing an idea what a team needs to do in order to emerge victorious.
In some cases, teams will simply need to keep doing what they've been doing throughout the regular season; in others, they might need better goaltending, or fewer shots against, or more shots for -- just something -- to provide better expected results in a seven-game series.
The calculations below are rather simple and the expected goals for each team in the series are determined by taking each team's shots for and against over the course of the season, including the playoffs and splitting the difference.
So, Los Angeles has 30.9 shots on goal per game and New Jersey allowed 28.1 shots on goal per game; the average of those two numbers is 29.50 shots, so that's the number that is then multiplied by (1 - the opposing goaltenders' save percentage) to determine an expected goals per game.
Finally, the number is multiplied by seven to indicate an expected goal total for a seven-game series. There's no guarantee that scoring more goals in a series will result in winning four games first, but the odds certainly favour the team that scores more.
Verdict: While the Kings should hold a territorial edge in the series, the difference looks to be in goal, where Jonathan Quick is one of the few goaltenders to have posted a save percentage over .930 right through the playoffs (where he's actually at a league-leading .946). However, that was going to be the difference between the Rangers and Devils in the last round too, in large part because Martin Brodeur's overall numbers this season have been mediocre. To Brodeur's credit, he's improved in the postseason (.923 SV%), but he'll have to continue playing at that level -- at least -- if he's going to backstop the Devils to another Cup.
On defence, the Kings may hold a slight advantage because Drew Doughty is playing at an elite level in the postseason, but he's also more likely to continue performing at this level than the Devils' playoff leader on the blueline, Bryce Salvador. Marek Zidlicky, Mark Fayne, Peter Harrold, Anton Volchenkov and Andy Greene are a serviceable supporting cast for the Devils, but it's not a group that dictates its will on the opposition.
The Kings' defence is, aside from Doughty, much the same. Willie Mitchell, Matt Greene, Slava Voynov, Rob Scuderi and Alec Martinez have been decent, but they also have the good fortune of having Quick at the ready to bail them out if need be.
Up front, the Kings' line of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams has been the best in the playoffs, while Los Angeles is getting strong complementary production. The second unit of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter has benefitted from a resurgent Dustin Penner and the the third line of Dwight King, Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis has contributed throughout the playoffs. The fourth line of Jordan Nolan, Colin Fraser and Brad Richardson hasn't played a very significant part (relatively) in the Kings' success.
That depth production may be the Devils' best hope for taking advantage, since Ryan Carter, Steve Bernier and Stephen Gionta were significant factors in the Eastern Conference Final. It will be difficult for the Devils to win based on fourth-line production, obviously, so those at the top of the depth chart will have to produce too. That means continued production from Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique, David Clarkson, but also demands more from Patrik Elias (who has just six points in 18 playoff games), Alexei Ponikarovsky and Jacob Josefson, who returned from a broken wrist for Game Four against the Rangers.
The point remains that the Devils' advantage may be their forward depth, but if they're not getting much from Elias, it's not likely that the fourth line is going to prove to be the difference.
Thus, unless the Devils can somehow keep Kopitar and Brown under wraps, the Kings appear to be on their way to the Stanley Cup as an eighth seed. Who would have predicted it?
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.