2014 Stanley Cup Final Preview: Head-to-Head, Underlying Numbers, and a Series Recap

Let's take a look at the underlying numbers of the last teams standing.

It has been a very, very long time since these two teams last met. When they squared off on November 17th at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers had no Marty St. Louis and the Kings had no Tanner Pearson or Marian Gaborik. Henrik Lundqvist was still kinda struggling. The world was only starting to learn of Anton Stralman's usefulness. It was a different time. Then a bunch of weird stuff happened and now these teams are playing for the Cup. How did those regular season games -- those ones in the Before Times, the Long Long Ago -- go anyway?

Pretty close to even, cumulatively. Though the Rangers edged the Kings by a single shot attempt in the first meeting in LA, the Kings responded by thumping them in New York. They out-attempted the Rangers 56-38 at 5v5 play in that game. On the scoring chance sheet, things are similar. The Rangers owned game one, out-chancing the Kings 20-13 (16-7 EV). However, again, the Kings got retribution when the season series shifted back to New York. Los Angeles took chances 17-12 (16-5 EV) in that game.

Zone entries don't shed much light on the differences between these two teams either. In fact, the margins are even smaller in this regard than they are in most others. In the first game, New York gained the blue line 67 times to the Kings' 66. In game two, it was 58-56 in favor of the Rangers. Still not a large difference. However, there is some small solace in the entry numbers for Kings fans. In those two games, the Kings controlled the puck on 40% of their entries while the Rangers did 30% of theirs. It's also worth noting that the Kings gradually shifted away from their early-season dump-and-chase game as the campaign wore on. While they never became a high-octane rush team, adding Marian Gaborik, Tanner Pearson, and even Tyler Toffoli changed the dynamics of the roster and game plan significantly.

While we don't have scoring chance or zone entry numbers for the Rangers in the playoffs to this point, we can figure out just how well the Kings have been playing. In their series against Chicago, the Kings controlled the puck on 49% of their entries. Remember that league average for this is around 50%. While that's slightly below average, it's actually an uptick from their previous two series against San Jose and Anaheim. In those games, the Kings wound up around 45%, which is very close to their season-long number.

On the defensive side of things, the Kings allowed the Hawks to gain the line with control on 54% of their entries. That, again, sounds underwhelming compared to the rest of the league. However, Jen from Second City Hockey was kind enough to provide me with her season-long numbers for the Blackhawks, and that information paints the Kings' performance in a slightly better light. Throughout this season, Chicago gained the offensive blue line with control 58% of the time and conceded controlled entries just 45% of the time. The Kings were able to best the Hawks' season-long controlled entry numbers on both sides of the puck.

The possession numbers between these the Kings and Hawks were remarkably close. In score-close situations, the Kings controlled 52.2% of all shot attempts and 50.5% of all unblocked shot attempts. The possession numbers are reflected by scoring chances, as well. The Kings were able to control 52.28% of scoring chances overall and 51.16% of all scoring chances at even strength. It was their best-played series of the playoffs so far.

On the whole, it's difficult to compare the Kings and Rangers directly. They've played vastly different levels of competition not just in the playoffs but all season long. The only team the Rangers have faced that was termed as "good" before the playoffs started was Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh is a team with a lot of skeptics and perhaps even more warts. Meanwhile, the Kings survived lengthy series against two of the best teams the league has to offer. And also the Anaheim Ducks. As a result, it would make sense if the Rangers -- a very good team, to be clear -- had better possession numbers than the Kings. However, they do not. So far in these playoffs, the Kings have controlled 52.2% of all 5v5 shot attempts while the Rangers have owned just 50.7%. Both are respectable numbers against quality opponents, but the Kings so far have performed better against undeniably better competition.

Where the two teams really differ is in net. The Rangers have the best goalie in the world and the Kings do not. I do not think Jon Quick is going to follow up his shaky series against Chicago with anything similar against New York, but he has not been playing very well lately. Meanwhile, Henrik Lundqvist has helped the Rangers to a .933 save percentage at 5v5 play, the third best figure in the playoffs (and one of the teams ahead of them lasted all of 5 games).

Both teams have played pretty well in the playoffs, but they've done so against vastly different levels of competition. The Flyers are not a very good hockey team and the Habs were overachieving to get to a point where they could use their third-string goalie against the Rangers. The Kings have benefited from some good fortune of their own (look no further than the series winning goal against Chicago) as all teams do to get to this point. I feel as if the general public has vastly undersold just how good this Rangers team. While I think it is very fair to say that the Kings are a favorite heading in, it's not a guarantee that they win, nor is it close to being one.

All we really know for sure heading in is that the Kings have played their best hockey of the playoffs in their past 7 games (perhaps their past 9 or 11 games if you wanna go back to the Anaheim series). They withstood some terrible play at times early in their match-ups against San Jose and Anaheim, but no such problems persisted in their play against Chicago. What we can guarantee about the Kings is that it's a near certainty that they will play well enough to win. However, much as it was against San Jose and Chicago, there's a very good chance that the Rangers will do the same, and they'll bring a considerably better goaltender to the table than both the Kings and the Kings' opponents in the past few post-seasons.