Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

June 15, 2014

NHL’s West is best in the Stanley Cup finals again

The West is best in the NHL — again.

The Los Angeles Kings beat the New York Rangers 3-2 in double overtime Friday night in Game 5, giving the Western Conference a third straight NHL champion, fourth in five years and sixth in nine years.

In the regular season, the Eastern Conference has also been consistently overmatched.

The West won 246 games and lost 202 against the East during the regular season — winning more intraconference matchups for the eighth straight season — to increase its advantage to 1,064 wins to 914 losses since the 2005-06 season, according to data from STATS provided to The Associated Press.

When the league emerged from a lockout in 2006, a salary cap was put in place to level the field, yet it’s actually been tilting West.

Los Angeles and Chicago, which have faced off in the last two conference finals, have combined to win four of the last five Cups.

“Both of those teams have built programs with a lot of depth after being terrible for a long time,” Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said in a phone interview. “They made good picks and made the right moves.”

The Kings were bad enough to have the No. 2 overall pick in 2008 and they took full advantage, selecting defenseman Drew Doughty, who has developed into a star. They also made the most of another first-round pick almost a decade ago, drafting center Anze Kopitar, who has become perhaps the league’s best player that doesn’t get a lot of publicity.

Likewise, the Blackhawks have built their team around high draft picks, taking forward Patrick Kane No. 1 overall in 2007, one year after selecting Jonathan Toews third overall.

The Kings and Blackhawks will likely be the teams to beat next year, too.

“The West has more dominant teams, led by LA and Chicago, and I think it should stay that way in the future,” said Anson Carter, a former NHL player and current NBCSN analyst. “I don’t see much of a fallout, but I think this kind of thing just goes in cycles.”

The East did have a third straight champion when Carolina won the first Stanley Cup in the salary cap era in 2006 and it hoisted the coveted hardware five years in a row from 1991 to 1995.

The San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues also racked up enough points in the regular season to finish behind only one team in the East, the Boston Bruins, who won it all in 2011.

“When a team wins a championship, you try to do what you can to beat those teams and I think in recent years that started with Boston,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “The common denominator is having strength up the middle with an elite defenseman, centerman and goaltender.”

The Kings certainly were tough to beat up the middle with Jonathan Quick in net, Doughty on the blue line and Kopitar in the middle up front.

New York, though, did match up well in those pivotal spots with goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, defenseman Ryan McDonagh and center Derek Stepan.

The Rangers pushed Los Angeles to a combined three overtime periods in the first two games before losing and had a 32-15 shots advantage when they lost Game 3. New York avoided a sweep, winning 2-1 on Wednesday night to shift the series back to Los Angeles.

“It’s not like we’ve been outplayed,” Lundqvist said. “That hasn’t been the case. They’ve been good, but I think we’ve been playing pretty good as well. It comes down to a couple plays here and there. That’s been the difference in these games.”

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