The last time the New York Rangers were gearing up for a Stanley Cup final was in 1994. Twenty years later, the original six club is getting set to face the Los Angeles Kings for the right to take home the coveted trophy.
This isn’t the first time the East and West Coasts have dueled in a matchup that's fueled with animosity and violence. A couple years after those ’94 Rangers made their historic run, famed rappers Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. were engulfed in a dispute involving rap artists from the opposite coasts.
Though players from the Rangers and Kings wont be taking center ice and singing the lyrics to either Biggie's “Who Shot Ya?” or Tupac’s “Hit 'Em Up," this series does evoke an eerily similar feel to those contentious times. Don’t see how a seven-game series between two hockey teams relates to rap rivalry? Let's break it down:
Jonathan Quick vs. Henrik Lundqvist
This is the marquee matchup many people will be tuning in to see. They're Biggie and Tupac, squaring off in their primes. Both Lundqvist and Quick are at the top of their games, as they have anchored their respective teams thus far in the intense Stanley Cup Playoffs. They also recently earned silver and fourth-place finishes, respectively, at the Sochi Olympics for their countries.
King Henrik has had a terrific postseason, posting a superb 2.03 goals against average, including performances where he has single-handedly willed the rangers to victory. Most notably, there have been two game 7s in which he has all but stood on his head in order for the Rangers to advance on to the next round.
While Quick’s numbers are not as impressive as he has come to expect, there is no reason to expect anything but a sensational performance from him. The main reason for this faith is history; in 2012, Quick led the Kings to the coveted Cup, all the while earning the Conn Smythe trophy and certainly making a name for himself around the NHL.
Both of these goaltenders are sure to put on a heck of a show, like Biggie and Tupac would. However, in this face-off, no one will end up shot and tragically killed, like the two rappers were.
Drew Doughty vs. Ryan McDonagh
Drew Doughty and Ryan McDonagh are two of the best young defensemen in the National Hockey League. Both blue-liners are similar to many of the up-and-coming artists who were involved in the bi-coastal Bad Boy versus Death Row record labels.
McDonagh and Doughty, like their goaltenders, represented their countries at the winter games this past year and will likely do so for years to come. Expect to see a lot of these two throughout this series, as they both lead their team’s top defense pairs and log substantially more minutes than most of their teammates.
These two all-stars don’t limit themselves to the defensive part of the ice, either. Both embody no shortage of offensive talent and are integral in generating power plays and even goals for both of their squads.
Only time will tell whether or not the Rangers or Kings are fortunate enough to hoist the Stanley Cup, but whichever club does it will do it behind the strength of their stud defenseman.
Marian Gaborik vs. Rick Nash
Marian Gaborik and Rick Nash, like Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., went from being unknown to each other, to being teammates and friends and finally, to being enemies, facing off on the biggest stage. Each player started in the league as a young, top-notch goal scorer, then after the Rangers made a blockbuster summer trade for Rick Nash, they found themselves trying to team up for goals.
However, after half a season worth of struggles, the Rangers decided to deal Gaborik, and as fate would have it, only a year and a half later, the old line-mates are now foes, matching up in the Stanley Cup Final.
Both the Rangers and Kings rely on these guys to be leading goal scorers and lead offensive surges, however, fortunately for the Kings, in these playoffs, only Gaborik has done that.
Through 21 games, Gaborik has posted an absurd 12 goals and seven assists, dwarfing Nash’s three goals and seven assists. Thankfully for the Rangers, the team has one of its deepest rosters in years and a Nash resurgence during this series could be what pushes them over the edge to achieve their ultimate goal. With all the history these two have, expect what we saw in the mid-90s rap wars: no love lost between the East Coast and West Coast wingers.
Jeff Carter/Justin Williams vs. Marty St. Louis/Brad Richards
Jeff Carter and Justin Williams for the Kings and Marty St. Louis and Brad Richards for the Rangers are grizzled veterans who still play extremely vital roles in their teams' on-ice successes. They have also already guided their respective clubs through Stanley Cup runs.
These four are reminiscent of Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs and Suge Knight in the rap battles. Combs and Knight were the founders of Bad Boy and Death Boy records, respectively, and tried to guide the way for younger rappers.
Both forwards from each team, like Combs and Knight, did attempt to set the tone for the extremely talented but young, and at times, foolish players on each team.
Justin Williams is known to many as Mr. Game 7 for his big-time performances in the clutch, while Richards has a Conn Smythe on his résumé and St. Louis is the emotional leader for the Rangers. These four guys have been steady fixtures for the Kings and Rangers throughout their time with the teams and this certainly will not change.
The Rest of the Rosters
Whenever a rapper went on stage during the 90s, rap battles rarely went forth without his entourage and hype men around. So, none of the aforementioned stars on the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers will win a thing without support from the other guys on their teams.
Grit depth players, like Dom Moore and Brian Boyle for New York and Trevor Lewis and Jarret Stoll in Los Angeles, must do their jobs just as effectively as Nash, Gaborik, Lundqvist and Quick in order to win the Cup.
Winning the Stanley Cup is regarded as one of the hardest accomplishments in sports because in order to win, all 20 players on the active rosters must be on top of their game. This notion certainly will not change for this year's series, and like the East and West Coast rap dispute, it will be one to remember.