Underdog Devils and Kings vie for glory

The wildly unpredictable NHL play-offs enter the home stretch with the long shot Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils going head-to-head in a Stanley Cup final few saw coming.

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The once-unthinkable best-of-seven championship series opens on Wednesday in New Jersey and marks the finish line of a punishing two-month play-off grind that has produced upset after upset.

After scraping into the postseason as the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference, Los Angeles will try to write a Hollywood ending to their storybook play-off run by capturing the 45-year-old franchise's first Stanley Cup.

The sixth-seeded Devils have won three Stanley Cups since the Kings made their only appearance in the finals in 1993 but another championship would mean no less to a money-losing franchise that is in search of investors.

With the Lakers and Clippers out of the National Basketball Association play-offs, there is plenty of hockey buzz in Los Angeles as the Kings' unlikely run has brought out the Hollywood glitterati with A-listers from David Beckham to Tom Hanks taking up prime seats at the Staples Center.

"We'll probably have to get a bigger bandwagon," said Kings forward Dustin Penner. "It's great for the city, great for hockey especially in Southern California.

"We have a pretty rabid fan base and I think you'll see more of that now."

It may not be the dream New York-Los Angeles final the NHL had wanted but the Devils and Kings should offer some attractive hockey as East coast grit faces off against West coast glitz with Newark, New Jersey, long portrayed as home to mobsters and once labelled America's most dangerous city, against Los Angeles, the sunny home to the rich and famous.

While the two cities offer stark contrasts the teams very much mirror each other, relying on brilliant netminding, solid defence and some flashy offensive weapons up front.

Since securing a postseason berth, the Kings have reigned supreme, racing through the West by going 14-2 in knocking off the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks, second-seed St. Louis Blues and third-seed Phoenix Coyotes while winning an NHL-record 10 consecutive play-off road games.

The Devils' path to the finals was more adventurous, needing double-overtime in Game Seven in the opening round to see off the Florida Panthers before taking out the Philadelphia Flyers in five games before grinding out a six-game battle with cross-river rivals the New York Rangers.

"Well, you're down to the last two teams in the league," said Devils head coach Peter DeBoer. "So the record speaks for itself; who they (Kings) have beaten and how they've beaten them speaks for itself.

"I feel we've beaten some pretty good teams and I told you my thoughts on the Rangers and how good a team they are. So we're looking forward to the challenge."

Since joining the NHL in 1967, the Kings have been hockey royalty in name only, still waiting to be crowned champions.

The last time Los Angeles was in the final, Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky was the toast of Tinseltown, but this year they are being led by hard-nosed captain Dustin Brown and goaltender Jonathan Quick.

Goaltending has been the key to success this postseason and will once again be a major factor in deciding which team will sip from Lord Stanley's famous mug.

The final will feature a compelling showdown in net with the Devils' 40-year-old Martin Brodeur, the NHL's all-time leader in wins and shutouts, going against 26-year-old Quick, a Vezina Trophy finalist as top goalie for the 2011-12 season.

With their play thus far, both Quick and Brodeur have earned serious consideration for the Conn Smythe Trophy, given to the most valuable player for his team in the play-offs.

"Every team writes their own stories," said Brodeur. "I was fortunate to be part of great teams that had success, and I was part of great teams that didn't have success. Right now, we are having a lot of fun doing what we are doing.

"The success is coming with it right now. We have a lot of guys contributing, and I think that's what's making a winning team. It's not just a one-man show out there."

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