May 13, 2012

New England well represented in NHL's final four

By Jesse Connolly

With a 2-1 victory over the Capitals in Game 7 on Saturday night, the Rangers became the fourth and final team to punch their ticket to the conference finals. The Blueshirts will battle the Devils in the East, while the Kings and Coyotes will square off out West.

What do all four teams have in common? Plenty of New England flavor.

NEW YORK RANGERS

Rangers center Brian Boyle (Getty Images)

Brian Boyle (Hingham, Mass.) 

The 6-foot-7 center's lone point in the series against Washington was an assist in Game 3, but Boyle still remained a big contributor. After missing the final two games of the opening round against Ottawa and the series opener against Washington, Boyle dished out 27 hits over the final six games of the series, upping his total to 42 in 11 playoff contests thus far. The former BC Eagle -- despite missing three games -- ranks eighth among all playoff players with 103 faceoff wins. 

This is the furthest Boyle has ever gone in the playoffs. His first trip to the postseason came last year and was a brief one, as New York lost in five games to the Capitals in the first round.

Chris Kreider (Boxford, Mass.)

Kreider hit the ground running after jumping straight from the national champion BC Eagles to the pro ranks. His biggest game came in Game 1 of the second round when the young forward notched a goal and an assist to lead the Blueshirts to victory just two days before he celebrated his 21st birthday. He'll head to the next round with 2-1-3 totals in 12 playoff tilts.

Selected 19th overall in 2009 by New York, Kreider was held without a point for the remainder of the series after his two-point performance, but don't be surprised if he regains his magic touch in the conference finals against New Jersey.

Mike Sullivan (Marshfield, Mass.)

The assistant coach's name should ring plenty of bells. Sullivan spent four year at Boston University from 1986-90 before turning pro. He spent one season with the Bruins (1997-98), suiting up for 77 games and registering 18 points. After retiring in 2002, he became the head coach of the Providence Bruins for the 2002-03 season, was promoted to the role of assistant with the big club near the year's end and became head coach of the Black and Gold beginning in 2003-04.

Sullivan went 41-19-15 in his first year at the helm but struggled after the B's traded a number of their key cogs (including Joe Thornton) after the lockout and was let go after the 2005-06 campaign. He spent one year as an assistant in Tampa, took a year off, and has been part of the Rangers' staff for the last three seasons.

John Tortorella (Melrose, Mass.)

The Blueshirts' fiery bench boss spent four years in the minor leagues after wrapping up his tenure at the University of Maine. After a successful coaching debut in the minors, Tortorella became an assistant coach with the Sabres in 1989 at the age of just 31. 
He worked his way up the ranks, eventually landing a head coaching position with the Lightning.

In 2003-04, a season in which he captured the Jack Adams Award as the league’s best coach, the Bolts won the Stanley Cup. This year marks the first time Tortorella has won a playoff series since then. In their two trips to the playoffs in his three years at the helm, Tortorella’s Rangers suffered first-round exits. The Melrose, Mass., native is up for the Adams Award again this season.

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

Devils defenseman Mark Fayne (Getty Images)

Mark Fayne (Sagamore Beach, Mass.)

Fayne might not jump off the stat-sheet, but the defenseman has quietly played a big role for the Devils in the postseason. The Providence College alum is a key cog in New Jersey’s top four on the blue line and logs 21:29 of ice time per game.

Fayne ranks fifth on the Devils with 1:59 of shorthanded ice time per game and also sees just under a minute of PP time a night for a Devils’ squad that’s clicked at 20.9 percent on the man advantage – good for fourth in the playoffs and the best success rate among the four conference finalists.

Other NE connections: Defenseman Peter Harrold and forward Stephen Gionta spent four years at Boston College (2002-06) together. Lou Lamoriello (Providence, R.I.), the president and general manager of the Devils, helped form Hockey East and was the league’s first commissioner.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (Getty Images)

Jonathan Quick (Hamden, Conn.)

The Kings’ extraordinary netminder is the current favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy. Following a season in which he earned a Vezina Trophy nomination, Quick has gone 8-1 in the playoffs and sports a 1.55 goals-against average.

The former UMass standout is in his third trip to the playoffs. Los Angeles lost in six games in each of his first two postseason appearances. Quick hopes to help the Kings advance to their first Stanley Cup finals appearance since 1993.

Other NE connections: Forward Dustin Penner spent one season at the University of Maine in 2003-04, during which he had 23 points in 43 games before turning pro. Defenseman Rob Scuderi played under Jerry York for four years with Boston College from 1997 to 2001, during which he appeared in three national championships. Scuderi and the Eagles took home the title in his senior year. Kings GM Dean Lombardi is a native of Ludlow, Mass.

PHOENIX COYOTES

Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle (Getty Images)

Keith Yandle (Milton, Mass.)

The offensively-gifted defenseman has once again been superb for the Coyotes in the postseason. In his previous two trips to the playoffs, both first-round exits, Yandle had a whopping 10 points in just 11 games for Phoenix.

This time around, the 25-year-old blueliner has seven points in 11 contests for the ‘Yotes after posting 40-plus points during the regular season for a third straight year.

This is the first time Yandle or the Coyotes have gone beyond the second round. Having home ice advantage should be a boost for the high-scoring defenseman in the conference finals against the Kings, as five of Yandle’s seven points this postseason have come at Jobing.com Arena.

Other NE connections: Defenseman Adrian Aucoin spent one season at Boston University in 1991-92. He had 12 points in 33 games. After being selected in the fifth round by Vancouver after his freshman year, he spent the 1992-93 season playing for the Canadian National Team before turning pro and embarking on a career that has seen him suit up for 1,072 NHL games.

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ.