With a 1-1 prediction record in Round Three, I'm now a rather deplorable 6-8 for this playoff season, though do take some solace from the fact that the teams with home-ice advantage are also a rather deplorable 6-8. I'll get the drama out of the way now and say that this last series will end up being the rubber match since I'm going with the road Kings over the home Devils. Of course, the Kings are also generally seen as the favorite by both the media and the sports books, so taking the eighth seed to win it all really isn't too contrarian at this point. Nevertheless, I'll give some basic reasoning for my selection after the jump.
First up is a look at how each of the clubs has done in some significant statistical categories. I'll be using Fenwick percentage during five-on-five with the score tied during the 2011-12 regular season, even strength save percentage of the starting goaltender over the last four years (Quick and Brodeur), five-on-four shot differential during the 2011-12 regular season, and four-on-five shot differential during the 2011-12 regular season:
Both teams improved substantially in the last part of the season (the Kings were up to a Fenwick percentage of 57.6% with the score tied after the Jeff Carter trade, and the Devils were up to 53.5% after the trade deadline), but both on the season as a whole, and in the latter part of the year, the Kings have a substantial advantage at even strength. They will also be far and away the best team that the Devils have faced in that regard in these playoffs.
In terms of specifics, L.A.'s top nine forwards are very strong, and that should give them an excellent chance at matching well against Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk whether they're used together or apart, and their defensive depth is strong enough that New Jersey's lower lines probably shouldn't be able to exploit them too badly.
Of course, the whole game isn't played at even strength, and it looks from that chart like the Devils have a substantial advantage in odd-man situations. If New Jersey ends up winning this series (and thus give Tim Sestito a day with the Cup!), it seems likely that fantastic play on special teams will be a big part of that. Goaltending too. Although I'd actually give L.A. a slight edge there, both of these goalies are quite capable of playing lights-out for a short series as they've both shown throughout these playoffs.
The Pick: L.A. in Six.