To tell the truth, hardly anyone picked the Devils and Kings to get this far.
The odds were lottery like, and the teams beat them with authority in reaching a series that will open tonight at the Prudential Center.
Led by Kovalchuk and a 40-year-old Martin Brodeur, the Devils are just the second No. 6 seed to reach the final.
Riding the goaltending of Jonathan Quick, the Kings overcame even bigger obstacles. They are only the second No. 8 seed to make it since the conference-based NHL playoff format was introduced in 1993-94.
Los Angeles, which heavily courted Kovalchuk in free agency, has been virtually unstoppable during the postseason. It has posted a 12-2 record and knocked off the three top seeds in the Western Conference – Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix.
New Jersey’s story is just as good. It missed the playoffs last season despite retaining Kovalchuk with a $102 million contract that the league said violated its letter of the law.
Few expected it to recover this quickly.
But the Devils won their final six games in the regular season, rallied from 3-2 deficit in the opening round of the playoffs with two overtime wins against Florida, and then eliminated the Flyers and Rangers, their two biggest rivals, in five and six games, respectively.