The Stanley Cup Playoffs have now reached a halfway point. This year’s conference finals are being called the “tournament of champions” by some fans because the matchups consist of the last four Stanley Cup winners. Pittsburgh and Boston will face off in the Eastern Conference Finals, after both teams had nearly a week off. Chicago and Los Angeles wont have the luxury of extra rest heading in to the NHL’s final four, after needing seven games in their previous matchups. The Blackhawks rallied back to beat the Detroit Red Wings after trailing 3-1, while the Kings almost did the opposite against the San Jose Sharks.
Eastern Conference Finals
#1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #4 Boston Bruins
Pittsburgh’s offense hasn’t lost a beat since the playoffs began nearly month ago. The Penguins are averaging more than four goals per game and have only once been limited to fewer than three goals. Their top two scoring lines anchored by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have been a nightmare for opposing goaltenders , giving them three of the top four points leaders in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They scored a combined 13 goals in their final two games against an Ottawa Senators team, that led the NHL in penalty killing percentage and was second in goals against average during the regular season.
The Penguins biggest concern heading in to the second round was their goaltending situation, after Marc-Andre Fleury’s inconsistent resulted in him getting pulled for Tomas Vokoun. While Vokoun hasn’t played at a Vezina level, he’s been more than effective in net for an offensive juggernaut.
Boston made quick work of the New York Rangers in the second round after their historic Game 7 comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins are more of a defensive-oriented team like the Senators, but they have more offensive depth and better defenseman to counter the Penguins scoring power. Zdeno Chara (6 ft 9) and the Bruins other blue liners will be the key in this series for a Bruins upset. If they cant take pressure off Tuukka Rask and get physical with the Penguins forwards, Pittsburgh could light up the scoreboards once again.
Prediction: Penguins in Seven
Western Conference Finals
#1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #5 Los Angeles Kings
Chicago made headlines early in the season for going 24 games without a loss and almost saw their dream season end only days ago. After trailing 3-1 against the Detroit Red Wings heading in to Game 5, it looked like the Blackhawks were continuing the trend of other recent winners of the Presidents’ Trophy. Only seven teams that posted the NHL’s best record during the regular season have won the Stanley Cup in the last 25 years. Their offense was becoming stagnant against the hot hand of Jimmy Howard who looked on the verge of carrying a young Red Wings team to the conference finals for the first time since 2009. Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa got things turned around for the Blackhawks during their next two games, with Brent Seabrook finishing the comeback with an overtime goal in Game 7.
They will now face another team looking to beat the odds on a historical trend. Los Angeles is trying to become the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998. Last year, the Kings were the first team in NHL history to win it all as an eight seed and had won five consecutive playoff series heading in to their second round matchup against San Jose. The home team won all seven games in that series with Los Angeles only scoring a single goal in each of their games in San Jose (all 2-1 losses). Jonathan Quick has arguably been the top goalie in the postseason for a second straight year, but if the Kings offense continues to struggle away from home, their bid to repeat could come to quick end.
Prediction: Blackhawks in Six