Another round of the Stanley Cup marathon is in the books, and I did pretty well in my guesses for the second round. I was right about the Kings, Blackhawks, and Rangers, while being wrong (again) about the Canadiens. I had the Bruins going all the way to the final, so I was pretty surprised by the results. But it happens, and I’ll take my 75% correct guesses any day.

Halfway done.
Halfway done.

Now we move on to the Conference Finals, the Final Four. After 82 regular season games and two grueling rounds of playoff action, we are left with the four teams who have survived up until this point. The Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

These both should amount to good series, and the first year of the new playoff format has been a massive success, in my mind, as all of the battles have been pretty good, and there hasn’t really been a dud series yet. You can see the rivalries continuing or developing, as they should for the foreseeable future.

On to my next round of guesses.

Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks

  • How well do the Kings play with their backs up against the wall? So far this year, they are 6-0 when they are facing elimination. That is beyond impressive, as they have been dominant in those games, including both Game 7s they have played in so far. This is a team that knows how to show up and win when it matters most.
  • Drew Doughty is just awesome. He runs the Kings, and he does it well. The guy is absolute beast, and absolutely does it all for LA. He would be in the Conn Smythe conversation if he were putting up a few more points.
  • Someone who is in the conversation for playoff MVP is Anze Kopitar, who has been on fire for the entire playoffs, scoring a point in nearly every game. It will be a great battle seeing him going against another all-world defensive forward in Jonathan Toews. These guys are two of the very best (and both Selke nominees), and it will be a treat to watch them play against one another.
  • Goalie advantage goes to the Kings. I’ll take Quick over Crawford any day, even though I believe that Crawford is in that Chris Osgood area where he does nothing wrong, but still gets no respect from anybody. The guy is a Cup winner, but he is more apt to give up a bad one than Quick is.
  • These are two teams that have incredible depth. The Hawks have a great bottom 6, guys who can plug away, frustrate another team, and contribute offensively. It’s always tough when a team can roll out four lines that can do damage to you in one way or another. But the Kings can offer the same thing. They have toughness and scoring spread throughout their lineup, and they can always be dangerous as well.
  • Any time the Kings play, it will be a bruising series. They are so big and so fast. Chicago isn’t as big, but they can absolutely fly on the ice. That will be the biggest challenge for the Kings, is keeping up with the speed across the way. They will be trying to slow them down with their size, and hopefully they don’t have circles skated around them. Not that the Sharks or Ducks were slow teams, but they were built more like the Kings are, and LA is better at their own game. This will be the first battle where they are playing a different style of team.
  • I can see LA struggling to adapt to the different style of play the Hawks employ. This could get Chicago one or two valuable wins.
  • Have to wonder if LA is getting tired from the grinding seven game series they have had to play already. Chicago has won both their matchups in 6 games, and neither series was as physical as LA.
  • This is a rematch from last year’s conference finals, that the Hawks won. Can the Kings get revenge here? Did they learn anything from last year?
  • This is also the third straight year the Kings have been in the third round of the playoffs, which shows their consistency as an organization.
  • Honestly, I don’t see massive advantages anywhere. If the Hawks are better at one thing, the Kings are better at another. A pretty balanced series, which makes it hard to guess. So I guess I’ll go with my gut.

Prediction: Kings in 7

kings2

New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens

  • Well, I am 0-2 when it comes to guessing the Montreal series. I thought they would lose to Tampa and get whipped by Boston. I was wrong on both counts.
  • I predicted the Rangers to the finals since the beginning of the year (against St. Louis, but we won’t talk about that). Nice to have a horse still in the race.
  • This is a battle of perhaps the best two goalies on earth right now: Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist. You can’t say enough about how either one of them has performed so far. They are the backbones of their teams.
  • This is also an Olympic goalie rematch in the Canada vs. Sweden gold medal game. Of course, Price won that one and the gold medal.
  • Both teams are balanced in a similar way. There is equality all through the forward lineup. The Habs scorers seem to be scoring, while the Rangers scorers are becoming more all around players, even if they aren’t putting the puck in the net (hello, Rick Nash).
  • Overall, I’d say New York has the better D corps, but the Habs have something the Rangers don’t: P.K. Subban. This kid can change the course of a game. With a big hit, or a jaw-dropping goal. Every shift, he is a threat to do something crazy, or something incredible. That is a massive advantage for Montreal, especially coming from the back end.
  • Do I jump on the bandwagon, and cheer for the only Canadian team left (and the only Canadian team to make it, actually) in the playoffs? Or do I stick to my guns with my initial prediction from the beginning of the year?
  • Is it possible to bet against Price at this point. He is absolutely on fire, is completely unfazed by the pressure, and is now facing a team that is decidedly weaker than their previous opponent, the Bruins? Can he keep up this amazing pace? Will the team begin to relax in front of him knowing that he is standing on his head?
  • On paper, I like the look of the Rangers better than I do the Habs. Both teams have good momentum getting here, with the Rangers overcoming a 3-1 deficit against Pittsburgh. Something has to give. The Rangers are clicking at the right time, playing some of their best hockey of the season, while the Canadiens seem to be playing above their heads.
  • Again, this one is going to come down to a gut decision.

Prediction: Rangers in 6.

rangers2

I think the fact that both of these series are tough to guess, speaks to how good of matchups they are, and how good these playoffs have been. I can easily see it being a Chicago-Montreal final, or any other combination. But as it stands right now, I’m going for the New York-Los Angeles mega city challenge for the championship.

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