Another action-packed round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs has come to a close, leaving four teams, and two series left to decide who plays for the coveted Stanley Cup in a few weeks. The second round saw the last two SC champions triumphing against their respective opponents in long, heated series, before meeting once again in the Western Conference Finals, for the second year in a row; while two heavy favorites out of the East were upset (in two tense game seven’s) by lesser seeds with a lot of momentum.
What does the third round have in store for us? Who even knows at this point? So many series have ended well outside the realm of reason.
But either way, I’m willing to bet it’ll be more competitive hockey for us fans to remember for years to come.
Lets get to the two conference match-ups.
Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks – Western Conference Finals
The Kings have a fondness for making things way harder for themselves than necessary (coming back to win both of their series’ from a significant deficit to win game seven’s on the road) but at this point I have a hard time betting against them. They have more than proven their mettle under pressure, and if that isn’t the proving ground of the playoffs I don’t know what it is. Coming back is way harder than maintaining a lead, yet the Kings make coming back while down seem perfunctory.
Plus, the Kings beat two VERY good Pacific Division opponents in the San Jose Sharks(on their own turf for game seven, which alone is hugely impressive) and the Anaheim Ducks (again on their turf for game seven).
Chicago was the only team in the second round to not require a game seven to decide its series, winning game six to advance over the Minnesota Wild. It appeared the Hawks only needed to solve the Wild at the Xcel Energy Center, where the Wild were nearly undefeated in the playoffs until Chicago solved the team in the series deciding game six.
It doesn’t get any easier for the Hawks with the Kings.
They’re a faster team than the Blackhawks saw in last year’s Western Conference Finals; and they seem better stacked offensively to match what Chicago has to bring up front, which is a lot. But Chicago seems to possess the innate ability to win most games in a variety of different ways, which could be all the edge it needs. The Blackhawks are like a Swiss army knife when it coms to winning games: They have a weapon for every problem.
We should see a very entertaining and competitive series. I picture another game seven in both of these team’s future.
I think the deciding factor is LA’s Jonathan Quick and Chicago’s Corey Crawford. Both goalies have been in fine form all playoffs, coming up with stellar performances when the team in front of them required it. The speed of both teams are certainly a factor, but the duel between these two elite goaltenders might be what decides which of the two past SC champions makes it back to the Finals. Deciding which team gets a chance at further cementing their place in contemporary hockey history.
The Kings with two Cups in three years? Or the Hawks with a back-to-back Cup win and three Cups in four years? It will be fascinating to find out who gets a crack at it when this series wraps up.
Here SI.com gives their list of X-Factors for the Kings/Blackhawks series.
New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens – Eastern Conference Finals
This series, to me, is completely up in the air. Both teams are steaming down the tracks with equal parts passion and momentum. Stellar goaltending and standout performances from P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty have helped lead the Habs through two straight rounds, while Brad Richards, Martin St. Louis (whose mother recently passed and has given the Blue Shirts something powerful to rally around), and solid net-minding from Henrik Lundqvist, have given the Rangers equal amounts of verve and purpose.
The Rangers knocked the East’s No. 2 seed Pittsburgh Penguins out in the second round in a dramatic comeback to force a game seven as the Pens collapsed under their own hubris.
Who saw that coming? Maybe a few of you actually, if the last couple years of Pittsburgh attempts at a Cup run have been any indication.
But as far as the Habs/Rangers series goes, well…
Well, this Eastern Conference Finals was up in the air, anyone’s series, that is, until Carey Price got hurt in game one and apparently is out for the rest of the series, possibly the playoffs.
Now, rookie Dustin Tokarski (and former Lightning prospect) is the only thing standing between a Rangers manhandling, or Montreal’s first trip back to the SC Finals since 2011 (the Habs won their last Cup in 1993).
With Price going down in Game One’s shellacking of the Habs by the Rangers (losing 7-2), I suddenly don’t have the same level of faith in Montreal that I had with Price in net. Price is a key piece of the success puzzle the Canadiens have slowly been putting together since sweeping our Tampa Bay Lightning back in April, and I’m not sure the puzzle will ever get any closer to completion without him.
The Habs may have to settle for knocking the best team out of the playoffs in the second round. That being the Boston Bruins. Which was no small feat, who saw that coming? And lets not forget how physical that series was. Montreal will have to dig down deep in round three if they want to keep this fairy tale post season alive, but like the Kings, the way the Habs have been playing in these playoffs, I wouldn’t bet against them, either.
Even if they did drop another game, at home, to the Rangers last night (losing 3-1) in Game 2. Making Game 3 the most pivotal game for Montreal on Thursday in New York if they hope to keep the series afloat.
Here SI.com gives another list of their X-Factors for the Rangers/Habs series.
Off the Dot is an ongoing column of opinions, feelings and thoughts on all things Tampa Bay Lightning. This is a knee-jerk reaction column for the many things that a fan maybe feels or thinks throughout a hockey season.
This is NOT a stat by stat analysis of the Bolts, but rather a theater of words concerning the Lightning and the many emotions tangled up in supporting your favorite NHL team; a theater for all fans to come to for a more personal take on Tampa Bay hockey.
That’s why I call it “off the dot”. Because if we were “on the dot”, as in face-off mode, well, things would be decidedly more on-point and specific. While off the dot, while we’re still just milling around the face-off circle, as I am now, waiting for the whistle to blow, then we’re just being conversational. We’re just talking about our thoughts on strategy maybe or whatever random concept happens to come to mind, needing to be expressed. The fun off-key banter of fans before someone (whoever) decides to hunker down, spread out their skates, and get nose-deep over the dot for the real face-off, and maybe say, statistically speaking, what happened in a win or loss in their more researched opinion. And we have those articles all over Bolts by the Bay, and I very much encourage you to check out those articles, too.
These are just my opinions, my feelings, and my thoughts – while we’re off the dot.