Let's break down the two teams left in each conference, the East, and the West. We're going to start with the Eastern Conference with two teams that have surprised many to endure the first two rounds of the playoffs.
New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens
Start spreading the word… they’re leaving today. “They” would be the New York Rangers with a destination of Montreal, Canada to face the Canadiens who own home ice advantage as the Eastern Conference Finals begin.
With fans in Beantown and Steel City, USA still wondering what hit them, we head north of the border as two “Original 6” teams contend for the opportunity to play for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The Rangers eliminated the Pittsburgh Penguins in 7, while the Habs also took the maximum number of contests to dispose of the Boston Bruins. Both Game 7 victories came on the road.
New York will feature 3 veterans including Brad Richards who leads the club in postseason points with 9 (4 goals, 5 assists). The other 2 are Martin St. Louis who the Blue Shirts picked up at the trade deadline and Rick Nash who has been relatively quiet thus far but whose 59 shots on goal bodes well that sooner or later some of them will find the back of the net.
The biggest factor in the Rangers favor however may be goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Even though his postseason record is 8-6, he has posted a 1.99 goals against average and .931 save percentage.
Montreal’s Carey Price is no slouch in the net either. He is 8-3 in wins/losses and carries a 2.15 GAA and he has saved 92.6% entering this series.
P.K. Subban is the Canadiens point leader (9) and also leads them in penalty minutes with 16.
Look for a pair of Left Wingers, Thomas Vanek and Max Pacioretty to be major forces as well.
I like the aforementioned trio of veterans for the Rangers to go along with Lundqvist and give the edge to New York in 7 games.
Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks
We have a rematch in the NHL Western Conference Finals between one team (L.A.) who is competing in their third straight such event and another (Chicago) who won the Cup last year.
The Blackhawks eliminated the Kings in 5 games in last year’s Finals and went 3-0 against them this regular season.
Chicago got to this point in a hard fought 6 game set against Minnesota while Anaheim took L.A. to the limit before the Kings blew them off their own ice 6-2 in Game 7.
The Kings Anze Kopitar has perhaps been the best player in all of the playoffs posting 5 goals and 14 assists in 14 games played. Marian Gaborick leads L.A. with 9 goals and Drew Doughty is one of the NHL’s premier defensemen.
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick has been a little shaky by his high standards with a2.72GAA and 91.4% save percentage. He will have to have a resurgence to stave off the high flying Hawks.
Chicago net minder Corey Crawford gets very little credit but seems to always come up big when it matters. His postseason stats are quite impressive with a 1.97 GAA and 93.1% in saves.
Marian Hossa hasn’t been scoring at his usual pace, but has done everything else on the ice and still leads the team with 11 points (2G, 7A). Look for LW Patrick Sharp to have a breakout series.
The other usual suspects of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, along with a solid veteran defense should allow Chicago to defend its Championship after eliminating L.A. in 6 games.
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