Stanley Cup Playoffs 2014: Best Conference Finals Matchups Bracket Can Produce

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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2014: Best Conference Finals Matchups Bracket Can Produce
Michael Dwyer

The NHL Stanley Cup playoffs never fail to disappoint. So when the league changed the format to a set bracket style instead of re-seeding teams for each round, there was some apprehension about the switch. 

We will see how this alters the playoffs and the drama that comes with them as the postseason rolls along. One thing is for certain, it takes out possibilities while projecting how the playoffs will play out. Bracket or not, there is one way I want it to play out. 

Take a look at the bracket info, and then I'll highlight the two matchups I'm looking forward to most in the conference finals. 

At the start of the playoffs, the NHL tweeted the bracket:

For an updated NHL playoff bracket, check out NHLPlayoffsBracket.com.

 

Ideal Eastern Conference Final Matchup

Boston Bruins vs. Pittsburgh Penguins 

Gene J. Puskar

This dynamic matchup of top teams would have something for everyone. For starters, it would be a rematch of last year's conference final. The Bruins won that one in surprisingly easy fashion with a 4-0 sweep. 

That created a long offseason for the Penguins, and I have to believe they are itching for a chance to atone for failure. 

The on-ice matchup is also compelling. 

The Penguins boast the best player in hockey in Sidney Crosby. Sid the Kid is healthy and playing fantastic. Along with Evgeni Malkin, Crosby led the Penguins to 249 goals this season. The two talented stars are currently mired in a playoff slump, however. Forbes' Mike Colligan passes along the particulars: 

That tweet came prior to Pittsburgh's 4-3 victory over Columbus on Monday to give them a 2-1 series lead. The Penguins needed three goals in the third period to earn that comeback, and not one of the goals came from Crosby or Malkin. 

Those two are far too talented to not score goals, and the more their teammates prove they can score, the more opportunities that will open up for Crosby and Malkin. 

All of this sets up for a dynamic offensive attack, and it would be great to watch that attack go against Boston rearguard Zdeno Chara and goalie Tuukka Rask. 

The Bruins defense looks as stingy as ever, and in his two postseason games this season, Rask has posted a save percentage of .958 and .971. 

This matchup might have provided for a lopsided result last year, but the second time around would be a much more dynamic series.  

 

Ideal Western Conference Final Matchup

San Jose Sharks vs. Colorado Avalanche

Marcio Jose Sanchez

Under first-year coach Patrick Roy, the Central champion Avalanche made a quick turnaround. They went from 29th overall last season to third this year. On top of that, they had missed the playoffs in five of the previous six seasons.

This is a young and exciting team, and they have a fantastic goalie. Semyon Varlamov has been one of the NHL's best. The 25-year-old has played so well that he made Newsday's Arthur Staple's top five for the Hart Trophy: 

It's always entertaining to see a young team quickly find its potential and the birth of a superstar, and it would be great to see Varlamov and company go against the suddenly unstoppable Sharks. 

The Sharks had an outstanding season, but that's no surprise; this team has turned into a perennial Stanley Cup contender. They just haven't been able to succeed in the playoffs. The Sharks are wasting no time this postseason showing they are intent on atoning for past failures. 

In the first round, the Sharks lead the Los Angeles Kings, 2-0, in the best-of-seven series. They've outscored them by the combined score of 13-5. The offensive explosion has even caught Sharks head coach Todd McLellan by surprise. 

ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun passed along this McLellan quote following Game 2: 

Could I have envisioned it? No, I would be lying. Yesterday, I talked about the fact I didn't think we'd be in this situation again, but we ended up there. Again, I don't think this series is going to play out in blowouts like this night after night. They're a very good hockey club, they're going to find their game and we have to be prepared for that.

San Jose must have been tempted to blow up the core of this team over its recent failures. The Sharks deserve to have their patience rewarded, and a matchup with the young Avalanche would provide a fun proving ground. 

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