Stanley Cup Playoffs 2014: Updated Bracket and Preview of Thursday's Action

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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2014: Updated Bracket and Preview of Thursday's Action
Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Stanley Cup playoffs have lived up to and probably even exceeded the hype in the early going with a cavalcade of thrilling games. The NHL is also helped by the fact most of the series have remained close, as only one team has advanced so far.

A unexpectedly dominant series from the Montreal Canadiens allowed them to sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning. They could be joined in the second round by the San Jose Sharks, who head into Game 4 against the Los Angeles Kings with a 3-0 series edge.

It's one of three games on the docket as the postseason rolls on. Let's check out an updated bracket for both conferences as the hunt for the Stanley Cup continues along with previews and predictions for Thursday's playoff games.

 

Updated Playoff Bracket

Eastern Conference

First Round Conference Semifinals Conference Finals
(1) Boston 2    
(W) Detroit 1    
  TBD  
(2) Tampa Bay 0 (3) Montreal  
(3) Montreal 4   TBD
    TBD
(1) Pittsburgh 2    
(W) Columbus 2 TBD  
  TBD  
(2) NY Rangers 2    
(3) Philadelphia 1    

 

Western Conference

First Round Conference Semifinals Conference Finals
(1) Anaheim 2    
(W) Dallas 2    
  TBD  
(2) San Jose 3 TBD  
(3) Los Angeles 0   TBD
    TBD
(1) Colorado 2    
(W) Minnesota 1 TBD  
  TBD  
(2) St. Louis 2    
(3) Chicago 2    

 

Predictions for Thursday's Games

Boston Bruins at Detroit Red Wings (Boston leads 2-1)

The Bruins have taken complete control of the series after Detroit stole Game 1 in Boston. They have won the last two games by a combined score of 7-1 thanks in part to the strong play of Tuukka Rask between the pipes. It puts a lot of pressure on the Red Wings heading into Game 4 at home.

As is often the case in these hard-fought playoff series, special teams have been crucial. John Buccigross of ESPN notes Boston has connected on 38 percent of its power-play chances in the series while Detroit hasn't registered a goal with the man advantage:

The absence of Henrik Zetterberg, who scored 48 points in 45 games before suffering a back injury, is obviously having a major impact on the Detroit offense. Without a definitive timetable for his return, it's up to Pavel Datsyuk and Co. to elevate their play with hope Zetterberg can return later in the series.

Ultimately, it would take a far more complete performance from the Red Wings to level the series after two lackluster showings. A battle-tested Boston squad knows this is its chance to gain total control of the matchup and will do exactly that.

Prediction: Bruins 3, Red Wings 2

 

Colorado Avalanche at Minnesota Wild (Colorado leads 2-1)

This series has played out pretty much as expected so far. The Avalanche were able to force uptempo, high-scoring games in Colorado to grab a 2-0 lead before Minnesota returned home, slowed the pace and won Game 3. The style of play is crucial to success for both teams.

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The advanced stats favor Minnesota, which has the highest Fenwick percentage of any team in the playoffs, according to ExtraSkater.com. But possession isn't as important when Colorado is able to open the game up and let their young stars like Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog show off their skill.

Playing at home, Minnesota is able to get the matchup it wants to slow down those rising stars, but doing so on the road is more difficult. Since each side has a distinct advantage on home ice, this series certainly seems like it should go at least six games.

The other interesting thing to keep tabs on in Game 4 will be the play of Darcy Kuemper. He was outstanding given the chance to start after two shaky games from Ilya Bryzgalov and could very well be the player who turns the series in the Wild's favor in a close series.

Prediction: Wild 3, Avalanche 1

 

San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings (San Jose leads 3-0)

What was supposed to develop into one of the most competitive series of the opening round has been totally one sided, at least so far. The Sharks have scored 17 goals in three games as Jonathan Quick, who was terrific over the team's last two playoffs runs, hasn't been able to bail out a porous defense.

Los Angeles has a championship pedigree, though. The Sharks realize that and understand they must try to finish off the series before the Kings start building comeback momentum. Ross McKeon of the San Francisco Chronicle passed along comments Dan Boyle had about exactly that:

Having been in these situations before, you've got to put a team away when you can. You don't want to give them any sign of life, any belief in (anything). You want to take it away as soon as possible.

Clearly the biggest question mark is whether the Sharks offense can keep up its torrid pace. While averaging more than five goals per game would be impressive against any postseason opponent, doing it against the NHL's best defensive team from the regular season is astounding.

On the flip side, it's hard to imagine the Kings shutting them down enough over the next four games to complete a monumental comeback. They should be able to do enough in Game 4 to at least start putting a little bit of doubt in San Jose's head, though.

Prediction: Kings 4, Sharks 3

 

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