Stanley Cup Playoffs 2014: Updated Bracket and Predictions for Friday's Games

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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2014: Updated Bracket and Predictions for Friday's Games
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

If there's one thing the opening round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs has illustrated, it's the extremely small margin for error in the NHL postseason. It's already reached a point where any game that isn't still up in the air in the third period is a surprise.

While it's made for some exciting action, it doesn't come as a shock.

Even coming into the playoffs, it was clear there weren't any dominant teams prepared to roll through the playoffs. There was plenty of parity and that's showing through in Round 1.

All of the remaining series are starting to reach the business end, which means the pressure level goes up yet another level.

Let's check out the updated bracket in each conference as well as a preview for each of the games on tap for Friday night.

 

Updated Playoff Bracket

Eastern Conference

First Round Conference Semifinals Conference Finals
(1) Boston 3    
(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 1   TBD
    TBD
(1) Colorado 2    
(W) Minnesota 2 TBD  
  TBD  
(2) St. Louis 2    
(3) Chicago 2    

 

Predictions for Friday's Games

New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers (New York Leads 2-1)

The Rangers have been the much better team so far in the series. However, the Flyers can take solace in the fact that they have an opportunity to level the matchup at two games apiece on home ice without playing anywhere near their best hockey.

Either way, it's a turning-point game.

One thing the Philadelphia locker room seemingly hasn't lost is confidence.

Katie Strang of ESPNNewYork.com passed along comments from Claude Giroux after Game 3. Instead of playing it safe like many players, he made a pretty bold declaration:

"We'll be ready for Game 4. We're going to tie up the series and go back to New York," he said.

The good news for the Flyers when it comes to backing up that guarantee from Giroux is CBSSports.com's Brian Stubits reporting that goalie Steve Mason will return to the starting lineup after an upper-body injury.

Ray Emery played well in Game 2, but was never an option Philadelphia would be able to lean heavily on if it wanted to make a deep run.

Expect to see a far more inspired performance from the likes of Scott Hartnell, Vincent Lecavalier and Giroux. That's exactly what the Flyers need to level the series.

It should also be a closer battle than the first three, which didn't feature a one-goal game.

Prediction: Flyers 3, Rangers 2

 

Chicago Blackhawks at St. Louis Blues (Series Tied 2-2)

The aforementioned small margin for error was on full display in Game 3.

The Blues took a 3-2 lead with less than eight minutes to play on a goal by Vladimir Tarasenko, who's been terrific in the series, but couldn't hold the lead. Chicago eventually won it overtime to tie the series.

It was expected to be an extended series because both teams could make a strong case as being among the top Stanley Cup contenders. Unfortunately, they are forced to face off in the first round.

As Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted, that's not representative of the level of play:

So far, home teams are 4-0 in the series. If Chicago is going to win the series, it obviously needs to buck that trend eventually. Game 5 is probably the Hawks' best chance given that they have won the last two games and turned the momentum in their favor with the late comeback in Game 4.

A factor that could end up deciding the series is the play of Ryan Miller. The Blues' goalie has played well in stretches, but hasn't been the game-changing player St. Louis hoped it was trading for.

If he doesn't step up, the Blackhawks have the edge.

Prediction: Blackhawks 2, Blues 1

 

Dallas Stars at Anaheim Ducks (Series Tied 2-2)

Dallas deserves a lot of credit for fighting out of a 2-0 hole to tie the series.

Anaheim entered as one of the top seeds and it seemed like the Ducks were ready to cruise through the first round before Lindy Ruff's group strung together two solid games to keep its hopes alive.

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Perhaps the biggest reason for the Stars' success is their balanced scoring production. They have 13 different players with at least two points in the series. Some of them are expected contributors like Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, but there are also some unsung heroes like Colton Sceviour rising to the occasion.

Though most of the focus has been on the Anaheim offense, which ranked first during the regular season, it's the defense that must improve to avoid the first-round upset.

The Ducks are giving up three goals per game so far in the series.

Ryan Getzlaf and Co. are capable of carrying the team deep into the postseason. They need at least some consistency at the back end to make it happen, though.

After getting a chance to regroup, the Ducks should have a much better defensive outing to regain the series lead.

Prediction: Ducks 2, Stars 0

 

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