How could the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs possibly follow up an opening round like that?
Three first-round series went to seven games, while another three went to six games. Fourteen games went to overtime. Each night seemed to feature some sort of late-game heroics.
Fans will be hopeful the conference quarterfinals merely set the tone for what will be a memorable 2014 postseason. It served as the hors d'oeuvres for the main course, which is still to come.
Fox Sports tweeted out the matchups to come in the conference semifinals:
Here's a look at the full schedule.
|Game||Home||Away||Date||Time (ET)||TV Info|
|1||Boston Bruins||Montreal Canadiens||May 1||7:30 p.m.||NBCSN, CBC|
|2||Boston Bruins||Montreal Canadiens||May 3||12:30 p.m.||NBC, CBC|
|3||Montreal Canadiens||Boston Bruins||May 6||7 p.m.||NBCSN, CBC|
|4||Montreal Canadiens||Boston Bruins||May 8||7:30 p.m.||NBCSN, CBC|
|5*||Boston Bruins||Montreal Canadiens||May 10||TBD||CBC|
|6*||Montreal Canadiens||Boston Bruins||May 12||TBD||CBC|
|7*||Boston Bruins||Montreal Canadiens||May 14||TBD||CBC|
|1||Pittsburgh Penguins||New York Rangers||May 2||7 p.m.||NBCSN, CBC|
|2||Pittsburgh Penguins||New York Rangers||May 4||7:30 p.m.||NBCSN, CBC|
|3||New York Rangers||Pittsburgh Penguins||May 5||7:30 p.m.||NBCSN, CBC|
|4||New York Rangers||Pittsburgh Penguins||May 7||7:30 p.m.||NBCSN, CBC|
|5*||Pittsburgh Penguins||New York Rangers||May 9||TBD||CBC|
|6*||New York Rangers||Pittsburgh Penguins||May 11||TBD||CBC|
|7*||Pittsburgh Penguins||New York Rangers||May 13||TBD||CBC|
|1||Chicago Blackhawks||Minnesota Wild||May 2||9:30 p.m.||NBCSN, TSN|
|2||Chicago Blackhawks||Minnesota Wild||May 4||3 p.m.||NBC, TSN|
|3||Minnesota Wild||Chicago Blackhawks||May 6||9 p.m.||CNBC, TSN|
|4||Minnesota Wild||Chicago Blackhawks||May 9||TBD||TSN|
|5*||Chicago Blackhawks||Minnesota Wild||May 11||TBD||TSN|
|6*||Minnesota Wild||Chicago Blackhawks||May 13||TBD||TSN|
|7*||Chicago Blackhawks||Minnesota Wild||May 15||TBD||TSN|
|1||Anaheim Ducks||Los Angeles Kings||May 3||8 p.m.||NBCSN, TSN|
|2||Anaheim Ducks||Los Angeles Kings||May 5||10 p.m.||NBCSN, TSN|
|3||Los Angeles Kings||Anaheim Ducks||May 8||10 p.m.||NBCSN, TSN|
|4||Los Angeles Kings||Anaheim Ducks||May 10||TBD||TSN|
|5*||Anaheim Ducks||Los Angeles Kings||May 12||TBD||TSN|
|6*||Los Angeles Kings||Anaheim Ducks||May 14||TBD||TSN|
|7*||Anaheim Ducks||Los Angeles Kings||May 16||TBD||TSN|
(Note: * denotes game may not be necessary.)
The round kicks off with the Boston Bruins hosting the Montreal Canadiens. It doesn't get much better than this, with two of the "Original Six" facing off in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In the first round, Boston knocked out the Detroit Red Wings in five games, while the Canadiens swept the Tampa Bay Lightning. Montreal won the season series 3-1, outscoring Boston 9-7 in those four games.
The Bruins appear to be in a good position to get the last laugh, though. They were second in goals-against average (2.08) during the regular season, while the Canadiens were 21st in goals scored per game (2.55). Max Pacioretty only has two points to his name in the playoffs so far, so that will have to change if Montreal is to advance.
In the other Eastern Conference semifinal, the New York Rangers—fresh off their 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Flyers—will meet the Pittsburgh Penguins, who eliminated the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Only in their last two wins did the Penguins start playing up to their potential. They beat the Blue Jackets 3-1 in Game 5 and then overcame a partisan Columbus crowd to earn a 4-3 win in Game 6.
Not only that, but they have history on their side. In the four times these two teams have met in the postseason, Pittsburgh has come out on top, per Steve Mears of the NHL Network:
Much will hinge on the performance of Marc-Andre Fleury. The 29-year-old has a less than stellar record in the postseason, per The Associated Press, via SI.com:
Fleury has won 35 or more games the past five full regular seasons, but faltered in the playoffs. He carried a sub-.900 post-season save percentage since winning the Cup and his goals-against average ballooned above 3.50 the past two seasons.
It reached a breaking point when Fleury was benched during Pittsburgh's run to the conference finals last year and saw a sports psychologist to address his mental approach during the offseason.
If Fleury reverts to his old habits, the Rangers have more than enough firepower to send the Penguins home.
The reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks are matched up against the Minnesota Wild in the first of the two Western Conference semifinals. The Wild needed seven games to dispatch the Colorado Avalanche, while the Blackhawks have had a little more time to rest after beating the St. Louis Blues in six games.
Beyond Chicago's win last year, it's hard to overlook it in this series considering how well it's killed off penalties so far in the playoffs, per the Chicago Tribune's Chris Kuc:
When the Hawks won their first Cup in 49 years in 2010, their penalty kill finished fourth among the 16 teams in the postseason at 83.3 percent. During their run to the Cup last season, they were third at 90.8 percent. In the two first-round losses sandwiched between championships, the Hawks were tied for 11th in '11 (77.8 percent) and finished 12th in '12 (79.0).
'In the NHL, it's all about special teams,' (Michal) Handzus said Wednesday after the Hawks returned to practice following two days off. 'I feel the PK is sometimes even more important than power plays because if you give up a goal, then you have to score one. If you don't give one up, then you can score five-on-five.'
The Wild demonstrated their steel in their 5-4 Game 7 victory over the Avalanche. Jared Spurgeon's goal with two-and-a-half minutes left in the game tied it, and Nino Niederreiter won it in overtime.
Minnesota's stingy defense will also come in handy against Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw.
The Blackhawks will no doubt be favored to advance, though.
The second Western Conference semifinal wasn't supposed to happen, at least going back a week. The San Jose Sharks had a 3-0 lead on the Los Angeles Kings. Surely, they could've taken at least one of the next four games.
Instead, the Kings took Game 7 in San Jose, becoming the fourth team in NHL history to fight back from down three games in a seven-game series:
The postseason is often decided by which team is hotter, and right now, nobody's riding a bigger wave of momentum than the Kings. They'll believe they can beat anybody and aren't out of a series no matter the hole they're in.
Anaheim had the best offense during the regular season (3.21 goals per game), but right now, the Ducks are running into a buzz saw with a hot goaltender in Jonathan Quick.
That appears to be a recipe for disaster.
Note: All stats are courtesy of NHL.com.