The 2013-14 NHL playoffs are down to just eight well-deserving teams, and if the second round can match the excitement of the first, there should be hockey played across the nation right up until the spring heat starts to melt the blue- and red-lined ice.
Of course, the action from the first round warrants a look at the updated odds on which team is likeliest to bring a championship to its city.
|Team||Odds To Win|
|Los Angeles Kings||7-1|
|New York Rangers||10-1|
Odds courtesy of Odds Shark as of May 1.
The oddsmakers still like last year's runner-ups, the Boston Bruins, after a round of playoff action. It should be noted that last year's champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, are now right behind the Bruins in the table.
With the odds on the eventual Stanley Cup champions out of the way, let's take a look at some intriguing storylines as the second round of playoff action gets underway.
Kings vs. Ducks: Inaugural Freeway Series
Finally, Southern California sports fans see two of their most storied franchises square off when it matters most. The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks will take turns traveling the I-5 Freeway for the right to play in the Western Conference Final.
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty expects it to finally create a true rivalry between the teams. Via Abbey Mastracco of Fox Sports West:
"The Ducks and the Kings have never met in the playoffs and everybody wants there to be this rivalry between the two teams," said Doughty. "But some of the players, we just don't have that yet. Now that we're finally going to play each other in the playoffs, it's going to create a rivalry."
The goalie play will draw plenty of attention in the matchup. Jonathan Quick went from villain to victor in the span of seven games against the San Jose Sharks. He gave up 16 goals in the first three games and just five over the final four.
Rookie Frederik Andersen got the nod in the net for most of the Ducks' series against the Dallas Stars. However, Jonas Hiller, who played in 50 games during the regular season, was excellent in relief duty in the Ducks' comeback victory in Game 6. He stymied 12 shots as the Ducks came back from a 4-2 deficit to win 5-4.
This is the kind of pressure-packed, close-quarters action that you can often find in international soccer, where rival teams are often in the same city and pit neighborhood versus neighborhood. Kings-Ducks is about as close as two top-tier professional sports teams can get in the U.S. outside of New York City matchups, and the series could be a big boost for the league's playoff ratings in an exotic (for hockey's standards) market.
Canadiens-Bruins: Intensity of an Old Rivalry
You can't misinterpret Bruins forward Milan Lucic's words when it comes to his feeling about the Montreal Canadiens. Via Christopher L. Gasper of The Boston Globe:
I do [hate them], and if you ask them the same question I’m sure they’d give you the same answer about if they hate us. It’s just natural for me. Just being a part of this organization you just naturally learn to hate the Montreal Canadiens, and the battles we have had with them over the last couple of years have definitely made you hate them.
The intensity of the matchup between two of the Original Six franchises has already reared its ugly head. After P.K. Subban's overtime goal decided Game 1, the Bruins had to contend with their fans' unacceptable racist reaction on Twitter. Bruins club president Cam Neely was quick to issue a statement condemning the reaction, per Bruins.com:
"The racist, classless views expressed by an ignorant group of individuals following Thursday's game via digital media are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization."
This puts the series firmly in the spotlight for some unsavory reasons, but the history of the matchup—they've met 33 times in the playoffs prior to this series—means some excellent hockey should be on tap.
Boston goalie Tuukka Rask is one of the keys to the series. The fine Finn had a stellar .930 save percentage and a 2.04 goals-against average in the 2013-2014 campaign. He did give up four goals in Game 1 against the Habs and was critical of his own performance, according to Joe Haggerty of Comcast SportsNet:
Rask will have to bounce back to contend with Subban, who scored two goals in the opening chapter, and Rene Bourque, who has come on strong with four goals in five games so far in the playoffs.
Penguins-Rangers: Sidney Crosby vs. Hendrik Lundqvist
Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby is the name that draws casual observers and diehard fans to their televisions every night. Despite another fine campaign where he scored 36 goals in 80 games during the regular season, Crosby has yet to score in six games so far in these playoffs.
In fact, he's gone 11 straight playoff games without scoring, although his assist total (six so far in these playoffs) remains stellar. He will look to end that goal drought against the New York Rangers, but it won't be easy.
The goalie tasked with keeping Crosby shut out of the scorer's column is none other than three-time All-Star and former Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist.
Well respected around the league, Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin even called him his "favorite goalie to watch," as per Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Crosby himself had high praise for the Swedish netminder, via the Penguins' official Twitter account:
If Lundqvist can play at a higher level than he did against the Philadelphia Flyers, look for him to continue to frustrate Crosby and force him to play facilitator throughout the series.