The 2014 NHL playoffs have been an exciting showcase of why hockey fans love the sport, and the second-round action and marquee matchups in both the Eastern and Western Conferences are only driving the point home.
With the NHL switching to a bracket-based playoff system, fans have been treated to the same intense on-ice action but now can also follow along at home a la March Madness for college basketball.
While far from perfect, the changes have made for intriguing scenarios and matchups.
Here is the updated NHL playoff bracket, full second-round schedule and a prediction for which team will win the Stanley Cup.
Bracket via Maple Ridge Chrysler. Updated bracket via NHLPlayoffsBracket.com.
|2014 NHL Playoffs Second-Round Schedule|
|1||Canadiens beat Bruins, 4-3||May 1||7:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|2||Bruins beat Canadiens, 5-3||May 3||12:30 p.m.||NBC|
|3||Bruins at Canadiens||May 6||7 p.m.||NBCSN|
|4||Bruins at Canadiens||May 8||7:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|5||Canadiens at Bruins||May 10||TBD||TBD|
|6*||Bruins at Canadiens||May 12||TBD||TBD|
|7*||Canadiens at Bruins||May 14||TBD||TBD|
|1||Rangers beat Penguins, 3-2||May 2||7 p.m.||NBCSN|
|2||Penguins beat Rangers, 3-0||May 4||7:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|3||Penguins at Rangers||May 5||7:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|4||Penguins at Rangers||May 7||7:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|5||Rangers at Penguins||May 9||TBD||TBD|
|6*||Penguins at Rangers||May 11||TBD||TBD|
|7*||Rangers at Penguins||May 13||TBD||TBD|
|1||Blackhawks beat Wild, 5-2||May 2||9:30 p.m.||NBCSN|
|2||Blackhawks beat Wild, 4-1||May 4||3 p.m.||NBC|
|3||Blackhawks at Wild||May 6||9 p.m.||CNBC|
|4||Blackhawks at Wild||May 9||TBD||TBD|
|5*||Wild at Blackhawks||May 11||TBD||TBD|
|6*||Blackhawks at Wild||May 13||TBD||TBD|
|7*||Wild at Blackhawks||May 15||TBD||TBD|
|1||Kings beat Ducks, 3-2||May 3||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|2||Kings at Ducks||May 5||10 p.m.||NBCSN|
|3||Ducks at Kings||May 8||10 p.m.||NBCSN|
|4||Ducks at Kings||May 10||TBD||TBD|
|5*||Kings at Ducks||May 12||TBD||TBD|
|6*||Ducks at Kings||May 14||TBD||TBD|
|7*||Kings at Ducks||May 16||TBD||TBD|
|Source: NHL.com. *Denotes if necessary|
Stanley Cup Prediction: Chicago Blackhawks
After the Chicago Blackhawks stunned the St. Louis Blues in the first round, hockey fans have started to once again consider the defending Stanley Cup champions favorites to repeat the feat in 2014.
St. Louis was one of the best teams in the league throughout the season, but Chicago kept its focus on the task at hand and decisively sent the Blues home early.
The Blackhawks used the first-round series to get healthy and build momentum.
Through the first two games against the Minnesota Wild—Chicago leads the series 2-0—the Blackhawks are outscoring their opponents 9-3 and have utterly dominated them in every facet of the game.
While Chicago has looked unbeatable at times, captain Jonathan Toews told Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune about his team’s focus and the never-ending quest to perpetually improve:
You've seen in some other series, whether you're up 2-0 or 3-0, there's no time to get comfortable at all. You have to keep playing and keep improving every single game as you go through a series because it's only going to get tougher.
No disrespect at all (to the Wild), but we know we have to play better. There were a lot of things that we improved upon (Sunday) as opposed to Game 1, (and) we can continue that in the next game.
Jeff Nuich of CSN Chicago showed how the franchise is already thinking about another title:
While it is clear that the magnitude of the situation is affecting the Minnesota players, Wild forward Mikko Koivu admitted the challenge:
If you add in the fact that once Chicago gets past Minnesota, it would take on the winner of the bitter battle between the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, then that should make for the ideal road to the Stanley Cup Final.
Regardless of which team makes it to the championship round from the Eastern Conference, the Blackhawks have the experience, offensive depth and defensive prowess to stop any team in the league.
Chicago will be hoisting another Stanley Cup in 2014.
Stats via NHL.com.
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