NHL Playoffs 2014: Teams That Will Advance to Conference Finals

Timothy Rapp@@TRappaRTFeatured ColumnistMay 6, 2014

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 04: Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks watches as a puck flies over his head against the Minnesota Wild in Game Two of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on May 4, 2014  in Chicago, Illinois.  The Blackhawks defeated the Wild 4-1. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

While everyone is going nuts over the NFL draft, NBA playoffs, the Kentucky Derby or Floyd Mayweather's latest fight, the NHL playoffs have quietly been epic. Absolutely, positively epic.

And not epic in the ironic way that hipsters describe the picture they just took of a cupcake at some boutique bakery-coffee shop-bottle shop-co-op conglomeration. No, we're talking actually epic, summer blockbuster epic, Niagra Falls or the Grand Canyon epic. 

With the second round underway, it's time to reset each series and make predictions about which four teams will advance. Here's the first prediction—the duration of these series will likely be epic.

But you probably guessed that by now.


Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 04: Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks skates against the Minnesota Wild in Game Two of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on May 4, 2014  in Chicago, Illinois.  The Blackhawks defeated t
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

It's not so much that the Blackhawks have won the first two games, it's how they won them, blowing the Minnesota Wild out to the tune of a combined score of 9-3. The Blackhawks have now won six straight postseason games, and they've only failed to score three or more goals once this postseason. 

They are red hot, folks. And what is so scary is that they don't feel as though they're playing their best hockey, per Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune:

'No disrespect at all (to the Wild), but we know we have to play better,' Toews said. '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.'

That next game will be Tuesday night when the series shifts to Minnesota for Games 3 and 4 and it is there the Hawks hope they can fully hit their stride.

'I don't know if we feel like we've arrived anywhere,' defenseman Duncan Keith said.'We talk about getting better and we know we play our best when we have that urgency in our game and that desperation level. We don't want to take anything for granted. Minnesota has a great team. We know we're going to need to be better … going to Minnesota.'

On Sunday, the Hawks were good enough to win for the 16th time in their last 18 home postseason games. 

You just get the feeling that the Wild aren't going to be able to slow down the vicious Blackhawks attack. Arguably the league's best offense has been humming along in the playoffs, and the Wild look like a deer in those headlights at the moment. 

The Wild may steal a game in Minnesota, but it seems unlikely the Blackhawks are going to blow a 2-0 lead like the St. Louis Blues did against them a round before. 


Los Angeles Kings

ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 05:  Dustin Brown #23 of the Los Angeles Kings celebrates a 3-1 win with Jonathan Quick #32 over the Anaheim Ducks in Game Two of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Honda Center on May 5, 2014 in Anaheim, California
Harry How/Getty Images

Perhaps it is dangerous to put too much stock in the Los Angeles Kings' 2-0 series lead over the Anaheim Ducks. After all, this is a Kings team that themselves just erased a 3-0 deficit against the San Jose Sharks. 

If anyone knows this series is far from over, it is the Kings.

But it's pretty hard to bet against them after they won two straight in Anaheim. Game 1 could have gone either way, yes, but the Kings followed up with a strong win in Game 2. Marian Gaborik has been excellent, with three goals and an assist. Jonathan Quick has given up just five goals in the last five games. The core of this team won the Stanley Cup in 2012, so this isn't a new rodeo for them. 

Folks might have liked the Ducks coming into this series—they won four of five against the Kings in the regular season—but the Kings simply look like the better team. Heck, scoring hasn't even been an issue in the postseason. The Kings should advance.


Boston Bruins

BOSTON, MA - MAY 03: Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins is congratulated by teammate Patrice Bergeron #37 following their 5-3 win against the Montreal Canadiens in Game Two of the Second Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 3,
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

When a team absolutely rolls through the regular season like the Bruins did, it's hard to bet against them in a second-round matchup. Yes, the Montreal Canadiens were this close to going up 2-0 before the Bruins came storming back, scoring four unanswered goals in the third period. 

On the other hand, the Bruins could also easily be up 2-0 in this series after Game 1 went to two overtimes.

If anything, Game 2's epic comeback feels as though it puts all of the momentum back in Boston's locker room. Montreal blew a huge opportunity to go back home up 2-0 and instead seemed to awaken the full terror of Boston's attack, losing in the process.

This is a great rivalry, so of course we should all expect a few more twists and turns. And if Boston can't keep Montreal off the power play or get their own going, the momentum pendulum will swing back to the Habs. But for the moment, stick with the team that was better coming into the series.


Pittsburgh Penguins

Kathy Willens/Associated Press

The New York Rangers didn't play particularly well against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round, and now they allowed their one major advantage—an ice-cold Sidney Crosby—to thaw out in Game 3, scoring his first playoff goal.

Uh-oh. As Mike Brehm of For The Win notes, it was a huge goal for the superstar:

That was his first goal in nine playoff games in 2014. Going back to the regular season, it ended a 13-game drought. His playoff drought also was 13 games, extending back to the 2013 postseason.

That prompted all sorts of speculation about whether he is playing hurt. But he was flying around in his last game against the New York Rangers, producing six shots that were stopped by Lundqvist.

It’s usually a matter of time with Crosby. He was quiet in the 2010 Olympics before scoring in overtime against the USA in the gold medal game. His first goal of the 2014 Olympics was scored in the gold-medal game against Sweden.

If Crosby gets hot and Marc-Andre Fleury continues his scalding form—he has back-to-back shutouts against the Rangers—well, New York won't be erasing this 2-1 deficit. 

The Penguins have gotten this far with a cold Crosby. How scary will they be if he starts playing like, well, himself?



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