NHL Playoffs 2014: Breaking Down Saturday's Conference Semifinal Matchups

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NHL Playoffs 2014: Breaking Down Saturday's Conference Semifinal Matchups
Noah Graham/Getty Images

After another exciting day of action on Friday night, the NHL playoffs continue right away with two important games on Saturday.

In the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens will each try to gain the advantage in their series in an important Game 5. The Bruins have the home-ice advantage, but the Canadiens have proven they have the ability to win in Boston this series.

Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks desperately need another win to avoid going down 3-1 in their series against the Los Angeles Kings. On the other hand, a victory would create a new scenario with the two sides tied 2-2, making it anyone's series to win.

If the past few weeks can be any indication, hockey fans are in for a treat with these next two key games. Here is a breakdown of each matchup with predicted winners.

 

Montreal Canadiens at Boston Bruins

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After the first three games of the series featured tons of scoring, goals were nowhere to be seen in Game 4. The two sides remained scoreless throughout the three periods until Matt Fraser ended the drought with a game-winning goal for Boston in overtime.

While Fraser deserves his time in the spotlight, the real hero of the game was Tuukka Rask. The goalie had an outstanding season, ranking among the best in the NHL in goals-against average (2.04, fourth) and save percentage (.930, second). Unfortunately, he had struggled mightily in the series, giving up 10 goals in the first three games.

The good news for Boston is that he reverted to his old self in Game 4, earning a shutout while saving all 33 shots on goal. Teammate Jarome Iginla had good things to say about his teammate, via Matt Kalman of NHL.com:

I think he's been great all playoffs. Tonight was another level. He's stopping breakaways in a 0-0 game, coming across, he looked so sharp. It's nice for us to get that one goal for him, because he's played great. He's been awesome for us all year, he's been great in the playoffs and tonight he was as good as he you can be. He gave us that chance to get that one goal.

With Rask back on track, the Bruins have to feel confident coming home in a tied series. They had the best record in the league at home this season and should have two more games at TD Garden to clinch the series.

However, the Canadiens played almost as well defensively in the past game with Carey Price in net. Some of the defenders were excellent throughout the game, as Habs head coach Michel Therrien explained:

Boston has struggled offensively, especially the top line. Iginla did not even get a shot on goal in the last game.

Still, the Bruins have enough depth on the roster to put the puck in the net as they win another low-scoring battle.

Prediction: Bruins 2, Canadiens 1

 

Anaheim Ducks at Los Angeles Kings

Noah Graham/Getty Images

After the Kings won the first two games on the road, it seemed like this series was just about over. However, the Ducks scratched and clawed their way to their own road win to keep it 2-1.

Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com argued that the series deserved this:

Things could get even closer if Anaheim is able to secure another victory on Saturday. The squad certainly has the confidence now to go with the talent that has been there all along.

Additionally, the squad is not afraid of another road game, as noted by Allan Muir of Sports Illustrated:

These Ducks love to migrate. They were 3-0 at Staples Center this season and boasted the NHL’s second-best regular-season road record (25-12-4). You could see that confidence right from the start. The Staples Center isn’t the most intimidating building in the league, but the Ducks took the fans out of the game quickly, getting the better of the early play to go along with Perry’s opening goal.

Corey Perry scored early, and the Ducks controlled the rest of the game. With a deep roster full of stars on the No. 1 scoring offense in the league, they should be able to keep the pressure on Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.

Ryan Getzlaf has had a hand in seemingly every play this postseason and should be able to keep it up with another strong effort. Whether Jonas Hiller or recent call-up John Gibson—Frederick Andersen was injured in Game 3, per LeBrun—starts in net for the Ducks, they should be able to do well enough to secure the win and even up the series.

Prediction: Ducks 4, Kings 2

 

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