Then there were four.
The Stanley Cup playoffs have officially entered the conference final portion of the schedule, as the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings will square off in the Western Conference Final for the second straight year, while the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers will face off for the Eastern Conference title.
Here is a look at the entire schedule and broadcast information, via NHL.com.
|2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Finals|
|Eastern Conference Matchups||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens, Game 1||May 17||1 p.m.||NBC|
|New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens, Game 2||May 19||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers, Game 3||May 22||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers, Game 4||May 25||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens, Game 5 *||May 27||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers, Game 6*||May 29||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens, Game 7*||May 31||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Western Conference Matchups||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks, Game 1||May 18||3 p.m.||NBC|
|Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks, Game 2||May 21||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Chicago Blackhawks at Los Angeles Kings, Game 3||May 24||8 p.m.||NBC|
|Chicago Blackhawks at Los Angeles Kings, Game 4||May 26||9 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks, Game 5 *||May 28||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Chicago Blackhawks at Los Angeles Kings, Game 6 *||May 30||9 p.m.||NBCSN|
|Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks, Game 7 *||June 1||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|NHL.com (*if necessary)|
Eastern Conference Final
Many fans and commentators thought the Boston Bruins would be here, but the Montreal Canadiens shocked the defending Eastern Conference champions. Alas, we will not have a Stanley Cup Final rematch between Boston and Chicago.
Rangers coach Alain Vigneault knows that the Canadiens saw themselves as the underdogs against Boston, but he cautioned anyone with that line of thinking for this series, according to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com:
I know they went into the Boston series saying that they felt Boston didn't respect them. We respect Montreal quite a bit. They're not only a very strong team, but they're a team that has beaten the No. 1 team in the NHL right now, a team that went to the Stanley Cup finals last year, a team that beat the New York Rangers in five games last year. We know that we've got our hands full.
Sure, Montreal’s win over Boston was impressive, but the Rangers did some impressing of their own by knocking off the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 7 after trailing 3-1 in the series. Both teams have momentum on their side, so the series could come down to which goalkeeper is more consistent.
Interestingly, Carey Price posted a 1.50 goals-against average, .950 save percentage and one shutout in the final four games against the Bruins, so he has the hot hand. He also stopped 74 of 75 shots in two games against New York this year.
On the other side, Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers is a mere 4-5-2 with a 3.87 goals-against average and .876 save percentage in games at Montreal. He hasn’t even appeared there since 2012, when he was pulled after allowing four goals.
Look for Price to continue his impressive goalkeeping throughout this series as he leads Montreal to the Stanley Cup Final.
Whether Lundqvist can shake his Montreal demons remains to be seen, but the only chance the Rangers have is if he can do just that.
Prediction: Montreal in seven
Western Conference Final
It’s deja vu time in the Western Conference, as the Blackhawks knocked the Kings out at this stage last year in a quick five games en route to a Stanley Cup title.
Chicago has the home-ice advantage in this one after beating the St. Louis Blues in a thrilling back-and-forth series in the first round and handling the Minnesota Wild in six games in Round 2.
As for the Kings, they pulled out a series victory over the in-state Anaheim Ducks in impressive fashion in Game 7 Friday to the tune of 6-2 after defeating the San Jose Sharks in seven games in the first round. It is only natural to wonder if fatigue will become an issue against the defending champions for Los Angeles, considering how many emotionally draining elimination games it has already played in this postseason.
Along those lines, the Kings are dealing with injury concerns with Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell, which certainly hurts against a squad as strong as Chicago.
However, they did spread the scoring around in Game 7 against the Ducks, as SportsCenter noted:
The Blackhawks will be a different story, though. Chicago swept the Kings in the regular season and will have the rocking United Center crowd at its back for up to four games.
Look for the defending champs to exploit this favorable matchup. They should have a mental edge after dominating the regular season and winning the playoff series last year, and the Kings are not 100 percent healthy.
Prediction: Chicago in six
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