The 2014 NHL playoffs have lived up to the lofty expectations placed on them before the postseason began, and hockey fans are excited to watch the entire conference championship schedule unfold.
With the Chicago Blackhawks going to battle against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference and the New York Rangers squaring off against the Montreal Canadiens in the East, every hockey fan should enjoy the action on the ice.
Here is the updated bracket, the full schedule with television information and a preview of the series fans can’t miss.
Full bracket via NHLPlayoffsBracket.com.
|1||Rangers beat Canadiens, 7-2||May 17||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|2||New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens||May 19||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|3||Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers||May 22||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|4||Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers||May 25||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|5*||New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens||May 27||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|6*||Montreal Canadiens at New York Rangers||May 29||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|7*||New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens||May 31||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|1||Blackhawks beat Kings, 3-1||May 18||3 p.m.||NBC|
|2||Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks||May 21||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|3||Chicago Blackhawks at Los Angeles Kings||May 24||8 p.m.||NBC|
|4||Chicago Blackhawks at Los Angeles Kings||May 26||9 p.m.||NBCSN|
|5*||Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks||May 28||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|6*||Chicago Blackhawks at Los Angeles Kings||May 30||9 p.m.||NBCSN|
|7*||Los Angeles Kings at Chicago Blackhawks||June 1||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
Source: NHL.com. *if necessary
Series to Watch: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Los Angeles Kings
While there is no discounting the excitement in the battle between the New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens, the better matchup is the Western Conference Final between the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings.
With both teams recently winning a Stanley Cup, the intense matchup to once again earn the right to play in the finals will result in the fierce rivalry flaring up. As fans saw in Game 1 on Sunday afternoon, this is going to be a chippy seven-game series.
SportsCenter talked about just how impressive Chicago is at home this postseason:
Blackhawks win Game 1 vs Kings, 3-1. Chicago is 7-0 at home this postseason. Toews and Keith each score for Hawks. pic.twitter.com/OBs5j7ccXm— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 18, 2014
Chicago may have taken the 1-0 series lead with the 3-1 victory in Game 1, but Los Angeles has the depth and skill at every position to match up with the Blackhawks. Now that the Kings know what to expect, the team should bounce back in Game 2 and draw the series even.
After the victory to open the Western Conference Final, Chicago captain Jonathan Toews told Scott Burnside of ESPN.com about the elite performance of goaltender Corey Crawford:
I think he keeps getting better and better. As a team, we want to keep raising our level of play as the stage gets bigger and bigger. If there's anyone that's doing it, it's Crow. Whether it's big penalty kills or us protecting situations late in games, he just seems to get better and better as the pressure mounts.
We were talking a few days ago about the crowd chanting his name in Minnesota [during the last round]. Doesn't matter how much pressure is on him, he just seems to keep playing. It's an example that I think the rest of us can follow.
As well as Crawford has performed for the Blackhawks, he is matched by a goaltender just as talented in Jonathan Quick. Quick has struggled to find consistency behind a defense that has underperformed at times, but he is still one of the most gifted players in the league.
Which team will win the Western Conference Final?
Another major factor in the outcome will be the performances of the role players. Just as Brandon Saad stepped up for Chicago in the opening game of the series, the team with the third- and fourth-line players who perform at the highest level will advance to the next round.
Los Angeles has just as much depth as the Blackhawks, but the team must find a way to solve the Crawford riddle. If the team can’t get pucks past the Chicago netminder, this will be a short series for the Kings.
Lucky enough for hockey fans, though, this series has all the earmarks of going the distance.
Predicted Series Winner: Chicago wins, 4-3.
Stats via NHL.com.