The 2014 NHL playoffs have taken a surprising turn over the past week. After it appeared we would see a rematch of last year's conference championships, the New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens upset the favorites in the East to create an Original Six matchup.
Out west, the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings held up their end of the bargain, making their way through a brutal group of teams to reach the Western Conference Final once again.
The conclusion of the postseason should be chock full of storylines, from Chicago's quest for their third championship in five seasons to New York's inspired play behind Henrik Lundqvist and Martin St. Louis. For those seeking to catch the playoff hockey, here's are the dates, times and TV stations for the remainder of both series:
|2014 NHL Conference Finals Schedule|
|Eastern Conference Matchups||Date||Time (ET)||TV|
|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 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)|
So which teams will emerge to play for Lord Stanley's Cup? After seeing the beginning of each series, here's a look at which teams have the edge.
Rangers vs. Canadiens
The answer to this series is fairly obvious, as the Rangers clearly hold the upper hand following a pair of victories at the Bell Centre. Henrik Lundqvist has taken the mantle as this postseason's hot goaltender, opening up the playoffs by carrying the Blueshirts to a stunning comeback against Pittsburgh in the first round.
With 40 saves in New York's Game 2 victory over the Habs, Lundqvist is the primary reason for New York's advantage in the series:
More importantly, Montreal no longer has someone capable of equalling him in their net. After holding Boston to a single goal in the final two games of the Habs' second-round series with the Bruins, Carey Price is now out for the rest of the Eastern Conference Final with a lower-body injury that he sustained in Game 1.
It's a devastating blow for the Habs, who rolled with 24-year-old Dustin Tokarski in Game 2. Tokarski played reasonably well in allowing three goals on 30 shots, but as ESPN.com's Doug McIntyre notes, Montreal will need to erase its defensive lapses to come back in this series:
If and when they solve Lundqvist, the Habs will have to do a better job of preventing an immediate letdown on the other end. As was the case in the previous contest, the Canadiens gave up a goal shortly after scoring one themselves. The lead Pacioretty gave the Habs on Monday lasted just 17 seconds before former Montreal draft pick Ryan McDonagh -- who has six points in the two games -- responded for the visitors with a quick shot that unluckily glanced off Gorges’ back.
With Lundqvist flashing the Vezina-winning form from two seasons ago, the Rangers will be extremely difficult to beat. The speed that New York employed to give the bruising Bruins fits will only be that much more difficult for the diminutive Canadiens to control. At this point, it would be surprising to see Montreal extend this past six games.
Kings vs. Blackhawks
The past two Stanley Cup champions make for a terrific contrast, with the physical, defensive mindset of the Kings against the scoring skill of the Blackhawks. However, it's Chicago netminder Corey Crawford who could make the difference in this series.
After winning the Cup last year, any notions of Crawford being a liability should be silenced. Now, this year's postseason run is showing that the 29-year-old could evolve into one of the league's top goaltenders:
However, if there's an encouraging sign for the Kings, it's that they were largely able to dictate the tempo in Game 1. A few missed scoring opportunities cost them the contest, and Chicago deserves credit for playing a sound defensive game that limited the Kings' shot selection, particularly from the top lines.
But the Blackhawks have shown just as much fight and resilience and, now, defensive skill. The Kings have until Wednesday, when Game 2 will be played at the United Center, to breach those defenses.
"You never win it the same way," Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell said. "You've got to win it different ways, face different adversities."
After a largely road-inspired championship in 2012, Los Angeles has once again shown the capacity to win away from Staples Center, with five road victories in its first two series. Look for the Kings to capture home-ice advantage in Game 2 and force a long series.