We're three games into the respective conference finals in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, and almost it feels like nothing has changed at all.
The Los Angeles Kings own a 2-1 series lead against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final, while the New York Rangers are up 2-1 on the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference.
Sometimes, one team has distanced itself from the pack by this stage of the postseason, but this year nobody's out of it, and a case could be made for each team as the Stanley Cup favorite.
Considering how the two series have played out so far, below are updated predictions for how they might finish.
|4||May 25||8 p.m.||Canadiens||Rangers||NBCSN|
|5||May 27||8 p.m.||Rangers||Canadiens||NBCSN|
|6*||May 29||8 p.m.||Canadiens||Rangers||NBCSN|
|7*||May 31||8 p.m.||Rangers||Canadiens||NBCSN|
|4||May 26||9 p.m.||Blackhawks||Kings||NBCSN|
|5||May 28||8 p.m.||Kings||Blackhawks||NBCSN|
|6*||May 30||9 p.m.||Blackhawks||Kings||NBCSN|
|7*||June 1||8 p.m.||Kings||Blackhawks||NBCSN|
Eastern Conference Final
By itself, a loss in Game 3 was bad enough for the Rangers. They had ample opportunity to get the better of Montreal on Thursday and grab what would've been a nearly unassailable 3-0 series lead.
Instead, the Canadiens stole one and clawed their way back into the series.
There was also the little matter of the 10-minute game misconduct for Daniel Carcillo after he made contact with a linesman. As a result, he was suspended for 10 games, per SportsCenter:
Rangers F Daniel Carcillo has been automatically suspended 10 games for physical altercation with linesman during Game 3.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 23, 2014
He is appealing the decision, per ESPN.com's Katie Strang:
According to NHLPA, Daniel Carcillo will seek review of suspension from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Will have in-person appeal— Katie Strang (@KatieStrangESPN) May 24, 2014
Given how rigid the NHL Rulebook is regarding contact with officials, his appeal will likely be denied, and the Rangers will likely be without his services for the rest of the series.
New York may also miss Derek Stepan for at least Game 4 after he broke his jaw in Game 3 following a hit from Brandon Prust:
Rangers C Derek Stepan is out indefinitely after suffering broken jaw on hit from Brandon Prust. pic.twitter.com/vcZk7Hq9oG— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 23, 2014
If the Canadiens take Game 4, they'll have regained home-ice advantage and swung the momentum completely in their favor.
So much rests on the shoulders of goaltender Dustin Tokarski. The 24-year-old was marvelous in Game 3, denying a couple of Rangers shots that looked destined for the back of the net.
"If it wasn't for him, it could have easily been three, four, five-nothing," said Daniel Briere after the game, per ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun. "What he did throughout the game, but especially keeping us in the game in the first period, we owed him one, to say the least."
A hot goaltender can make such a huge difference in the postseason. Montreal fans know this full well having seen Patrick Roy and Jose Theodore lift the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
With New York missing a couple of key players and Montreal carrying a bunch of confidence from its Game 3 win, the Canadiens will take Game 4 and eventually the series.
Prediction: Canadiens in seven
Western Conference Final
The Kings have turned this series completely on its head after Chicago took Game 1 by a score of 3-1. Los Angeles has since responded with a 6-2 win in Game 2 and followed that up with a 4-3 victory in Game 3—the score of which was somewhat deceiving.
The Kings scored three unanswered goals to take a 4-2 lead in Game 3, and then Patrick Sharp scored with five seconds left in the game.
The victory was enough to get the crowd inside the Staples Center to start looking towards the Stanley Cup, per ESPN's Arash Markazi:
Kings fans chanting "We want the Cup!" They are about to be two wins away from going back to the Final.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) May 25, 2014
Jeff Carter was the star with two assists and a goal, which gives him 10 points over his last two games, per NHL Network's Steve Mears:
Another superstar performance from Jeff Carter for the #LAKings. 10 points in the last 4 games and points in 12 of their 17 playoff games.— Steve Mears (@MearsyNHL) May 25, 2014
Picking a winner in this series is extremely difficult. Both teams have experience winning the Stanley Cup. Jonathan Quick and Corey Crawford are both capable of standing on their heads while Carter and Jonathan Toews can go toe to toe offensively.
Having home-ice advantage may be a deciding factor.
Chicago has had its fair share of problems playing away from the United Center. They've lost five out of seven games on the road so far this postseason.
Also working in the Kings' favor is their improved play on the penalty kill. They gave up a shorthanded goal to Toews in the first period but turned things around thereafter—an encouraging sign going forward.
Momentum is playing a big role in the series so far, and as long as it's in L.A.'s corner you have to back the 2012 Stanley Cup champions.
Prediction: Kings in six