Just four teams remain in the hunt for Lord Stanley's Cup, and it's been a long road up to this point for those squads still alive in the 2014 NHL playoffs.
The conference finals segment of the playoffs features four of the most well-rounded teams in the league. The New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens are playing a very physical series in the East, and the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings are playing an equally compelling series over in the West.
But which two teams will advance and do battle in the Stanley Cup?
To make sure you're following all the action up to the pinnacle of the sport, below is a schedule of the remaining games—along with predictions for the rest of both series.
|2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Finals|
|1||Rangers beat Canadiens, 7-2||May 17||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|2||Rangers beat Canadiens, 3-1||May 19||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|3||Canadiens beat Rangers, 3-2||May 22||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|4||Rangers beat Canadiens, 3-2||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||Kings beat Blackhawks, 6-2||May 21||8 p.m.||NBCSN|
|3||Kings beat Blackhawks, 4-3||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|
|NHL.com, *if necessary|
Eastern Conference Finals
After Martin St. Louis netted an overtime winner against the Canadiens in Game 4, the Rangers took a decisive 3-1 lead in what has become an extraordinarily compelling series.
P.K. Subban and the Canadiens haven't found the answer to Henrik Lundqvist in goal. Lundqvist has allowed just eight goals through four games, and only once has he allowed three goals. He is stepping up at the perfect time for a Rangers team that has struggled to find the same offense they had in Game 1.
Derick Brassard, a main cog on offense that hadn't played since Game 1, returned for Game 4 and immediately made his presence felt. He fired a slap shot past goalie Dustin Tokarski, perhaps suggesting that his presence in the lineup will be what puts the Rangers back over the top. Check out the goal below:
With a 3-1 lead, it's hard to pick against the Rangers to represent the East in the Stanley Cup. The Canadiens might be able to pull off one more win, but I don't see them getting three in a row against Lundqvist.
Prediction: Rangers in 6
Western Conference Finals
The comparison between the front lines of the Kings and Blackhawks isn't even close. Allan Muir of SI.com highlighted just how much better the Kings have been:
[Jeff] Carter and his linemates Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli are the most dangerous line in hockey right now. They’re fast, they’re hard on the puck, they go to the right places and they finish their chances. They had five points tonight and already have 15 in this series.
[Michal] Handzus, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp? They have one meaningless goal and a minus-7 between them.
This is actually pretty ironic considering how different that is from the norms of each team. The Kings are known for suffocating defense that stifles opponents nightly. The Blackhawks are known for an offense that can outscore anyone.
The Kings are maintaining that defense while also stepping up the offense. The Blackhawks are doing neither thing well. That's probably why the Kings are up 2-1 in the series.
These two teams represent the past two Stanley Cup champs. Only the Kings are playing like it, though. While it's still anybody's game, the Kings are clearly at an advantage.
If the Blackhawks step it up offensively, they can take this series. But that's a big "if," especially given how great this Kings defense is.
Prediction: Kings in 6