The 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs feature some of the most exciting postseason action in sports, and the conference finals have only added to the excitement for this year’s festivities.
While there are still fans focused on the New York Rangers embarrassing the Montreal Canadiens, the best matchup of the conference finals is the battle between the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks.
Here is the updated schedule, conference finals predictions and a focus on the Western Conference showdown:
|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||Canadiens beat Rangers, 7-4||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||Kings beat Blackhawks, 5-2||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
After checking out the schedule, here are the conference finals predictions:
|Conference||Matchup||Predicted Series Winner|
|Eastern||New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens||Rangers, 4-2|
|Western||Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks||Kings, 4-3|
Breaking Down the Western Conference Final
The Chicago Blackhawks came into the Western Conference Final as the favorite to reach the Stanley Cup Final, but after another huge loss against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night, the team is in a 3-1 hole.
Which team will win the Western Conference Final?
Chicago won Game 1 by a score of 3-1 and looked to have the depth needed to keep pace offensively with Los Angeles. Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, their top scorers are coming up small at the worst moment.
In 16 playoff games, Patrick Kane only has 11 points and Patrick Sharp only has seven. While Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews are trying to carry the load with 14 points each, the team has missed too many opportunities.
Toews spoke to Scott Burnside of ESPN.com after Game 4 about Chicago’s struggles and the team’s need to work harder in Game 5 to keep the series alive:
I think when you give up three goals in a period, especially the first period, to a team like that, it gives them energy, gives them confidence, in their own building. So we know we can't do that. It's frustrating to think about the little things we could have changed to put ourselves in a better situation in the series, but we're not going to stop working, we're not going to stop trying. It's as simple as that.
While the Blackhawks have really struggled to beat Jonathan Quick during this series, ESPN’s John Buccigross talked about just how hot the Kings have been offensively during the three-game winning streak:
Kings 5, Blackhawks 2 (Kings lead series 3-1) Kings: won last 3 games; have outscored Blackhawks 15-5 after trailing 2-0 in Game 2— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) May 27, 2014
Los Angeles has five players with 14 points or more, and the combination of Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik has scored 58 points in 18 games.
Add in the elite play of Drew Doughty in both the offensive and defensive zones, and the Kings are proving to be the better overall team in every facet of the game.
There is no doubt that Chicago has plenty of talent of its own and will make a run in this series (likely winning at least one more game), but Los Angeles has the right mix of skill, momentum and confidence to knock off the Blackhawks.
The Kings will be Stanley Cup bound.
Predicted Series Winner: Los Angeles wins, 4-3
*Stats via NHL.com.