The NHL conference finals are drawing to a close, and the focus for many hockey fans has shifted from the playoffs to the Stanley Cup Final.
With the full championship schedule released on Wednesday by NHL.com, fans of the sport can now make the necessary arrangements to watch all of the action regardless of which teams make it to the next round.
There was focus on the Eastern Conference battle between the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers (New York won the series 4-2 on Thursday night), but the real talk of the league has been the Western Conference matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks.
Here is the full Stanley Cup Final schedule, the predicted combatants and a preview of which team makes the championship from the Western Conference.
|Game 1||Wednesday, June 4|
|Game 2||Saturday, June 7|
|Game 3||Monday, June 9|
|Game 4||Wednesday, June 11|
|*Game 5||Friday, June 13|
|*Game 6||Monday, June 16|
|*Game 7||Wednesday, June 18|
Source: NHL.com. *If necessary. Times and broadcast information will be released at a later date.
|Predicted Home Team||Away Team||Predicted Winner|
|Los Angeles Kings||vs.||New York Rangers||Los Angeles|
Breaking Down the Western Conference Final
After one of the wildest first periods of the 2014 postseason—five goals had been scored in the first 13 minutes and 16 seconds of the game—the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings forced Game 5 of the Western Conference Final into two overtime periods.
Just 2:04 into the second overtime period, Chicago forward Michal Handzus racked up the most important goal of his career to get the Blackhawks back into a series they now trail, 3-2.
ESPN’s John Buccigross shared how rare the overtime goal was for a long-time veteran like Handzus:
Blackhawks 5, Kings 4 (F/2OT) (Kings lead series 3-2) Michal Handzus (CHI): 1st career postseason OT goal. #backhandvelvet— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) May 29, 2014
Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times shared on Twitter his feeling about overtime hockey:
Once again, overtime playoff hockey is best show in pro sports..first OT of Kings-Blackhawks was 20 minutes of breathtaking— Bill Plaschke (@BillPlaschke) May 29, 2014
As one of the men who assisted on the game-winning goal (four total assists on the night), Patrick Kane told Scott Burnside of ESPN.com about his performance on Wednesday and how he will continue to play hard in every facet of the game:
Well, it was good. I think my teammates made me look good out there, to be honest with you. It's a huge win for us, and it's always nice to contribute. That's kind of the mindset going forward here for the rest of the series and the rest of the playoffs. Try and contribute any way you can every night. Whether it's on the score sheet or any other way you can, so it was a good start.
The tide has turned for Los Angeles after taking a commanding 3-1 lead in the series. It was clear from the four goals the Kings scored that the offense was still a major threat for the team, but the Blackhawks managed to score five goals.
The blame should fall on the shoulders of goaltender Jonathan Quick, top defenseman Drew Doughty and the whole defensive unit. Quick stopped 40 of 45 shots he faced through the two-overtime game, but he could’ve been sharper.
Which team will represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Final?
It didn’t help that the defense in front of Quick was faltering at the nonstop offensive pressure from the Blackhawks, either. From the drop of the puck, it was clear that Chicago was going to push the pace of the game and force Los Angeles to make mistakes.
As much as momentum has shifted back into Chicago’s favor, the Kings only have to win one more game and are traveling back home for Game 6. With the crowd at the Staples Center ready to support Los Angeles, the Kings must end the series immediately.
If the Blackhawks win Game 6 and force a Game 7 in Chicago, Los Angeles will be destined for a loss.
Predicted Series Winner: Los Angeles, 4-2
*Stats via NHL.com.