NHL Playoffs: The Top Ten Eastern and Western Conference Finals

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NHL Playoffs: The Top Ten Eastern and Western Conference Finals
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The NHL has been blessed with a rich, storied history that includes amazing playoff series, remarkable dynasties and eternal champions.  Every season, since helmet-less players' hair blew through the breeze and goalies wore masks that are now associated with slasher films, the ultimate goal of every team has been to get their name engraved into the Stanley Cup, forever etching themselves on the list of the eternally great. 

To have your name on hockey's most coveted trophy, arguably the grandest award in all of North American sports, requires a great deal of skill, grit, tenacity and even a few missing teeth.  Yet every year, the NHL Playoffs yield brand-new takers to the challenge, ready to sacrifice almost anything for that coveted imprint on monumental metal.  It means that much.

But, to win the Finals, you have to get there first.

While the Stanley Cup Finals are hockey's closest equivalent to a Super Bowl, the Conference Finals are the necessary stepping stone in today's NHL.  Formerly known as the Prince of Wales and Clarence Campbell Conferences, hockey's two-conference alignment simplified in 1994, renaming to the modern Eastern and Western Conferences.  

Hockey has had numerous great series, but nothing compares to the mutual ire and pressure that combine to mark the Conference Finals.  This is the series that marks the first championships of the hockey season, and it is fueled by familiarity and often contempt.

Following two grueling rounds of hockey against conference rivals (and possibly division foes), the Conference Finals can be as compelling as the championship round itself.  The opponents are more familiar being from the same conference, the emotions can be even more intense having already played your opponent four to six times, and every player knows they are the last step on a journey that leads to the Finals of their beloved craft.

Unfortunately, the Conference Finals have been over quickly in each of the last few seasons.  The Eastern Conference has seen a four-game and five-game rotation for four years (won most recently by Pennsylvania's Penguins and Flyers, respectively).  The Western Conference hasn't seen a sixth game in its ultimate series in three seasons. 

Hopefully, Canucks-Sharks and Bruins-Lightning will mark 2011 as the year everyone remembers for the Conference Finals re-intensifying to their deserved glory.

With both championships beginning this weekend, this seems like a great time to take a look back at the 10 best finals series since the inception of the current conferences.  While the NHL's history spans back to days long before television, most fans are intimately familiar with the current Eastern and Western Conference format that the NHL adopted in 1994. 

This countdown compiles series from the Eastern and Western Finals specifically.

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