We’re now just one round away from the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals as the playoffs have been whittled down to four teams. In the Western Conference, the defending champion Los Angeles Kings face off against the Chicago Blackhawks. This is truly a battle of two worn-out clubs since the Kings and Blackhawks each survived grueling seven-game series. Interestingly enough, they both won their Game 7 matchups by a score of 2-1.
As for the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins will do battle in yet another series against each other. Unlike Chicago and L.A., these teams coasted by their Conference Semi-Finals opponents. The Bruins took out the New York Rangers in just five games, while Pittsburgh won their series over the Ottawa Senators by the same margin.
With four talented teams remaining, it’s anybody’s guess as to who will be moving onto the Stanley Cup Finals. And we’d like to guess ourselves with the following Conference Finals previews.
L.A. Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks
This is a pretty tantalizing matchup that pits the ’10 NHL champion Blackhawks against the ’12 champion Kings. Chicago comes into this series via a dramatic comeback that saw them down 3-1 against the Wings. The Blackhawks were able to reestablish control of the puck later in the series to win and set up this matchup.
For the most part, Chicago goalie Corey Crawford has played pretty well in these playoffs. However, L.A. goalie Jonathan Quick appears to have regained his form from last season’s championship playoff run. He has a .948 save percentage, which is slightly better than his .946 mark from ’12. So when it comes to the net, we have to give the Kings an advantage.
However, even Quick hasn’t been able to help Los Angeles win on the road. The Kings are a disappointing 1-5 away from their home ice, which doesn’t bode well as they travel to Chicago. They were able to overcome a 2-0 deficit against the St. Louis Blues in the first round; don’t expect the same forgiveness from the Blackhawks.
On offense, Chicago really needs Jonathan Toews to regain form. The Chicago captain has scored just six points through the first 12 playoff games – a mark which only places him fifth on his own team. Patrick Kane is another Blackhawks player who needs to pick up his production. The winger has nine points thus far, which isn’t bad; however, it’s definitely off his regular season pace of 55 points in 47 games.
Los Angeles presents a pretty tough frontline of Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. These guys have been solid throughout the playoffs and will look to overwhelm Crawford in the net. And the Kings’ frontline vs. Crawford could be the deciding factor in this series.
Prediction: L.A. wins the series 4-3
Boston Bruins vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
This is definitely a case of offense vs. defense, with Pittsburgh easily playing the role of offensive juggernauts. Sidney Crosby has scored 15 points in 10 playoff games, but he isn’t the only one doing damage. As a team, the Penguins have averaged 4.27 goals in the postseason, which is easily a league-best.
But Pittsburgh does have chinks in their armor, and they start with goaltending. The Penguins had to switch from Marc-Andre Fleury to Tomas Vokoun in the first round because of this issue. And while Vokoun has done a great job (1.85 GAA, .941 SV%) through six games, it’s never good when you need to switch out a starter mid-playoffs.
Moving to Boston, they feature an aggressive, defensive-minded approach. Veteran Zdeno Chara has logged 29 minutes per game and is critical to stopping the opposition. This defense can pack an offensive punch too, as rookie Torey Krug showed against the Rangers. He was incredible after scoring four goals and dishing out five assists in just five games.
Boston goalie Tuukka Rask has been solid with (2.22 GAA, .928 SV%) in the 2013 NHL Playoffs. However, solid won’t be enough to stop the Penguins’ extremely deep attack. Expect Pittsburgh to overcome their goalie and defensive issues while overwhelming Rask in the process.
Prediction: Pittsburgh wins the series 4-2