We’re down to the NHL’s version of the Final Four, but the playoffs have been a tale of two conferences so far.
In Round 1, only one Western Conference series (No. 3 Phoenix vs. No. 6 Chicago) lasted longer than five games. By comparison, the only series that didn’t go the distance in the Eastern Conference was the Penguins and Flyers, which ended in six.
The trend sort of continued in the second round as the Kings swept the Blues and the Coyotes sent the Predators packing in five games. In the East, the Rangers were once again pushed to the brink, but prevailed over the Capitals in seven.
The only anomaly so far was the Devils dispatching the Flyers in five.
It was widely believed that the winner of that first round Penguins/Flyers series was likely going to be out in the second round because of how each team failed to play defense in the series. Even Flyers fans I talked to were convinced that the first team to play even mediocre defense against their team would prevail.
Enter the suffocating, mind-numbing defensive play of the Devils and it should come as no surprise that the Flyers have joined the Penguins on the golf course.
For Penguins fans, the second round was complete torture. Three division rivals advanced to the second round and the fourth team was the Washington Capitals.
What do you root for in that situation? Basically, the only thing you can even get behind is the hope that each series becomes a war and they soften each other up so the Western Conference representative skates away with the Stanley Cup.
I’m not a Phoenix Coyotes fan and I was pulling for the Predators in that second round series. However, if it comes down to it, I’ll be the biggest Coyotes fan on the planet in two weeks if they beat the Kings.
Conversely, I can’t really hate the Kings and they have my support in the Western Conference Finals. I’m aware that they have Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, but I’m okay with rooting for them since they aren’t wearing road cone orange anymore.
Jonathan Quick is a spectacular young goaltender in this league and I really admire how he never gives up on a puck. He’s made several saves in these playoffs that have left my jaw hanging open and my head shaking.
Let’s also not forget that they have Rob Scuderi patrolling the blue line. I really wish the Penguins could have found a way to keep him, but that’s neither here nor there.
Before the playoffs started, I said that if there was ever an 8-seed I could get behind from a wagering standpoint, it would be these Kings.
They started to play their best hockey down the stretch just to get into the playoffs and have ridden that momentum to the conference finals. Think about this for a second. The Kings have only played nine games in the playoffs and are 8-1.
Phoenix has only played 11 and are 8-3.
Both teams should be well rested heading into this series and I can’t wait for it to get underway.
From a marketing standpoint, this series could be nightmarish with two non-traditional hockey markets battling for a chance to compete for hockey’s Holy Grail.
It’s simply not a good draw. The one thing working in the NHL’s favor here is that Los Angeles is a major media market (No. 2 in the country) and Phoenix is also up near the top of the list at No. 14.
The problem is that when most people think about the cities in general, hockey isn’t one of the first things to come to mind.
It should be a great series and I’d be stunned if it takes less than six games to decide. While Mike Smith vs. Jonathan Quick will be real fun to watch, I think Quick prevails in the end and gets the Kings back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1993.
Prediction: Kings in 6.
In the Eastern Conference, we’re left with two division rivals who reside all of a stone’s throw away from one another.
It’s the Rangers and Devils and it has the potential to be a fun series to watch only because of the heated rivalry.
This is a series that will get ugly and nasty very quick. Like the Western Conference Finals, I would not expect a ton of goals in this series.
We already know about the Devils and their trap system, but the Rangers like to pack it in around goaltender Henrik Lundqvist as well.
The Rangers have my support in this series for a myriad of reasons – all personal in nature.
Last year was bad enough with people back home in New England harassing me every way possible (phone, text, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) about the Bruins not only going farther than the Penguins, but winning the Cup.
My father is a huge Martin Brodeur fan and by association, is a Devils supporter. The only thing worse than the Bruins winning the Cup will be if the Devils win the Cup.
He will be relentless and I don’t know how I’ll deal with an entire summer’s worth of e-mail reminders and other correspondence about the Devils’ triumph.
The Panthers and Flyers failed to silence the Devils , so I’m left being forced to cheer quietly for the Rangers in this series.
It’s a pretty even matchup all around and could very well go the distance again. My buddy “Goph” is a huge Rangers fan and suggested that Stephane Matteau drop the puck for Game 1 at MSG.
I think it’s a great idea. Bring Mark Messier, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter along too.
Play the clip of Matteau’s famous double overtime goal on a loop during breaks in play just to get in Brodeur’s head. Ranger fans are crafty enough to start a “Matteu! Matteau!” chant while the play is going on too.
At this point, I don’t care. Do whatever it takes to eliminate the Devils from the playoffs.
I’m begging you. For my own sanity, please beat the Devils.
Prediction: Rangers in 7.
Regardless of what happens in either series I’m rooting for the Stanley Cup to be won by the Western Conference. I would prefer it to be won by the Kings, but if I have to pull for the Coyotes, I will.
Especially if it’s against the Devils.
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