Finally, after a pair of grueling Game 7’s for the Western Conference, we have our final four teams that are advancing to the third round of the playoffs. From the West, the LA Kings and Chicago Blackhawks will faceoff against one another, meanwhile the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins represent the East. As it stands, the final four are the Stanley Cup Winning teams from 2009 (Pittsburgh), 2010 (Chicago),2011 (Boston) and 2012 (LA), literally showcasing the best of the best teams over the past five years.
Having veteran teams present in the Finals will pose for some entertainment as we embark on the Conference Finals. Given their veteran experience they all have one thing in common. As LA Kings player Dustin Brown put it:
“I always say, you don’t know what you’re playing for until you’ve won it. So, my perspective on the playoffs this year has been completely different from my perspectives the previous years because I don’t think I fully understood what exactly I was playing for until we put ourselves over the top. It’s kind of the same way with losing. It’s hard to understand what it takes until you lose.” (via Inside The Kings)
They all know the feeling of hoisting the Cup over their head and the want,need and desire to do it again. It’s a hunger that burns inside of every single player that sets foot on the ice. One dream, one goal from the moment they first lace up their skates.
After the jump, a look at each Conference Final.
Beasts of the East:
One thing is for certain, this is a series that will showcase a lot of speed and a lot of talented players. A welcomed experience for Bruins’ forward Tyler Seguin. In an interview with Comcast Sports Seguin stated:
“Sometimes we’re playing teams where it’s about even more grinding than usual. With Pittsburgh there will be some grinding out there, but there’s also a lot of speed out there. That’s one of the main attributes to my game.”
While the forward only managed to post 3 points in the first two series, his speed and agility will be a huge attribute to the Bruins squad as they embark on their toughest competitor of the East. They’ll also need veteran player Jaaromir Jagr to up his game as well. There’s no question he has been a tremendous help along the half boards and on the power play unit along with rookie Torey Krug. However, he needs to be better at moving the puck around and managing his time. Too many times this season (regular and postseason) he has lost track of time and the Bruins have lost shots on net for potential goals or he’s held onto the puck too long and caused turnovers. As a veteran, he has to know when to give it up and when to shoot.
Torey Krug is perhaps the biggest asset to Boston at this point in time. With Providence out of the Calder Cup Playoffs losing in game 7 to the baby Penguins (oh the irony), his presence in Boston is welcomed and could become permanent. After all, why change something that’s working in your favor? Krug has posted four goals through the postseason and has upped the intensity of the power play in ways that Bruins have been seeking for, well, years. He could be the nightmare and secret weapon the Bruins have needed all along.
Looking at the opposition, are there ever enough words praising the team Ray Shero has put together in Pittsburgh? A team that seemingly has no flaws and has been destined for greatness since the day they drafted Sidney Crosby in 2005. While there were a lot of questions circulating at the beginning of the season how they would fare without forward Jordan Staal, those have been laid to rest as James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Jarome Iginla and company have helped push the Penguins to an all new level.
Looking at these two teams in the regular season, with Crosby, Malkin and Neal all being sidelined with injuries each time they faced each other, the Penguins still waltzed all over Boston, freezing them out of a single victory winning each game by a single goal.
Hands down, with all of the talent being brought to the stage and the overlapping story lines (Iginla trade, Jagr on the opposing side, etc) this is guaranteed to be an interesting and entertaining series filled with highlight reel goals and lots of emotion.
Best of the West
It took seven games, but both teams finally were able to advance to the Conference Final, digging down deep to pull off their incredible victories.
While it seems like a lifetime ago, the Kings raised their Stanley Cup Banner on January 19 in celebration in front of the Staples Center crowd. The team they were playing-the Blackhawks. While they stood there reminded of their recent playoff failure, they used that as motivation. A motivation that carried them on the longest win streak in history and the President’s Trophy for the best record in the league.
During their series with the Red Wings the Blackhawks shuffled their lines around a little bit and it seemed to work for them. They placed Toews alongside Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane combining for 26 points. While this line combination leads the way with the points, all four of their lines are producing and putting up numbers each night in comparison to the Bruins with a few players that still need to find their niche.
While the Kings don’t have a dominating goal-producing line like the ‘Hawks do, they do have a strong defensive core and stellar goaltender between the pipes. Jonathan Quick has been a key deciding factor behind their winning games, ranking best in the league with his 1.50 goals against average and .948 save percentage. However, the Kings are going to have to step up their offensive game against the Hawks and up their 2-goal per game average to stand a chance at beating Chicago.
“We have to find a way to get the offensive part of the game accomplished without sacrificing the D,” captain Dustin Brown said Thursday between the Kings’ brief practice and their flight to Chicago. “We haven’t been able to do that yet, especially on the road. There’s no one reason, but it all comes back to hard work, just putting in the work to get more goals.”(via USA Today)
The Conference Finals for both sets of teams are set to begin Saturday, June 1. Be prepared for the best playoff hockey we’ve seen yet.