2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Final Predictions

For the final two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, home-ice advantage is determined by regular season standing placement. In the East, the Canadiens earned home-ice because they had four more points than the Rangers (100-96). In the West, the Blackhawks earned home-ice advantage because they had seven more points than the Kings (107-100).

EASTERN CONFERENCE

A3) Montreal Canadiens vs. M2) New York Rangers

Both of these teams earned their spot in the Eastern Conference Final by getting through a grueling seven-game series in the previous round. But for one of these teams, they’ll punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in two decades. This is the fifteenth playoff meeting between these Original Six rivals; their first since 1996. During all three regular-season meetings, the result of each game had a shutout attached to the scoresheet. In the first meeting in October, the Habs’ only trip to Madison Square Garden, Peter Budaj stopped all 27 Ranger shots en route to a 2-0 victory. The next meeting was at the Bell Centre in November. Cam Talbot stopped all 22 Canadien shots en route to 1-0 win. The last meeting occurred on the final day of the regular season. Carey Price stopped all 42 Ranger shots and the lone goal of the game was scored in overtime by Brian Gionta on a penalty shot. On paper, this looks like an evenly matched series. But for Ranger fans, the big concern is Henrik Lundqvist’s lack of success playing at the Bell Centre. The former Vezina Trophy winner is 4-5-2 with a 3.87 GAA and .876 save % when playing in Montreal. His last win in Montreal occurred over 5 years ago. As for the other goaltender, Carey Price has had a lot of recent success against the Rangers. In his last five starts against the Rangers, Price is 4-1-0 with three shutouts and only allowed two goals in those starts. If Price keeps this up, the Canadiens will make their first Stanley Cup Final appearance in 21 years. The Quest for 25 looks to be pretty good for the Habs.

Prediction: MTL in 6

WESTERN CONFERENCE

C3) Chicago Blackhawks vs. P3) Los Angeles Kings

The last image of these two teams in a playoff game is pretty much fresh in the memories of both teams. June 8, 2013; United Center, Chicago. With 9:30 left in the second overtime period, Bryan Bickell forced Slava Voynov to turn the puck over, leading to a 2-on-1 odd-man rush with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane attacking, and Rob Scuderi trying to stop the odd-man rush. Voynov tried to rush back to block the impending one-time pass from Toews to Kane, but was too late and Kane his a snap shot past Jonathan Quick to end the series with a overtime-winning goal, his third of the game. For the Kings, it has been nearly a year for them to get their chance at redemption. After surviving a seven-game series against their rival on the freeway, the Anaheim Ducks, the Kings have very little time to prepare for Game 1. The Blackhawks have had a few extra days of rest after dispatching the Minnesota Wild in six games. If you were a Hawks fan, this would be the ideal opponent in the next playoff round. Why? Dating back to when the Kings raised their Stanley Cup Banner on January 19, 2013, the Hawks have beaten the Kings nine times in their last eleven meetings (which included all five games in the Western Conference Final last year). During all three regular-season meetings, the Hawks won each game, with the Kings starting a different goaltender in each meeting. In the first meeting in Chicago in December, the Hawks started strong, scoring three first-period goals, and that was all they needed to win the game 3-1. Antti Raanta stopped 21 of 22 shots in that game. 15 days later, Raanta was the story as he stopped all 26 Kings shots in a 1-0 win to earn his first career NHL shutout. The lone goal of that game was scored by Brandon Saad when he put one past Martin Jones early in the first period. The Hawks only visit to Staples Center occurred just days before the Olympic Break. Patrick Kane, during a time of bereavement after his grandfather passed away earlier that day, had one of his best regular-season performances, scoring two goals and notching three points en route to a 5-3 win. That game was the only meeting that season in which Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick started the game. The Kings roll into Chicago after putting up six goals against the Duck, but it is going to be a tough task as the Hawks are the only team left playing that has not yet lost at home (6-0 entering the Western Conference Final). If the Kings want to get their redemption, they must find a way to steal one, if not, two games at the Madhouse on Madison. But I believe the Hawks will do what they have done the last two playoff series: find a way to win by any means necessary. This team has a legitimate chance to do what hasn’t been done since 1998: repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

Prediction: CHI in 6

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