It’s conference final time once again in the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs, and I’m never sure as to how to view the playoffs at this stage. Are we halfway through because two rounds are down and two rounds remain? Or are we about three-quarters through because a dozen series have been played and only three remain to be played?
Wednesday night’s thrilling Game 7 between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings set the final four for the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. Chicago faces Los Angeles and Boston faces Pittsburgh, with Game 1 of each series set for Saturday night.
As good as the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs have been thus far, the best may be yet to come. In my opinion, the four remaining teams are the two best teams in each conference and have been the two best teams in each conference for most of the regular season. That doesn’t often happen in the NHL, at least not in the two decades under the current playoff format.
If that’s not enough, the four remaining teams are the four most recent Stanley Cup winners. The final four grouping has been comprised of each of the four previous Cup winners exactly once previously in NHL history, in 1945.
The media likes to focus on how many (or in some cases, how few) players on each team’s roster have had their names etched onto the Stanley Cup. The rosters of each of the four remaining teams in the playoffs are teeming with previous winners and each of the four teams still employs the same coach with which it won its Cup, so it should be quite a tournament from here on out.
Finally, this is the 19th season in which teams have been seeded from 1-8 in each conference at the outset of the Stanley Cup playoffs. And 2013 marks just the third time in those 19 seasons that the No. 1 seeds on both sides are still standing with two rounds remaining.
The only previous instances of the top seeds hanging around until the semifinal round were in 2000-01 when top-seeded New Jersey took on top-seeded Colorado in the Cup final and in 2006-07 when top seeds Buffalo and Detroit were each eliminated by the eventual Cup finalists, Ottawa and Anaheim, respectively.
If there’s a downside, it’s that there is no hockey to watch tonight and tomorrow. Game 1 of each of the conference final series is set for Saturday, so for the first time since the early post-lockout days of mid-January, we’re left without live hockey on consecutive nights.
The defending Stanley Cup champion Kings have won 14 straight games on home ice and six straight playoff series. What’s even more remarkable is that they’ve won two rounds this spring while scoring a total of 26 goals in 13 games.
The Kings (1.54) and the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks (1.83) have allowed the fewest goals per game of any of the 16 playoff clubs this spring. Chicago is seeking to become just the second Presidents’ Trophy winner in the last decade to claim the Cup as well.
Pittsburgh – which won the Cup in 2009 – and 2011 Cup champ Boston are the top two offensive teams among the 16 entrants in 2013. The Penguins are scoring a whopping 4.27 goals per game while the Bruins are second at 3.17.
Of the final four teams, only Los Angeles is going with the goaltender with which it won its most recent Cup. Pittsburgh benched Marc-Andre Fleury in favor of Tomas Vokoun late in the first round. Chicago won with Antti Niemi in 2010; Corey Crawford mans the nets for the Hawks now. Tim Thomas backstopped the Bruins to the Cup two springs ago, but he’s no longer with the organization and Tuukka Rask is now in charge of puckstopping in Beantown.
Pittsburgh, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago – in that order – have been the four best 5-on-5 teams in the 2013 playoffs, in terms of ratio of 5-on-5 goals for/against. Pittsburgh (28.3%) has the best power play in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs while Chicago (97.6%) features the best penalty-killing outfit.
We should be in for two very different conference final series, and should also be seeing two dissimilar teams going head-to-head for the Cup in a couple of weeks.
Chicago hosts Los Angeles at 5 p.m. on Saturday in Game 1 of the Western Conference final while Pittsburgh entertains Boston in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final at 8 p.m.
Please make sure you have ample refreshment and provision stocked away and within reach for the occasion.
I’m fine with having 21 more games to watch from here on out. If the three remaining series live up to potential, we could be in for quite a ride the rest of the way. This beats the doors off the Super Bowl.Posted in: Sports