We're down to four teams. The final four, if you will. We've reached the Conference Finals. It has been a great postseason thus far, and I expect some fine action upcoming. We've got four very good teams, four teams with a lot of history, and two teams with recent success. Also, two teams without a lot of recent success, which is interesting in its own right. It's the Montreal Canadiens against the New York Rangers and the Chicago Blackhawks taking on the Los Angeles Kings. Who is going to head to the Stanley Cup Final?
Montreal Canadiens v. New York Rangers: This is, perhaps, not the series people expected here. The Boston Bruins were the best team in the NHL this year. The Habs took them down. The Pittsburgh Penguins have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and other top notch players. The Rangers eliminated them and got their GM Ray Shero inexplicably fired. The Canadiens have not been to a Final, or won a Cup, since 1993. The Rangers? Since same deal since 1994. One of these Original Six teams will return to the Cup Final for the first time in 20 years. You think their fanbases might be excited?
During the regular season, the Canadiens had slightly more points, but the Rangers had more regulation wins and a better goal differential. However, Montreal added Thomas Vanek for the stretch run, and they've looked strong in this postseason. They swept the Lightning, and then outlasted the Bruins. They've gotten very good goaltending from Carey Price... but Henrik Lundqvist has been even better than Price, and he's gone up against the Flyers and the Penguins. New York is a bit better at goal differential, but the Canadiens may be better at goal scoring... maybe. Max Pacioretty has had some issues in this postseason, but P.K. Subban has been outstanding.
Montreal has the home-ice advantage. The Rangers have the better team. It's a close matchup. Before the season, I took the Rangers to win the Cup. I am not beholden to that pick, but I think New York is going to get one step closer. Rangers in six.
Chicago Blackhawks v. Los Angeles Kings: These are not just the two teams that met in the Western Conference Finals last season. They are the last two teams to hoist the Cup. The Blackhawks are looking to repeat, and they've had the easier route thus far. Beating the Blues was tough, and then the Wild gave Chicago a tougher fight than expected. However, the Kings have definitely had a tougher road. In the first round, they fell behind three games to none to the Sharks, but came back to win the series. Then they needed seven games to beat the Anaheim Ducks. That's not a lot of travel, but it is a lot of hockey.
Chicago had the better regular season, but some folks said that the Kings were more of a "playoff team" or whatever. I don't know if that is necessarily true, by which I mean its false, but I do think they underachieved a bit, in part due to a slow start to Jonathan Quick. Quick is fine, though, and they added Marian Gaborik, who has been excellent this postseason.
Anze Kopitar, in addition to playing great defense, leads the postseason with 19 points. This team is deep, and has Drew Doughty on defense. Of course, the Blackhawks have Duncan Keith AND Brent Seabrook, and they also have Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and so on and so forth. The Kings are deep. The Blackhawks are arguably deeper. When it comes to goaltending, you may think Los Angeles has the advantage. However, Corey Crawford has a .931 save percentage to Quick's .914 SV%. I think Quick is a better goalie, but Crawford is quite good too.
The Kings are a top notch team, but the Blackhawks are just a bit better, and they have home-ice advantage. Also, they've played 12 games to Los Angeles' 14. This leads me to believe Chicago has a slight edge, and they will get one step closer to defending their title. Blackhawks in six.