As the NBA and NHL playoffs advance, so too does the image of their respective championship pictures.
The Eastern Conference features two intense second-round matchups, each featuring an extraordinarily hot team. First, the Miami Heat, fresh off their sweep of the Charlotte Bobcats, face off against the Brooklyn Nets. With veteran leadership in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Nets rolled past the young, talented Toronto Raptors in the first-round. Nevertheless, their age and lack of depth on the bench will ultimately make them just another speed bump on the Heat’s road to a third straight championship.
Also in the East, the Washington Wizards take on the Indiana Pacers in a surprisingly close matchup. The Wizards just beat the Chicago Bulls, who were initially thought to be one of the only teams capable of giving the Heat a run for their money.
Conversely, the first-seed Pacers almost blew their series to the underdog Atlanta Hawks, with Roy Hibbert in particular showing a surprising lack of awareness on the court. Unless one of the Pacers’ other stars can step forward and be the leader the team needs, the fast-paced Wizards will overthrow the conference champions.
In the Western Conference, the top-seeded, perennial powerhouse San Antonio Spurs take on the up-and-coming Portland Trailblazers. The Trailblazers seem to be on a roll after knocking off a stacked Houston Rockets team. With an extremely young team anchored by power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, the Trailblazers will remain a popular upset pick. However, what the Trailblazers lack most is consistency and experience, two hallmarks of this Spurs team.
Finally, the Oklahoma City Thunder and their newly elected MVP Kevin Durant face the Los Angeles Clippers, amid much organizational turmoil. As opposed to the previous playoffs, the Thunder are finally healthy and more dangerous than ever. With the Donald Sterling scandal surrounding the Clippers, they may not have the wherewithal as a team to overcome such a dominating presence in the Thunder.
Perhaps the most intriguing matchup lies in the Eastern Conference, as the powerhouse Boston Bruins take on the Montreal Canadiens. In this Original Six matchup, the Bruins remain the heavy favorite in spite of the recent performances by the Canadiens, who swept the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.
Although Montreal will get off to a hot start and give the Bruins a run for their money, the experienced and wily Bruins will ultimately squash the hopes of a Canadian team, finally winning the Stanley Cup in the modern era.
The East also includes a matchup of large-market franchises, with the Pittsburgh Penguins facing the New York Rangers. Featuring the most electrifying player in hockey today, Sidney Crosby, the Penguins remain my pick to represent the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. Although the Rangers remain on of the strongest teams in term of goaltending with Henrik Lundqvist in net, they cannot match the speed and overall enormous talent of the Penguins offense.
In the West, the headlining matchup features the Chicago Blackhawks taking on the Minnesota Wild in a series that will ultimately divide much of Lawrence’s campus. The Wild looked extremely shoddy in their series with the Colorado Avalanche, whereas the Blackhawks dominated the St. Louis Blues and won four straight games to clinch the second round berth. Although the Blackhawks have shown some weaknesses, their star power, in combination with the recent sloppy play of the Wild, will lead them to the Conference finals.
Wrapping up the second round of the NHL playoffs, two California rivals face off as the Anaheim Ducks take on the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings recently became only the fourth team in NHL history to come back off a three-game deficit and win a playoff series against the San Jose Sharks. Riding this heavy momentum, it should come as no surprise that I will be sticking with the Kings as my favorite to win the Stanley Cup.
No matter the end result in the playoffs, the matchups will provide excitement and entertainment to carry any and all fans through the games.