Stanley Cup playoffs heating up as conference finals approach

When the NHL playoffs finally got under way, one thing was for sure: the Stanley Cup would not remain in Los Angeles with the Kings. The defending champions missed the final playoff spot by two points and fell short not only of their goal of repeating, but of possibly establishing the beginning of this decade as theirs, as they were also going for their third title in four years.

But that’s enough about a team that didn’t make the cut; let’s take a look at the teams competing to take the Cup.

The most impressive team so far in the playoffs has clearly been the Anaheim Ducks. After completing a season in which they claimed the top seed in the Western Conference by going 51-24-7, they proceeded to sweep the Winnipeg Jets in the first round. So far in the Western Conference semi-finals, they’ve only gotten better. They’ve claimed a 2-0 lead over the Calgary Flames in the series with two blowout wins. The first came by a score of 6-1 and the second in a 3-0 shutout. Corey Perry has been on fire for them and is the post-season leader in points with 13.

The Chicago Blackhawks on the other side of the bracket have also claimed the first two games in their series against the Minnesota Wild, and I don’t see them losing that series, especially with home ice. I’m picking the Blackhawks to come out of the Western Conference due to their experience and star-power.

Whenever you have Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews on your team, you give yourself a chance in every single game. And all of these guys were a part of both Stanley Cup winning teams for the Blackhawks. Their series with the Ducks will be a great one, but I see those stars stepping up in order to get the Hawks to another finals.

In the East, the Tampa Bay Lightning have jumped out to a 2-0 lead in their series against the Montreal Canadiens by winning both games on the road. This is a surprise given their poor road record during the regular season and the Canadiens dominance at home. The Canadiens definitely have an uphill battle ahead of them, and I don’t think they’ll be able to overcome it. Losing the first two games at home is rarely a recipe for success.

On the other side, the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals are engaging in a series that looks to be the most exciting in the playoffs with each game being decided by one goal. I see the Rangers coming out of that one, due to having a guy like Henrik Lundqvist protecting the net.

Ultimately, I’m predicting the Lightning to come out of the east. They’ve been very impressive lately and seem to have found a way to win on the road.

That leaves the Blackhawks and Lightning competing in the finals for the cup. Even though I’m from Chicago, I’m going with the Lightning in that one. My reasoning is simple: the Blackhawks instability in goal. My prediction is that the Stanley Cup will be back in Tampa for the first time since 2004.