Canadiens in 5
Three times they met in the regular season and three times the game was a shutout with the Canadiens taking two of three against the Rangers. One game was even decided by an overtime penalty shot as the Habs beat the Rangers by aggregate score of 3-1. What does this all mean? Except an Eastern Conference Finals were goals will be at premium and overtime could be deciding factor. Both Goalies Henrik Lundvist and Carey Price are playing at the top of their games and both teams are coming off emotional seven game series against division rivals. This won’t be the first time that the two goalies met with high stakes on the line as Price’s Canada shutout Lundqvit’s Sweden team in the Gold Medal Final in Sochi. The Rangers already had one foot on the golf course as they trailed the Penguins 3-1, before they turned the series around inspired by Martin St. Louis returning to the team after the death of his mother. The Canadiens meanwhile survived a physical series with the Bruins, where the team’s historic hatred even boiled up during the series finishing handshake line. Both are coming in with a lot of emotion expended and a lot of emotion driving their legs.
If the Rangers are to win, they are going to need somebody to step up and score for them. Too many times in the previous two rounds they had trouble getting consistent scoring. Brad Richards and Marin St. Louis each have done well for the Rangers, but Rick Nash needs to get it going as thus far he has been shutout in the playoffs. The Rangers are helped a bit by Chris Kreider who after missing the first round against the Flyers and first three games against the Penguins, has given the Rangers offense some much needed energy. However, with a strong defensive team like the Canadiens the Rangers must get more balance if they are to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.
The goalie matchup is about even as any this postseason as both Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist can carry their team to victory. However, the key factor in the series could be defense and that edge is on the side of the Canadiens, thanks to P.K. Subban. The Bruins even with the towering Zdeno Chara could not match the grit and energy that Subban gave the Canadiens. Last year’s Norris Trophy winner is Playoff MVP for the first two rounds, leading the Habs in scoring with blazing hard shot that set the early tone against the Bruins, winning Game 1 in overtime. If Subban continues to be a dominant force on both sides of the ice, it is hard to see the Canadiens losing in this round or any round. The Canadiens have gotten balance scoring as Thomas Vanek, acquired at the deadline as a team high five goals, while Subban, Lars Eller, Brendan Gallagher and Rene Bourque each have four.
The Rangers have historically struggled in Montreal, and have not done well in postseason meetings with the NHL’s most successful franchise. The Canadiens have a lot of edges in this series and it is hard to imagine them folding like the Penguins did after getting in front. The Canadiens have already beaten the best team in the regular season and have the entire Nation of Canada behind them as they hope they can end the 21 year drought of no Canadian teams winning the cup. The last time a Canadian team skated with Lord Stanley it was the Montreal Canadiens and this year’s team is looking like the 1993 team more each game. Look for the Habs to knock of the Rangers in five games.
Blackhawks in 5
Last season on the way to winning the Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks faced the Los Angeles Kings the previous year’s winner in the Western Conference Finals, winning the series in five games. Both teams have had to survive turmoil already this postseason, as the Kings came all the way back from a 3-0 deficit against the San Jose Sharks in the first round, while the Blackhawks dropped the first two games against the St. Louis Blues. Both teams have gotten clutch scoring and solid goaltending on their way to the conference finals and will likely be considered the favorites once they reach the Stanley Cup Finals. The Blackhawks have been dominant on home ice, winning all six games they have played at the United Center, but struggling away from home losing four of six. Both teams have gotten overtime heroics and have played well when a win was needed, especially the Kings who have won six games when facing elimination against their two top rivals in the Sharks and Ducks.
The Kings cannot afford to fall behind in this series, because unlike the Sharks and Ducks, the Blackhawks winning two cups in four years know how to put teams away. A key for the Kings will be stopping the two headed monster on Chicago, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who each seem to be there with the big goal when the game is on the line. Kane and Toews thus far have scored just about every game winning goal in the playoffs. If the Kings are to win they will need a super human effort from Goalie Jonathan Quick, and while he has been strong this postseason, the effort needed to beat the Blackhawks has not quite been there. Jonathan Quick will need to be strong and will need to win at least a game or two by
himself if the Kings are to go back to the Stanley Cup Finals. They will also need Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik to keep making big plays. Like Toews and Kane, the Kings duo have seemed to be the catalyst at every big moment for the Kings, with Kopitar leading Los Angeles with 17 points, while Gaborik has been everything the Kings wanted and more when they picked him up at the trade deadline scoring eight goals in the first two rounds of the postseason.
If the Blackhawks were going down it would have been in the first round, as the limped into the playoffs with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews both missing several games at the end of the regular season. When the lost the first two games against the Blues in overtime they looked to be in trouble, but they went home and turned the series around and have been unstoppable since. More important the time that Toews and Kane missed have helped them get healthy and avoid the fatigue of a full playoff season, a full regular season and an Olympic Tournament in the middle. Toews and Kane are only getting stronger and the Blackhawks are getting more dangerous as the playoffs go along. What makes the Blackhawks even scarier is Toews and Kane are not the only weapons the Blackhawks have had as five players have eight or more points, including defenseman Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, such balance only makes things easier for Chicago’s two stars.
The Blackhawks won all three meetings with the Kings in the regular season, and are getting stronger as the playoffs go on. It will be hard for the Kings coming off two comebacks to get enough momentum to disrupt the Blackhawks advantage as the champions reach the finals again and need just five to do it.