What a difference a week makes. Last time I wrote, the Chicago Blackhawks were on the brink of elimination against the Detroit Red Wings and now they're just two wins away from ousting the defending champion Los Angeles Kings and returning to the Stanley Cup Final. The conference finals have tons of storylines, but with two games done out West and Game 2 coming Monday night in the East, this is what I've noticed so far.
THE BLACKHAWKS ARE BACK
Chicago didn't look quite the same over the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but after two wins to start the Western Conference Final against Los Angeles, the Blackhawks are starting to look like the team that dominated in the first half of the season. They've won the last two games against the best defensive team in the Western Conference and they did it with a remarkable amount of composure. Chicago outplayed L.A. badly in the first period and still ended up trailing when the Kings scored first. That could have easily escalated in frustration, but the Blackhawks continued doing what they do. They didn't panic. They attacked Jonathan Quick, they looked faster than L.A., they were much more in control and they just kept shooting and going to the net and they got rewarded.
With at least two games played in each of the four second-round series in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the hunt for the conference finals is really in full swing. These are the things I've seen and that I'll keep watching for in each matchup.
RAINING ON OTTAWA'S PARADE
After the Penguins took the first two games of this series in relatively easy fashion at home, Ottawa made things interesting not just by winning Sunday night's double-overtime thriller, but by bringing Jason Spezza back in the lineup. Spezza certainly had an impact and as of Monday he says he feels good, but unless he really makes a huge difference on the ice, I can't see the Senators winning both games at home. They might if Craig Anderson stays hot in net, but Pittsburgh just has so many weapons. Sidney Crosby was so good in Game 2 and Evgeni Malkin hasn't even hit his stride offensively yet. It's really hard for me to look at these two teams against one another and think Ottawa will win both of its games at home.
The Sens are hard to discount. They played very well in the first round against Montreal and very well in Game 3, but I think Game 3 will be the best game they play all series. Ottawa's penalty kill made a big impact in Game 3 Sunday night, but they'll have to maintain that to tie this series up. Pittsburgh's power play was dominant in the first two games of the series and while the Sens handled it well in Game 3, the Penguins are so talented and so deep. I just don't see Ottawa getting back to Pittsburgh at two games apiece.
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My mindset going into a shootout? Don't let them score.