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.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins have been two of the best teams in the NHL for the last few years, but we haven't seen them meet in the postseason since 1992. These are two great teams that don't really know each other, and it's going to make for some great hockey.
I love this matchup for the fact that they're completely different. The only thing they have in common is that they both wear black jerseys.
Boston is a team that's built on defense. The Bruins have the best defensive defenseman in the world in Zdeno Chara. He'll be playing against the best offensive forward in the world in Sidney Crosby. A top-notch penalty killing teams in Boston will be facing the best power play unit in the playoffs in Pittsburgh. One team's philosophy is built on puck control and defense, the other is the best quick-strike offense in the League. It's just a great matchup of opposites.
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.
Another week of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs is in the books and it's almost time to start Round 2. With the first round set to wrap up Monday night with Game 7s between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers, and the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, here are some things that have stuck out to me from the conference quarterfinals.
ISLE BE SEEING YOU SOON
The New York Islanders might be done after losing in Game 6, but they leave looking far different from how they did six months ago or even three weeks ago. This is a good hockey team. I think it showed at the end of the season when they finished strong, and then the way they played the Pittsburgh Penguins. You could easily argue New York was the better team in this series and the Penguins are lucky to have won. This team has definitely grown by leaps and bounds the last three or four weeks, and if you're an Islanders fan, it's got to be the best you've felt about this team in 20 years.
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There was a lot of talk off the ice. From a player's standpoint, that's not the talk in the room. GMs make decisions, coaches make decisions, but as a team you have to come together and be ready to go, and we are.