With their game seven overtime victory against the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Blackhawks moved on to the Western Conference Finals, giving us our two matchups for the next round. On Saturday, the Pittsburgh Penguins will host the Boston Bruins and the aforementioned Blackhawks will host the Los Angeles Kings. All of these teams won the Cup recently. All are very good teams. These are two rather exciting matchups. So, who will move on to the next round? Allow me to both preview and predict.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins v. 4. Boston Bruins: While this is a matchup between the top seed and the four seed, I think these were the two best teams in the Eastern Conference this season. After both had more problems in the first round than expected by most, both the Pens and Bruins made quick work of their second round opponents. Pittsburgh besting Ottawa in five games may not have been surprising, but Boston’s near sweep of the New York Rangers was fairly impressive, although the Rangers seemed to be coming apart at the seams to a degree.
The top five scorers in the playoffs so far are all Penguins and Bruins, with three of them being Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for this team. Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow have been strong as well. So has Paul Martin on defense. However, the difference for this team may be the switch to Tomas Vokoun in net. Marc-Andre Fleury struggled, but Vokoun has a .941 save percentage since taking over. This Pittsburgh team is outstanding, and getting strong goaltending makes them nigh unbeatable.
While Tuukka Rask has been the least good starting goalie of the four remaining, he is still a great goalie having a very good playoff run. David Krejci has picked up his play, and he leads the postseason in points with 17. They also have Zdeno Chara on defense, and folks like Torey Krug have emerged as pleasant surprises. However, they may need more from their offensive depth if they want to take down the Penguins. Nathan Horton has been good, but what of Tyler Seguin and Jaromir Jagr?
I give the Bruins the edge in net, with all due respect to Vokoun, but on defense and, particularly, on offense the Penguins have the edge. It is hard for me to look at that roster and pick against them, especially since Crosby and company have all lived up to expectation. Plus, home-ice advantage. I think Boston will play them tough, they are a top notch team after all. Pittsburgh is just better. Penguins in seven.
1. Chicago Blackhawks v. 5. Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are making a nice run at defending their title, even though they are the five seed. Of course, last year they won the Cup as the eight seed, so there’s that. Their run so far has been based on defense and goal prevention, namely goaltending. They had to eke by the Blues and the Sharks in a series of low scoring games. Jonathan Quick played a huge part in that. He’s been the best goalie, and probably the best player, in the postseason, notching a very impressive .948 SV%. That’s even better than last year. That being said, their offense hasn’t done a ton. They have the talent, but guys like Anze Kopitar needs to pick up their play. Chicago won’t make that easy.
As for Chicago, they won the President’s Trophy and were the favorites to represent the West in the Final. The first round went as expected, with the Blackhawks winning in five games. Then, the seventh seed Detroit Red Wings pushed them to the brink. Detroit went up three games to one, but then Chicago won three in a row to continue the fight. Sure, that may be a concern, but it shouldn’t be too much of a concern. Teams sometimes struggle in one round, only to be fine the rest of the way. This is a deep team, and their one minor question mark, Corey Crawford, has not been a concern.
Both of these teams need to pick up their play on offense. Jonathan Toews in particular has struggled. Solving Quick is going to be difficult, and the Kings are very good on defense, but the Blackhawks do have talent. I expect another low scoring series. Los Angeles will dictate the pace of this series I think. I came close to picking the upset given how good Quick has played. However, that won’t continue necessarily. Chicago is the better team, and they have home ice. I take the Blackhawks in a tossup. Blackhawks in seven.