Stanley Cup 2014, III: Eight Wins to Glory

 I  II  III  IV  V

Thank you, New York Rangers.  You’re the shining light in the darkness that is my bracket.  Somehow, out of the mess below, I correctly predicted the entire Metropolitan Division, save for a single minor hiccup in series length.  And now it’s not totally worthless.  Hooray!  And thank you, Montréal Canadiens, for winning me not-last-place in my family league.  Also for beating Boston, of course!

nhl_bracket_2014_r3What a surprising turn of events!  I don’t really get it, but now I’m up to 209,562nd place (57th percentile), a massive improvement from 445,364th!  You know, a lot of things have been going really well since the end of the last round… maybe that’s a post for another time!

Focus!  Second round recap, let’s go!

Bruins vs. Canadiens:  YES!  I love watching the President’s Trophy winners fall, and when that team is the big bad Bruins, well that just makes it so much better.  Expectations for this series couldn’t have been higher.  And boy did this live up to them.  With all of the spearing, water spraying, trash-throwing, raucous crowds, upsets on home ice, and general off-ice drama (read, racism), this couldn’t have been a more contentious, fierce, war of a series.  I wish it could have kept going on and on, assuming the same result of course.  How awesome was Carey Price?  How great was it that Thomas Vanek and Daniel Briére both contributed to killing the B’s?  So great.  Everything about this was great!

Penguins vs. Rangers:  It all shook out exactly as I had foreseen.  Hah, wait let’s not get carried away.  Did anyone really predict that the “mighty” Pittsburgh Penguins would collapse so gradually and fade away to nothing at the hands of the Rangers after putting up a 3-1 series lead?  This was a bipolar series: each team played incredibly sloppily for long stretches while the other capitalized.  And then the Rangers gelled, united, and persevered in the face of a personal tragedy.  It was a stunning reversal in their play, in their attitude, and really, it seemed like there was no way the hockey gods would let the Rangers, and especially Martin St. Louis, lose this series.  But the real star was Henrik Lundqvist.  He’s the number one reason the Rangers are playing for a chance at the Cup Final and I don’t see much of a reason why he can’t continue to lead the Rangers to the next level.

Blackhawks vs. Wild:  Nailed this one too.  The Wild were the darling team, the Cinderella wildcard looking to upset the almost-dynastic Blackhawks for their second ever conference final appearance.  They dominated at home, whilst faltering on the road.  Game six, I was certain, was going to go Minnesota’s way.  And then the bounce happened.  Who else but Patrick Kane would put the series away with another goal that few even noticed initially.  The Hawks are scary good.  I don’t know what else to say but it looks like they might be on their way to repeating as champions, winning their 3rd Cup in five years.  It’s just that they’re going to have to play through one of Henrik Lundqvist or Carey Price.  At this point, I’d really hate to be coming out of the Western Conference with that prospect.

Ducks vs. Kings:  You know what they say: “it’s not a series until a team wins on the road.”  An oddity, the road team won the first four games.  The fact that the teams share a pool of fans might have something to do with that.  I went to both Staples and Honda Centers for the first time this season, so I can vouch for their incredible proximity (and the difference in their ticket prices…).  These two have had a regular-season rivalry since the Mighty Ducks came to Orange County in 1993.  Now they can add playoff rivals to their history.  The first ever Freeway Series didn’t disappoint and for different reasons than I expected.  While obviously much less fiery than the gold standard for hockey rivalries, the Bruins & Habs, this matchup definitely seemed like the start of something greater for both the Kings and Ducks.  This was just a solid series of hockey.  No real drama, a few little scrums, some pranks, late game heroics from Marian Gaborik in the beginning, and some stellar goaltending through the end, especially from Ducks’ rookie John Gibson making his playoff debut at the same time Anaheim forgot how to shoot the puck.  These teams are both really good, very similar, and very entertaining to watch.  It’s a great time for California hockey.  It’s just too bad only one them was able to move on.  And of course, it was the clutchest team that ever clutched, the Los Angeles Kings.  Simply put, they win game sevens.  And boy did they, dominating the Ducks in every way during Teemu Selanne’s final game.  Even when the Ducks were in control after game five, I knew not to sleep on the Kings.

Where the first round was unpredictable madness, the second was much more straightforward.  The team that scored first posted a record of 26-1, which is an insane change of pace.  Everything shook out nearly as I predicted at the start of the round.  Thankfully, we’re not getting a final four repeat.  I’m very happy about that, especially since they were the still same four teams that have won the last four Cups (which was true when I noted it last year).  No Cup virgins this time (thanks, Minnesota), but the east has 20- and 21-year droughts to quench.  Meanwhile these western teams haven’t won Cups in 1 and 2 years.  Out here, drought must refer to the literal lack of water.

Montreal Canadiens  New York Rangers

A3. Montréal Canadiens vs M2. New York Rangers:  Oh look, another original arbitrary six matchup!  This is the Rangers return to the Conference Final after making it previously in 2012, while Montréal hasn’t been here since 2010 and their miracle run.  This is the first conference championship of the new playoff system, so it’s a bit less obvious which team holds home ice.  In this case, it’s Montréal; despite being a lower seed they posted a much better record.  Anyway, this is the goaltending duel.  As many have already noted, Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist met each other previously in the Sochi Olympics gold-medal game, with Price and Canada coming out on top over Sweden.  Looking at the first two rounds, it seems clear to me who will advance here.  Canadiens in six.  They took down Boston with aplomb and passion, making a powerful statement.  I think they’ve yet to peak.  New York, meanwhile, nearly went down to a disjointed, lost Penguins team.  I acknowledged their turn-around after game four, yet I don’t see that new found cohesion as strong enough to beat the rolling Habs.  Canada’s gonna get their first chance at the Cup since 2011.  Which is a shame because my bracket has the Rangers there instead… oops.

Season Series:
2013-10-28; MON 2, NYR 0
2014-04-12; NYR 0, MON 1 OT
MON: 2-0-0 — NYR: 0-1-1

Chicago Blackhawks  Los Angeles Kings

C3. Chicago Blackhawks vs P3. Los Angeles Kings:  Where the East has the goaltending duel of the season, the West has a rematch from last year’s Conference Final.  What’s different this year?  Honestly, not a whole lot.  The Kings still have solid lines down the back with Quick a dependable stalwart in net, the Hawks loaded up top, Kane and Toews performing as strong as ever.  I can’t see this rematch shaking out much differently than it did in 2013.  Blackhawks in six.  I think the Kings have learned from last year, much as the Wild did, so here’s another win for you.  However, it’s going to be Chicago playing for a second straight Stanley Cup.  I kinda wish it were LA’s turn again, but I just don’t see that happening.  What did I just say about sleeping on the Kings?  I’m going to regret picking the Hawks, aren’t I…

Season Series:
2013-12-15; LAK 1, CHI 3
2013-12-30; LAK 0, CHI 1
2014-02-03; CHI 5, LAK 3
CHI: 3-0-0 — LAK: 0-3-0

Here we go.  Eight wins left.

playoffs-2014-3

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