Greg Wyshynski, Editor
Penguins in 6
Blackhawks in 7
The Bruins will try to win this thing by slowing the pace to a crawl, playing physical hockey and scoring dirty goals. Thing is, the Penguins aren’t some offensively fancy-pants team that’ll wilt under those conditions – they can win games as brutal as Sidney Crosby's smile.
The key: The power play for the Penguins, where they’ve been he best team in the playoffs. The Bruins have to find a way to limit their chances, and Tuukka Rask needs to be their best penalty killer. Or just don't take penalties. That too.
In the end, the Pens just have too much, and I’ve not been enamored with the way the Bruins have played thus far this postseason.
The West will be won in one of two ways: Either in a Kings sweep thanks to an impenetrable Jonathan Quick, or a long series that goes the distance. I feel the latter is the probable outcome, with the Blackhawks’ stars getting on track offensively and barely putting enough goals on the board to beat Quick.
This could mimic the Kings’ conference semifinal: The home team holds serve through six games, and the Blackhawks win their second straight Game 7 at United Center.
Sean Leahy, Associate Editor
Penguins in 7
Blackhawks in 7
Picked chalk before the playoffs, so I might as well stick with it. Though one could easily make a case for any of the four teams in the Conference Finals to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Penguins' offense is flying and they're getting solid goaltending from Tomas Vokoun, something that hindered them at the start of the first round. They got to Craig Anderson and they'll do the same to Tuukka Rask. Chicago will need their top guys to step up and score if they're to solve Jonathan Quick, who's currently playing on another planet. Expect all seven games to be decided by one goal, with the Blackhawks getting just enough offense to deny the Kings a second trip to the Final.
Harrison Mooney, Associate Editor
Penguins in 6
Kings in 7
I picked the Kings to win the Stanley Cup on the first day of the regular-season, and I picked the Blackhawks on the first day of the postseason. Now I am at odds with myself.
I think I'm back with the Kings. It was Round 2 that did it for me. Chicago struggled a bit when Detroit clogged up the neutral zone, stacked themselves along the blue line, and forced the Blackhawks to play a dump and chase game. That brought the series to a grinding pace, and the Red Wings were able to hang with the Blackhawks as a result, even if they weren't able to get that fourth win.
Thing is, that was the Red Wings adapting to what they thought would work best. But it's the way the Kings always play. They've had their struggles with Chicago getting away from them at times this year, but if they can do what Detroit did and turn this into a grinding series, they should be able to get the upper hand and win four out of seven
I'm going to go out on a limb -- way out, you guys -- and say the difference in this series will be the one-two of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Gutsy, I know. But it's not just because they're super good at hockey. Crosby and Malkin spearhead two of hockey's deadliest lines, and I think it's going to give Claude Julien matchup problems. If these guys are on the same line, you throw Zdeno Chara and the Patrice Bergeron line over the boards and you shut them down as a five-man unit. But you can't do that when Crosby comes off and Malkin comes on. Chara's going to see a ton of minutes versus both guys, but Dan Bylsma isn't going to have to work all that hard to get one of his two MVPs away from Chara fairly often.
Dmitry Chesnokov, Senior Writer
Penguins in 6
Kings in 7
No offense to the Eastern Conference Finals, but this Western matchup, based at least on the second round battles, promises to be a real hockey treat. Just hoping for the lack of Embellishment 3.0. I don’t know if there is much difference between the two teams – both can play physical, but skilled hockey, not dump and chase. It may come down to just one difference that will tilt the balance – Jonathan Quick, who may just steal that one game the Kings need.
Pittsburgh has something that the Maple Leafs didn’t have when they played the Bruins – the ability and skill to finish off two goal lead (or any lead) games. This will prove to be the key, because the Bruins will know how to get under the Pens' skin, which may result in quite a few penalties.
Ryan Lambert, Columnist
Penguins in 5
Blackhawks in 7
The Bruins struggled with the Maple Leafs and dispatched an underwhelming Rangers squad with relative ease, but the Penguins (who themselves haven't exactly faced the toughest road this postseason) are a different animal. The Rangers and Leafs were about as deep as a kiddie pool, and Pittsburgh is oceanic.
You have to figure the only way they even come close to putting Pittsburgh away is if they take two penalties all series. Their PK is the worst of any team remaining by a healthy margin, while the Pittsburgh power play is running at a ludicrous 28.3 percent. If this turns into any kind of special teams battle, the Bruins are going to be in a lot of trouble.
Chicago and Los Angeles have, since the start of these playoffs, seemed destined to meet in the Western Conference Finals, with both having run into what is probably a little more trouble than they would have liked in the second round.
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And while the margin is slight, I think the Blackhawks have better forward and defensive groups than do the Kings, overall. Both are formidable, but Chicago's is more so. It won't be a shock at all to see Jonathan Quick steal a game or three, but in the end I'm not sure the Kings have the fire power.
Darryl “Dobber” Dobbs, Fantasy Columnist
Penguins in 4
Kings in 7
I just wanted to be a hockey analyst with balls. Nobody calls a series to be over in four games anymore, so I occasionally give it a try because you'll forget all about it in five minutes I'll look like a genius if it happens. Boston squeaked by the Maple Leafs - if Game 7 was 57 minutes long instead of 60, the Leafs would be playing the Penguins right now. I'm not sold on the Bruins this year at all - they're not playing to their potential even half the time, and it will finally cost them. They barely beat the most inexperienced team in the league and then they got past a broken team with a lame-duck coach. The party is over now, here come the Penguins.
So we can all look forward to the ultimate war in the Stanley Cup Final - the best defense and goaltending in the league versus the two most dazzling and exciting offensive players in hockey: Los Angeles vs. Pittsburgh.
Chuck and Pants from What’s Up, Ya Sieve?
Pittsburgh Penguins (1) vs. Boston Bruins (4)
Chuck: Boston Bruins
Pants: Pittsburgh Penguins
Our 15-year friendship is suspended while our teams face each other in the ECF. Even writing this paragraph brings us dangerously close to fighting - and none of that slapping, hair-pulling nonsense. We’re talking Kill Bill-style with swords and stuff. Which one of us is The Bride? Hard to tell, since she’s wearing black and yellow.
Chuck says Bruins in seven. Slowing down the Pens offense will be daunting but the Bruins top-notch defence corps can do it. Chara is unquestionably the best shutdown defenceman in the league. Not only are the Bruins’ D physical, but they contribute offensively - just look at what Johnny Boychuk and Torey Krug have done these playoffs. Up front, the Bruins have 12 forwards that will wear you down. All four lines bring a relentless pressure that produces a plethora of scoring chances. Their thrashing of the Rangers has the Bruins playing with purpose, grit and a rediscovered swagger.
Pants says Penguins in six. Things are coming together for the Pens - they lead the playoffs in goals and power play success. Crosby is now free of the jaw protector, Neal’s scoring touch is back and Iginla’s got a big, shiny something to prove. Despite a shaky show vs. NYI, Pittsburgh came out swinging against Ottawa and had their confidence restored. That’s a huge part (er, problem) of their game. Vokoun hasn’t been perfect in net, but with the Pens’ offense flying high, he shouldn’t have to be. If they can lock up on defense - all the defense, since Boston rolls deep - and keep their cool, they should be able to overpower this series.
Chicago Blackhawks (1) vs. Los Angeles Kings (5)
Chuck: Los Angeles Kings
Pants: Los Angeles Kings
Chuck says Kings in six. Spectacular. Awesome. Magnificent. Formidable. Honestly, there are not enough adjectives to describe the way Jonathan Quick plays come playoff time. He’s interstellar and will again be the key to the Kings’ success. Last year’s historic run is still fresh in the Kings’ collective memory - they know what it takes to raise that Cup, but most importantly they know the immediate feeling of it. The Kings’ muscle memory will take over and give them a chance to repeat as champions.
Pants says Kings in seven, after a cage match where every single Blackhawk goes one-on-one with Quick. She also hopes to be wrong.
I think Los Angeles could pull off the magic a second year in a row. I had initially pegged Chicago and Pittsburgh to blow through everyone 12-0 en route to a beautiful Final - the best Final in decades. But the Kings have shown the same tenacity and will to win that as last year. Nice trick, that. Play like crap for half a season and then show your true colors when it counts.
That being said, the Blackhawks will push this one to the limit because they have a way better goaltender they've shown throughout 2013 that they are a step above everyone else. Detroit pushed them to the limit, exposing them as human. Now the Kings will take it a step further.