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We Like Hawks and Penguins in Stanley Cup Final

There will be Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Zdeno Chara and Milan Lucic in the Eastern Final. Winnipeg’s own Jonathan Toews along with Patrick Kane, Mike Richards and Anze Kopitar in the Western Final. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Four of the very best franchises in the National Hockey League will go at it in a pair of Stanley Cup semifinal series that probably have more marquee value than even the most optimistic hockey fan had expected.

Can the Kings defend?

Can the Kings defend?

For only the second time in NHL history, the Final Four teams in the playoffs are the past four champions: The Los Angeles Kings (2012), the Boston Bruins (2011), the Chicago Blackhawks (2010) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (2009).

The Western Conference Final will open on Saturday afternoon in Chicago (4 p.m. CDT, on NBCSN in the United States and TSN in Canada). Later that evening, the East’s top seed, the Penguins, will play host to the fourth-seeded Bruins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final (7 p.m. CDT on NBC in the United States and CBC in Canada) at Consol Energy Center.

How big are the names in these four series? Well, how’s this for an answer? A total of 56 players in the Final Four already have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup – 19 Kings, 18 Bruins, 11 Penguins and eight Blackhawks.

We like the Blackhawks and Penguins to meet in the Stanley Cup final and here’s why:

THE NHL WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL

Winnipeg's Jonathan Toews battles Kenora's Mike Richards for the loose puck.

Winnipeg’s Jonathan Toews battles Kenora’s Mike Richards for the loose puck.

No. 5 Los Angeles Kings (27-16-5, Defending Stanley Cup Champions, defeated St. Louis Blues in six games and San Jose Sharks in seven games) at No. 1 Chicago Blackhawks (36-7-5, Central Division Champions and President’s Trophy winners, defeated Minnesota Wild in five games and Detroit Red Wings in seven games)

The Hawks were the best team in the NHL during the regular season, but they might not be now. That honor might belong to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Granted, despite being taken to seven games by the Detroit Red Wings, a team that didn’t even make the playoffs until the last day of the season, the Hawks are still the best team in the West. The Hawks goaltending was a surprise this season, but that doesn’t mean Corey Crawford won’t continue to be lights out in the Conference final as he was against Minnesota in Round 1 and Detroit in Round 2. He was especially good against the Red Wings in the final three games. Both teams are skilled but at least Chicago tries to score a goal or two. The Kings play so much defense that it’s not only boring hockey, it puts them behind the eight-ball if the fall behind. If the Hawks get ahead and force the Kings to play catch-up, they’re dead. The Hawks just came back from a 3-1 deficit for the first time in franchise history and after winning three in a row against Detroit, look great.

The Kings, meanwhile, are the defending Stanley Cup champions and know exactly what it takes to win in the post-season. However, it’s also extremely difficult to repeat these days. In fact, the Kings would be the first team to repeat since Detroit did it in 1997 and 1998. Now, it’s hard to discount a team when it has Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, two great goalies and a lights out defense with Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov, but the Kings just aren’t the Blackhawks. Oh, they have talent, but they play Darryl Sutter’s chip-it-in, chip-it-out style and just can’t generate enough offense to beat Chicago. I’m not so sure they can skate with the Hawks, either. Chicago is just the better team, period. The Hawks won two of the three meetings between the teams this season, including a 5-2 win in the season-opener at Staples Center back in January. Chicago outscored L.A. 12-9.

Chicago in six games.

THE NHL EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL

Crosby and Chara head-to-head in Eastern Conference final.

Crosby and Chara head-to-head in Eastern Conference final.

No. 4 Boston Bruins (28-14-6, defeated Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games) at No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins (36-12-0, Atlantic Division Champions, defeated the New York Islanders in six games)

It’s hard not to like the Bruins but unfortunately, they face what is now the best team in the NHL — especially if Sidney Crosby continues to play as well as he did in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Penguins have way too much up front despite the Bruins heart and their penchant for hard work. And now, with Tomas Vokoun in goal, Pittsburgh appears to have settled its goaltending quandary. However, consider this: since the start of the 2005-06 season, only three goalies in the NHL have a better save percentage than Vokoun and one of them is Boston’s Tuukka Rask, the man with the best save percentage in the NHL over the last 10 years.

You have to admit, these two teams are on a role. Both of them took out their second round opponents in five games. However, Pittsburgh won all three meetings between the two teams this season, albeit by just one goal each time.

With Rask in goal, big Zdeno Chara on defense and three tough, fast lines – including the almost unstoppable Milan Lucic-David Krejci- Nathan Horton line – the Bruins will be no pushover here. Boston won the Stanley Cup two years ago and a lot of those players are still wearing the Bruins Hub logo. However, there are a couple of very  interesting storylines in this series: Penguins forward Jarome Iginla arrived in Pittsburgh at the trade deadline after almost every big time hockey pundit on the continent had announced that a deal had been done between Calgary and Boston. On the other side, veteran Bruins forward Jaromir Jagr was a member of the Penguins during their back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1992 and 1993. The Bruins acquired Jagr from Dallas after they couldn’t land Iginla. This is going top be a fun series – fun but short.

Pittsburgh in six games.

Taylor is 9-3 in the post-season. He went 5-3 in the opening round and 4-0 in the second round.

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