The 2013 Stanley Cup Conference Finals are upon us, sadly. The lockout just ended, didn't it? Now the action winds down as the last four Stanley Cup champions go head to head in the final four and the number of hours you can spend ignoring your family in front of the television is reduced drastically.
Should one of these series go seven games, however, it could push the Stanley Cup Final's last act well into the very late stages of June, taking us directly from on-ice action to off (draft, free agency). And that's an attractive proposition.
I've been wrong so often I think I'll just let the rest of the crew do the prognosticating...
(4) Boston Bruins vs (1) Pittsburgh Penguins
Brandon Worley: This is a series that will come down to goaltending and the Bruins certainly have the advantage there. Boston in six.
Erin Bolen: The relative lack of depth in the east means both teams have been waiting around for this series to start. The Penguins should have been using that time to solve their goaltending issues, which will play a key role in this series. Vokoun has great numbers in his seven playoff starts, but I'm still not sure I trust him, especially as hard as the Bruins go to the net. Pittsburgh has the better team on paper, but I think their goalie issues catch up to them here. Boston in six.
Josh Lile: The Bruins won't have to use Erik Karlsson against Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby. Bruins in 5.
Trevor Sudbury: Puck possession is the name of the game in this series. I think Boston holds the edge in those regards. Either way, i think this series will have more sustained attacks than any other this year. it should be fun to watch. But there is just too much firepower in the Pittsburgh lineup for the Bruins to match. Despite the terrible goaltending, the Pens win in 6.
Huw Wales: I think this could either be an incredibly close series or a complete blowout. My guess, based on the Penguins less than inspiring goaltending, is that the Bruins are going to win this series. Yes the Penguins have Malkin and Crosby et al but my gut feeling is that the Bruins will put together a good team effort. Bruins in five.
Derek Neumeier: What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? The Pens' offence versus the Bruins' defence is the perfect matchup. However, in the battle of weaknesses Boston's scoring has the edge over Pittsburgh's defence, which will win them the series. Boston in 7.
Ismael Hammoudu: The Penguins have incredible offense but lack a bit on the defensive end. While Boston won't stun anyone by putting up points like the Penguins have, they are maybe the deepest team remaining in the post season. While Pittsburgh's top six has a slight advantage over Boston's, this series gets decided by Boston's bottom six outplaying Pittsburgh's. Look for Daniel Paille, Shawn Thronton, and Gregory Campbell to come up big. Bruins in 7.
Cole Jones: The Penguins have more star power, while the Bruins have a more traditional team makeup. It's really going to come down to defense and goaltending, which the Bruins have the clear advantage. If Jaromir Jagr snaps out of his funk in time to stick it to his old team again, this should end with the Bruins going to the Finals. I'm going to say Boston in 6, with 6 very close games.
(5) Los Angeles Kings vs (1) Chicago Blackhawks
Brandon Worley: The Los Angeles Kings haven't allowed three goals in a playoff game in three decades -- or something like that. Will it be enough to return to the Cup Final? Chicago in six.
Erin Bolen: The Blackhawks struggled to find their offense until their backs were up against the wall against the Red Wings, and the Kings are a far stouter defensive test this season. Still, the Kings weren't all that impressive in their seven-game series against the Sharks, either. The Hawks won 2-of-3 in the regular season, and I think their superior offensive talent comes through here. Chicago in seven.
Josh Lile: The two best teams in the league go head to head. Both are deep, but Chicago is a bit deeper. Chicago in 6.
Trevor Sudbury: After two game 7s in the last round, you would think that the victors would be evenly matched. The problem is that one series was playing high quality, while the other had more divers than the Summer Olympics. LA will make it a tough one, but I don't think they'll be focused on the game so much as trying to draw a call. They're "3 goals or fewer" stat is due to come to an end, too. Chicago in 5.
Huw Wales: This is going to be an interesting and long fought out series. Both teams are incredibly talented but I have the feeling that the Kings are going to come out on top in this one. The Kings still have most of their cup winning team from last season and I think that is going to help a lot. Kings in 6.
Derek Neumeier: The Hawks, after their comeback victory against Detroit, are finally firing on all cylinders, returning to the form that soared through the regular season. The Kings can play the prototypical shutdown game, but won't be able to contain the Hawks this series. Chicago in 6.
Ismael Hammoudu: This is going to be an epic match up of two teams that can beat you any way you like it. Both the Blackhawks and Kings can unleash terrifying offense, but also completely shut down an opponent. The Blackhawks have an advantage up front, where the likes of Toews, Kane, Sharp and Hossa can put up a ton of points. They'll be facing down Kopitar, Richards, Carter, and Brown, all of whom don't score as much, but are better on the defensive end. The Blackhawks have overpowering offense, while the Kings have stingier defense. This series will be decided by goaltending, and Quick is the best player in the playoffs right now, of any position. This will be a hard fought series and will go 7 games, the Kings will win. Random bonus prediction - Game 7 goes to double overtime.
Cole Jones: All year long I've said that Blackhawks were the team to beat, and that doesn't change just because they're playing the defending champions. Chicago's only question mark is supposedly their netminding, but it's been more a period than a question mark so far. The Hawks are just too well rounded. Chicago in 5. Original Six match up in the Stanley Cup.