Only four teams remain in the National Hockey League Stanley Cup Playoffs. As round two winds down, the conference finalists have made their moves. At most, 14 games separate hockey fans from the Stanley Cup finals.
After being down 3-1 in the series, the Rangers staged a comeback and forced a dramatic, for-the-ages game seven against the Washington Capitals May 13.
In game six, New York was able to hold off Washington in the final minutes. After being up 4-1 in the contest, the Rangers gave up two goals towards the end of the third period and nearly allowed the Capitals to tie things up. Fortunately for New York, elite netminder Henrik Lundqvist helped the Rangers hold on to the lead and survive to play another game. Lundqvist had a stellar performance stopping 41 out of 45 shots.
Game seven didn’t disappoint fans of drama. The two teams, backed by two goalies on top of their respective games in Lundqvist and Washington’s Braden Holtby, were defensive powerhouses all series long. When ESPN’s John Buccigross was asked on Twitter before the game began whether he thought more or fewer than five goals would be scored in the contest, he took the under in a heartbeat.
He proved omniscient from the moment the puck dropped.
Both teams played rigid defense, limiting chances as best they could while doing their best to avoid a series-deciding mistake.
Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin notched the first goal of the game midway through the period, putting his Capitals up 1-0 heading into the first intermission.
After a slew of power plays that came up dry, the Rangers finally capitalized when Kevin Hayes poked one past Holtby on a power play to tie the game at 1-1 in the second period.
The rest of the second frame and all of the third went scoreless. The third period was a tightly fought, brutal battle of two teams desperate to skate another day. No penalties were called, no goals were scored and no breaths were taken for granted.
As it should have been, the ultra-competitive series went to overtime for a deciding goal. One team moves on, one team goes home until October.
No penalties were called in overtime, either. Chances were traded and checks exchanged, and with 11:24 remaining in the first overtime period, New York’s Derek Stepan flew down the wing and pounced on a rebound while Holtby sat on his rear, unable to get in the way of the puck as it tickled the twine net behind the prone goaltender.
Stepan’s goal completed the Rangers’ comeback in the series and continued the President’s Trophy winners’ march towards the finals. Next up, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Lightning secured a spot in the Eastern Conference final after fighting off the Montreal Canadiens in six games. Steven Stamkos will be expected to continue his stellar postseason play into the finals. He has three playoff goals thus far. The Lightning will also need its defense, supported by goaltender Ben Bishop, to continue to play at a high level.
As the Eastern Conference finals get underway, both New York and Tampa Bay could be missing vital pieces of their clubs.
Dan Boyle could be missing for the Rangers after suffering a crushing hit from Washington’s Brooks Orpik. Boyle left the game and did not return. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s Ryan Callahan underwent an emergency appendectomy during the series with Montreal, leaving his return time unknown and uncertain.
Out west, the conference semifinals were an unabashedly straightforward affair. The Chicago Blackhawks swept the Minnesota Wild in four games and were the first team to reach the Western Conference finals. They will be facing the Anaheim Ducks, who defeated the Calgary Flames 4-1 in the series.
The Ducks are going to pose a threat for the Blackhawks. They are going to present a challenge that the Hawks have not yet seen in the past two series against the Nashville Predators and the Wild. Anaheim’s front line, led by Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Patrick Maroon, has size, speed and quickness.
However, Anaheim will have a challenge of their own trying to slow down the Hawks’ dynamic duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. On the defensive end, the Ducks and Hawks match up pretty well; they both have solid defensive fronts, backed by impressive goaltenders in Frederik Andersen and Corey Crawford, respectively.
With two competitive, evenly matched teams, the Western Conference final should be a thrill for any hockey fan.