It took us a little while to get here. The 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs started on April 16th, and out of the twelve match-ups so far, ten have gone to either a 6th or a 7th game. The only “blowouts” so far if you want to call them such are the Boston Bruins beating the Detroit Red Wings in 5 (Detroit’s only win was the first game) and the Montreal Canadiens sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning in 4 straight. Every other series has been a grind, which means if you like tough competitive hockey, 2014 has been your year. Even the aforementioned blowouts only led to more excitement – the Bruins and the Habs had to go the distance against each other with Montreal coming back from a 3-2 deficit to take games 6 and 7. Now at last we’ve whittled the field down to the conference finals – the Habs vs. the New York Rangers in the East, and the Los Angeles Kings vs. the Chicago Blackhawks in the West. The Rangers took game 1 in their series with the Canadiens by a commanding 7-2 margine. Despite falling into the hole on home ice, Montreal has proven time and time again they are scrappy and resilient. They’re also the only Canadian team in the hunt, so there’s pride on the line as well. Carey Price has figured out how to get the stops when needed (except today), and scoring is well distributed among the Habs – Thomas Vanek has 5, Rene Bourque and three other players have 4, while another trio has put 3 in the back of the net each. Watching the Rangers, I can understand why you’d want to put money on this team. Obviously it’s too late to play game 1, but their scoring distribution is healthy too – 6 men have lit the lamp 3 or more times to this point. When you talk about the best stoppers in the league, you have to talk about 2014 Olympic silver medalist Henrik Lundqvist, and he’s only getting better as the Cup goes on. In the sixth and seventh games against the Penguins he only gave up 1 goal – stopping 36 of 37 and 35 out of 36 respectively. With Lundqvist in between the pipes and the offensive outburst they showed in game 1, the Rangers look more than capable of hoisting the cup at this point. You’ve still got time to place your hockey wager on game 1 between the Blackhawks and Kings. Right now the Blackhawks are a favorite on the money line at 5Dimes Sportsbook, though it’s a small -153 to +143 margin. The Blackhawks don’t have the even scoring distribution I like for a favorite – Kane and Bickell each have 6 goals in the playoffs, Toews has 5 and six other players have 2 each. I also find Corey Crawford completely inconsistent in the net – he was particularly awful against the Minnesota Wild on May 6th in a 4-0 blowout. A performance like that against the Kings will be their undoing. It’s early to call it for either team given how many times we’ve seen game 6 or 7 this year, but the pounding that the Kings gave the Ducks in game 7 makes them look awfully good to me as an underdog against the Blackhawks. Anze Kopitar has 19 points through 14 games played while Marian Gaborik has 6 points in the last 5 games, and 9 goals total through these playoffs. If Jonathan Quick doesn’t fold under pressure I’d want to lay a bet on the series price. The Blackhawks are again the favorite – 155 to +135 – but I just can’t help feeling we are headed to the Rangers and the Kings in the finals. Previews are for entertainment purposes only. Please bet only what you can afford and bet responsibly!