May 28, 2013 by Sal Ientile
Okay, this is a tad premature because the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks have yet to secure their spots in the Conference Finals. However, for entertainment purposes and a desire to see the alleged best punch it out, the Kings and Hawks are the dream semis in the West.
Over in the East, 2011 Champs’ the Boston Bruins and 2009 Champs’ the Pittsburgh Penguins are set to play each other in a highly anticipated series that will feature the game’s best offensive stars against some of the greatest defensive players in the business.
A Conference Finals involving the four most recent Stanley Cup Champions has never happened before. And just when you think the NHL is the most evenly contested league it has ever been, all the obvious favourites are looking good to reach the Final 4, as expected.
If the Kings and Blackhawks both fail in their attempts to reach the Conference Finals their replacements aren’t exactly out of the blue Cinderella stories. The Detroit Red Wings are the 5th most recent hoisters of the Cup. Whereas, the San Jose Sharks could become the only team in the NHL to reach the Conference Finals in three of the last four seasons with a Game 7 win over LA.
IF, the Kings and Blackhawks get through creating a dream semis then officially one of the four most recent Cup winners will be well on their way to building a modern day dynasty with a 2nd Cup Championship in a small window of time.
The Los Angeles Kings are the most recent to conquer the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Only one year ago they achieved Stanley Cup glory with a 6 game series win over the New Jersey Devils. While repeating is difficult in this era, the Kings aren’t your typical Cup repeaters thanks to a late starting regular season. Unlike a normal NHL schedule that starts in October, this year the season didn’t begin until mid January. Therefore, the Kings had plenty of time to recover from last year’s Cup run.
The Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup two years ago. If they win again this year the victory would significantly boost the status of their group. What seems like a very clutch, luck on their side, triple Game 7 winning – Cup victory in 2011, would now widely be known as the 1st Cup victory for the franchise in a three year window. That closely contested Cup from 2011 would not be a skin of the teeth one-off achieved through out-willing opponents under pressure, rather, more like the beginning of a great era in Bruins history. Another Cup would signify a new age dynasty rivalling the 2 Cups in 3 years achieved by legends Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito who led the Boston Bruins of the early 70’s to championships in 70′ and 72′.
In 2010 – three Cups ago, the Chicago Blackhawks were the last team standing. Unlike the other three victors in the equation the Hawks were forced to dismantle much of the team that led them to victory. If you consider the quality of talent the Hawks gave up within two years of their Cup, it’s very impressive that they’ve managed to quickly regain Cup contender form. Another Championship win for the Hawks would mean they have a 50% Cup winning rate over the last four years. That would definitely qualify them as a modern day dynasty if they can rise to the occasion.
The fourth most recent Cup Champion of the Big Four is of course the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens made the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008 and 2009. When they won the second time around with a young core, it wasn’t crazy to assume they’d just keep on making the finals every year. Things didn’t go according to plan. Four years later and many disappointing playoffs since, the Penguins have had to pay their dues all over again. If they win the 2013 Stanley Cup they will be Cup winners in 2 of 5 years and Cup finalists in an astounding 3 of the last 6 tournaments. That is dynasty quality.
Wait! What about the Detroit Red Wings and the San Jose Sharks? Both teams are very much alive and capable of going the distance.
If the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup it will be the organizations’ 5th Cup win over a span of 16 years dating back to 1997. No other franchise can boast that level of success post 1990. A Wings Championship would also mean their 3rd Cup Finals in 6 years (Just like Penguins if they make the 2013 Finals).
The Sharks are the only team remaining in the Stanley Cup Playoffs that has not won a Cup over the last five years. In fact, the Sharks have never won a Cup, nor have they made it to the Stanley Cup Finals after fielding very competitive teams for the most part of the last 12 years. You figure they’d be the most hungry. The Sharks knocked out the Vancouver Canucks in the 1st round of these playoffs. The last three Cup clinchers have all eliminated Vancouver at some point en route to winning. The Sharks will try and keep that trend alive.
No matter what happens next, expect some very entertaining Conference Finals on both sides of the league. The 6 remaining teams are all qualified contenders with good shots at getting it done.