Back on Christmas day, I didn’t think we would be seeing any action on the ice. But here we are in early June awaiting the start of what looks to be a ripping set of conference finals on Sunday morning between the last four Stanley Cup champions. The last time that happened in the NHL was when the Original Six were skating around in 1945. Two of the Original Six are represented in the 2013 group (Bruins and Blackhawks) and all the teams look primed for a cup run. I will attempt to pick a winner from the remaining four teams
2009 Champions: Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins are as star studded a lineup as you’ll get in the NHL. Just look at the names: Jarome Iginla, James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz and the mercurial Sidney Crosby all highlight what is a fun team to watch. Make no mistake; these Pens led by Dan Bylsma know how to score. They are averaging a crazy 4.27 goals per game so far in the playoffs but in saying that have also had the easiest run through the early rounds too, facing a resurgent Islanders team and a upcoming Senators outfit. Their power play has been clinical at 28.3% and while they can score, it will be interesting to see if they can stop other teams putting the puck in the back of the net. Coach Bylsma went with backup tender Tomas Vokoun after game 4 of the Islander series after first choice tender Marc-Andre Fleury had his second postseason meltdown in as many seasons. While Vokoun has performed tremendously in Fleury’s stead, he is yet to come up against a decent offense and I don’t believe he has the ability to carry the Penguins to a Stanley Cup. But never write the Penguins off; their ability to score will keep this team well and truly in the hunt
2010 champions: Chicago Blackhawks
The Hawks were the talk of the NHL this year after bursting out of the blocks to set the record for the most games without losing in regulation ie. they scored points in the first 24 games of the season. Tenders Corey Crawford and Ray Emery were superb and the offensive juggernaut led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marion Hossa and Patrick Kane peppered the oppositions goaltender into submission. They were a class above the field for the entirety of the regular season and were expected to cruise into the Conference finals, however the Detroit Red Wings had the Hawks on the ropes down 3-1 in their second round series before the Hawks dug deep to win in seven games. Their power play has struggled mightily in the post season (16.2%) and Toews and Kane were almost invisible in the Detroit series but the Hawks slowly got into a rhythm by the end of the Detroit series and will be firing on all cylinders against the Kings on Sunday. Crawford has been excellent between the pipes and will continue to be the glue in this team but the Hawks must find a way to score if they are to have any chance of lifting the Stanley Cup.
2011 Champions: Boston Bruins
The Bruins almost don’t deserve to be in the Conference finals after being down 4-1 heading into the third period of Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yet they pulled out one of the greatest comebacks ever and after breezing through the second round against a thoroughly underwhelming New York, they find themselves in a great position facing the Penguins. Mainly thought they would struggle without Tim Thomas in goal but Tuukka Rask has covered Thomas’ absent admirably. The rest of the Stanley Cup winning team are still in place and looking better than ever after blasting through last season’s Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lunquist to the tune of 3.20 goals per game. David Krejci has been scintillating after a lacklustre regular season and along with Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Nathan Horton and the newest recruit Jaromir Jagr, will keep the rugged Bruins offense ticking. The emergence of young defensemen Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton have Bruins fans licking their lips and with the whole team in a rich vein of form, it is hard to look past the Bruins for their second Stanley cup in three years.
2012 Champions: Los Angeles Kings
There was nothing remarkable about the Kings during the 2011-12 regular season and it was a similar story this season. However, when it comes to playoff time, this team shifts into another gear and gets the job done. They haven’t lost on home ice yet in 7 games at the Staples Center and while the team doesn’t score a lot of goals, they have the best goaltender of the four remaining teams: Jonathan Quick. Nothing gets by Quick, absolutely nothing (1.53 goals allowed) and the Kings know this. Being the fifth seed doesn’t faze Los Angeles because they can rely on Quick to shut the opposition out as he has done on three occasions already this postseason. The Kings will rejoice when they get centerman Jarrett Stoll back as he adds an offensive element to an anaemic scoring team. The Kings are a deep team and Coach Darryl Sutter will have no problem using all four lines if he has to which will work in L.A’s advantage. The Kings aren’t flashy like the city they play in, but you know what you are going to get from players like Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Drew Doughty: hard, tough, physical hockey, night in, night out and if consistency won it for the King last time, consistency will win it for them again.
2013 Stanley Cup Champion: Boston Bruins
The Bruins are running hot and have an air of confidence about them. I like what they are doing on offense at the moment, and players like Seguin and Bergeron get going offensively, this team can be scary! Rask is performing at a high level and as long as they don’t lean too heavily on solid goal tending, I believe the Bruins have got the edge over the competition.
Ben Sathananthan is a second year sports journalism student at Latrobe University. You can follow him on Twitter at @bensathsports