A look at the NHL conference finals

By Sean Neumann

Just past the halfway point of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and it’s already been an exciting postseason for the NHL.

With three Original Six teams and the last two Stanley Cup champions in the conference finals, there’s a historic matchup brewing for the finals. Chicago, Los Angeles, Montreal and New York are battling to lift the Cup, so here’s a look at what’s at stake for each franchise:

Second Cup in L.A. Would Legitimize the Franchise

Yes, Los Angeles has already won a Stanley Cup, but no West Coast team has ever brought it home more than once. It’s no secret that American sports coverage is heavily focused on the East Coast and it’s no different in the NHL, with the primary focus on the Eastern Conference. But each major victory for the west is another victory for expansion. Another championship, and more importantly a second in three years, would help the Kings make a real name for themselves across the league.

In 2012, the team was an underdog — the eighth seed in the Western Conference that needed a win on the final day of the regular season to even make the playoffs. And in some ways, they are still underdogs — expected to lose to Anaheim but fighting out of a 3-1 hole to win the series. However, with the momentum from a dramatic comeback against the Ducks, there’s every reason to believe Los Angeles can pull out another unexpected trip to the final. If Anze Kopitar (19 points) and Marian Gaborik (15 points), who lead the playoffs in points, can lead the Kings to another Stanley Cup, hockey may grow a lot stronger than it already is out west.

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Another Cup in Chicago Will Solidify its Dynasty

The Chicago Blackhawks don’t need the Stanley Cup, but if they win again the team will solidify itself as a dynasty. Chicago is closing in on back-to-back championships and its third Stanley Cup victory in the past five seasons.

Three championships in five years would put Chicago near the same level as the late-’90s Detroit Red Wings, the ‘80s Edmonton Oilers and late-’50s Montreal Canadiens as one of the best teams in NHL history. The thing about Chicago is the franchise’s success was long-term and strategic. The team’s core — Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith — was drafted. This is a homegrown team that won two Stanley Cups, brought home a President’s Trophy (2012-13) and had a 24-game point streak all in the past 5 seasons. The Blackhawks are certainly one of the best franchises in the past decade, but another Cup would make the team legendary.

Canadiens Playing for all of Canada

Montreal is the most decorated and historic franchise in the NHL. While it may pain many to say, it seems like the Stanley Cup belongs there after 24 championships dating back to 1916. Its natural resting place is Montreal.

The most appealing thing about the idea of Montreal winning the Stanley Cup is the scene it would make in Canada. The Canadiens haven’t won a Cup since 1993 and is in the midst of the longest championship drought in franchise history — the 2000s was the only decade in which the team didn’t win a championship. But more importantly to the country, no Canadian team has won a cup since that ‘93 team. If the Canadiens were able to get past a hot New York team and win a championship, it wouldn’t just bring the Stanley Cup back to Montreal, it would bring it home to an entire country waiting to reclaim what they believe is rightfully theirs.

Championship Would Rejuvenate New York Hockey

On the opposing side to Montreal is the New York Rangers. While it’s nothing near the level of adoration the Canadiens receive from Canadians, the Rangers are very much one of “America’s teams.”

The red, white and blue jerseys are a dead giveaway, but the Original Six label and the urban backdrop of the team’s location give it a history unlike any other in the country.

The Rangers have had a similar drought to the Canadiens, failing to even reach the Stanley Cup Finals since they won in 1994.

A championship would keep the Stanley Cup in the Original Six circle, but would also re-energize one of the game’s greatest franchises.

Sean can be reached at [email protected] and @eumannthehuman.