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NHL Playoff Odds 2014: Handicapping Every 3rd-Round Team's Championship Hopes

Dave LozoNHL National Lead WriterMay 17, 2014

NHL Playoff Odds 2014: Handicapping Every 3rd-Round Team's Championship Hopes

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    And then there were four.

    The New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings have all found their way into the conference finals. The Rangers, Canadiens and Kings all required seven games while the Blackhawks took care of business against the Minnesota Wild in six games.

    The Rangers and Canadiens are meeting in the playoffs for the first time since 1996 in a series that opens in Montreal on Saturday afternoon.

    "It's going to be an exciting series. I've been fortunate enough to play in the playoffs up there, there's really nothing like it," Rangers center Brad Richards said to NHL.com. "I can't wait to get up there."

    The Blackhawks are the defending champions and will face the Kings in the conference final for the second straight season. Last year, the Blackhawks dispatched the Kings in five games on their way to the Cup Final.

    Who among the conference finalists have the best odds of winning the Stanley Cup? Click through to find out.

     

    All statistics via NHL.com.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    Bill Smith/Getty Images

    Best Asset: Experience

    Yeah, they have scoring depth, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are scoring huge goals and their defensemen lack a weak link, but it's how this team handles pressure that sets it apart from everyone else. They won the Cup in 2013 and have 10 players left from the team that won it all in 2010. The skill they possess is one thing, but the way they maintain their composure in certain situations—like overtime of Game 7 in the conference semifinals against the Detroit Red Wings last year—is what can make a difference.

     

    Potential Downfall: Corey Crawford

    Before you go into the comments and yell about how he has a .931 save percentage and was very sharp in closing out the Minnesota Wild in Game 6, the Blackhawks are a very deep, loaded team. There aren't too many holes on the roster. But if anyone can hurt the Blackhawks, it's a couple bad games from Crawford. He had two subpar showings against the Blues in Round 1, but it didn't hurt the Blackhawks. If he does that again, which he is capable of, the Blackhawks may not be so lucky this time.

     

    They'll Win the Cup If...

    …more players besides Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell begin to score goals more consistently. Those are the only three players on the roster to score more than two goals through two rounds. Marian Hossa (two goals) has been terrific and has nine assists, but Patrick Sharp (two), Brandon Saad (two) and Kris Versteeg (one) have combined for five goals in the postseason.

    Toews and Kane have been especially great, but some support is needed if the Blackhawks are to repeat.

     

    Stanley Cup Odds: 2-1

New York Rangers

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Best Asset: Henrik Lundqvist

    With the season on the brink, Henrik Lundqvist had three outstanding performances to stave off elimination and vanquish the Pittsburgh Penguins in the conference semifinal. He had been perfectly adequate in the first round against the Philadelphia Flyers and decent in the first four games against the Penguins, but he raised his level in Games 5-7 to a place where he looks unbeatable now. His .931 save percentage is tops in the playoffs.

     

    Potential Downfall: Exhaustion

    The Rangers needed seven games to beat the Flyers and seven games to the beat the Penguins. This is the same script the Rangers followed in 2012 before they were beaten in the conference final in six games by the New Jersey Devils. Things are somewhat different this time, as they will have three days off before facing Montreal as opposed to 2012, when they started their series with New Jersey on one day of rest. Still, the Canadiens enjoyed a first-round sweep, and that could work against the Rangers.

     

    They'll Win the Cup If...

    …their top scorers begin to score like top scorers. Rick Nash, in case you haven't heard, has zero goals this postseason. Martin St. Louis has three goals and Derek Stepan has scored twice. Nash, Stepan and St. Louis are the Rangers' top three forwards in terms of ice time in the playoffs, so the greatness of the Rangers' third line can only mask their lack of production for so long. 

     

    Stanley Cup Odds: 3-1

Los Angeles Kings

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Best Asset: Resiliency

    At this stage of the playoffs, there isn't too much of a difference in talent levels between teams. But where the Kings have the edge on everyone right now is their ability to get off the mat. Down 3-0 to the Sharks? No problem. Down 3-2 to the Ducks? Again, no problem. Need to win Game 7 on the road? Done it twice. It doesn't matter what a team does early in the series, the Kings are never going away. 

     

    Potential Downfall: Exhaustion

    Just like the Rangers, the Kings have played 14 games through two rounds. But unlike the Rangers, the Kings will have to start their conference final series on one day of rest while the Rangers are enjoying a three-day break. It's a similar situation to last season, in which the Kings needed 13 games to advance to the conference final to face a Blackhawks team that had a slightly easier road. The Kings lost that series in five games and could suffer the same fate again.

     

    They'll Win the Cup If...

    …they can get past the Blackhawks in short order. Clearly, the Kings still had their legs in a Game 7 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday, but they could get taken from them against a rested, quick Blackhawks squad. No team has ever won the Stanley Cup after needing seven games to advance through the first two rounds (bad news for you too, Rangers fans), so simply beating the Blackhawks may not be enough. They'll have to do it quickly and get themselves in a tub of ice before the Final.

     

    Stanley Cup Odds: 3-1

Montreal Canadiens

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    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Best Asset: Carey Price

    In all seven games against the Bruins, the Canadiens were on the wrong side of five-on-five shot attempts. The Canadiens lived in their own end and only survived because Price was out of his mind for two weeks. There's no reason to believe the Canadiens can't repeat that same plan to beat the Rangers, although it's not advisable. But if the Canadiens need to steal a game in the conference final, Price proved he's always up to the challenge.

     

    Potential Downfall: Depth defensemen

    The most amazing fact about the Canadiens upsetting the Bruins is Douglas Murray dressed in three of the games and it did not cost them the series. But it shows how the Canadiens are sorely lacking on their bottom defense pair, which will get a workout against the Rangers' third and fourth lines. Murray, Mike Weaver and Francis Bouillon have been possession black holes as the bottom pairing, and it's something that could come back to haunt the Canadiens.

     

    They'll Win the Cup If...

    …Carey Price wins the Conn Smythe Trophy. That sounds a little like putting the cart before the horse, but no single player means more to a team's success than Price does to the Canadiens. Among the final four teams remaining in the postseason, the Canadiens (22nd) are by far the worst regular-season Fenwick close team. They countered that possession inadequacy against the Boston Bruins with Price's greatness, and that will need to happen again against the Rangers and whoever comes out of the West for the Canadiens to win the Cup.

     

    Stanley Cup Odds: 5-1

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