We're down to the final four in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs as both Conference Final match-ups get underway tonight.
The Los Angeles Kings have defended their title commendably, and are pushing to be the first team to manage back-to-back championships since Detroit in 1998. In the Western Final they will go up against the top seeded Chicago Blackhawks after both clubs won their respective Game 7s earlier in the week. These have been the two tightest defences in the post-season, averaging under two goals against per game. Style-wise, though, they are very different; it'll be interesting to see which wins out between the Blackhawks' finesse and the Kings' physicality.
Whilst we saw Chicago get swamped a couple of times in the last round, LA are the only team never to have allowed more than three goals. And when they've lost it's never been by more than a single goal. It's going to be gritty so back under 4.5 total goals at 1.90. I like the Kings' chances of winning tonight and also the series, so take LA to steal the advantage at 3.25.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins will battle it out for the East having both had a week off since they last took to the ice. Head coaches Dan Bylsma and Claude Julien have had plenty of time to devise their strategies; that will have been particularly useful for the latter, who is tasked with stopping Pittsburgh's powerhouse offence, which is averaging 4.27 goals a game. Perhaps the biggest challenge will be shutting down the Penguins' powerplay, because the Bruins' killing unit hasn't been as effective recently as it was during the regular season. James Neal had five goals (two on the PP) in the final two games against Ottawa so look for him to score at 2.80.
It's not all about Pittsburgh. Boston possess the playoffs' leading scorer in David Krejci and have plenty of other weapons capable of hurting their opponents. This year, though, the Penguins have taken three meetings by a single goal and I think they are the safe option first up. Back Pittsburgh for a regulation victory at 1.95.
Best bet: Los Angeles Kings to win at 3.25