With the first round of the playoffs over and done, the League has had a major change of pace. For the first time since 2011, the Stanley Cup Finals will be without the Los Angeles Kings or the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Kings started the finals streak in their 2012 Stanley Cup championship run when they beat the New Jersey Devils in six games. The next year both the Hawks and Kings met in the conference finals Chicago eventually moving on to win a Stanley cup as well. The streak continued with both teams not only trading of conference championships, but also Stanley Cup championships. The two teams made an impression on Stanley Cup history, but after two cups a piece the streak has ended.
The Kings started their 2016 playoffs with a difficult series against the gritty San Jose Sharks. The Pacific Division rivals had no love lost during the first round series and the Sharks ultimately came out ahead. The Kings did not seem to be playing their normal style of bruising, hard-nose hockey, which allowed the San Jose to highlight its array of goal scoring talent. The Sharks looked strong in the offensive zone and seamlessly cycled the puck while on power plays. The Kings could not hold on for more than five games, finishing their season early. The Kings were dominated by the goal hungry Sharks, but the Blackhawks did not go down without a fight in their first round series against the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues opened up the series and took the early 1-0 lead in St. Louis, but the Hawks bounced back to tie things up at 1-1. St. Louis found the back of the net seven times in the next two games in the windy city to go up 3-1. After losing both home games, it seemed like the Blackhawks might go down in a swift five game series, but instead they kicked up the heat. Patrick Kane cut the St. Louis lead to 3-2 after scoring the winning goal in double OT. Two nights later the Hawks forced the game 7 with a stunning 6-3 win. Game 7 went in favor of the Blues and was the best game of the series. The teams traded goals in the first period which ended with St. Louis leading 2-1. Andrew Shaw, fresh off of his suspension, scored the tying goal in the 2nd period on an early power play, but Troy Brouwer would score in the third to give the Blues the 3-2 win. The Blues will now play the Dallas Stars in round two, and the Blackhawks will be hitting the golf course early the year.
Although it was great to watch both LA and Chicago win the last four championships, it will be refreshing for the NHL to see some new faces in the spotlight. With two powerhouse teams of the Western Conference out early, the conference is official up for sale, and a lot of teams are chomping at the bit to make a bid.