(Reuters) - The East’s New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning have endured a long and bumpy road to reach the last four of the Stanley Cup playoffs while the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks have barely been tested in the West.
But no matter what path is taken, the survivors of the National Hockey League’s two conference finals will arrive at the same destination — the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Western Conference’s top-seeded Ducks needed nine games, one over the minimum, to get through the first two best-of-seven rounds after sweeping the Winnipeg Jets 4-0 and dispatching the Calgary Flames in five games.
The Blackhawks, appearing in the West final for the fifth time in seven years, have been no less ruthless eliminating the Nashville Predators in six before taming the Minnesota Wild in four.
It has been a far different story in the East where the top-seeded Rangers enjoyed a fast start in stopping the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games but then saw their second round series with the Washington Capitals go the distance and then some.
After battling back from a 3-1 series deficit, the Rangers needed an overtime winner from Derek Stepan in Game Seven to secure a second consecutive trip to the conference final.
All 12 games the Rangers have contested this postseason have been decided by one goal.
Tampa Bay found it tough slogging right out of the blocks needing seven games to eliminate the Detroit Red Wings and then, after racing to a 3-0 series lead, had to survive a scare when the Montreal Canadiens pushed the matchup to six games.
The East final features two teams looking to recapture some past glory with the Rangers bidding to win the Stanley Cup for the second time in 75 years and first since 1994 while the Lightning celebrated their only NHL title back in 2004.
The Rangers finished with the NHL’s best regular season record but the Lightning won all three regular season meetings between the two clubs.
“It’s a team we had some problems with during the season,” admitted New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist. “But if there’s one thing I learned, playoffs are a different story.”
Lundqvist will be tested by a Tampa Bay attack that boasts Tyler Johnson, who has a playoff-leading eight goals, and Steven Stamkos, who has started to emerge from a post-season slump that has seen him tally just three times.
Chicago are looking to add their names to the Stanley Cup for a third time in six seasons while Anaheim are bidding for a return to the finals for the first since the franchise’s maiden title in 2007.
The series will mark the first postseason clash between the two clubs with home ice likely to be a key factor.
Both teams are undefeated at home in the playoffs and, as the top seed in the West, Anaheim will have the advantage if the series should go the distance.
While the Ducks have lost once this post-season they have had fans on the edge of their seats having trailed four times entering the final frame before rallying for the win.
The Ducks are led by Corey Perry, who leads all playoff performers with 15 points, while the Blackhawks boast Patrick Kane, who is second with 13 points.
(Corrects fourth paragraph to show Chicago beat Nashville, not St. Louis)
Editing by Frank Pingue