The Conference Finals are set. Three of the four semi-final series required at least six games. Two went the distance in a seventh game.
When the dust cleared, four teams remained with a chance to advance to the Stanley Cup Final: the Carolina Hurricanes, Boston Bruins, St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks.
Here’s how we got to this point.
Carolina Sweeps Islanders
In the first round, the Hurricanes took out the defending Stanley Cup champions. In the second round, they took out the defending Stanley Cup winning coach.
Carolina had a 3-0 series lead following three games and completed the sweep last Friday with a 5-2 win over the Islanders to advance to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2009.
The Hurricanes have been battered by injuries. They played the final two games of the second round without netminder Petr Mrazek and have lost defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk for the remainder of the playoffs to shoulder surgery. Jordan Martinook, Andrei Svechnikov and Michael Ferland all missed portions of the second-round series as well. With nearly a week off before the conference final begins, the extra time off should give Rod Brind’Amour’s squad a chance to heal.
Bruins Rebound to Defeat Columbus
Following Game 3 last Tuesday, Columbus held a 2-1 series lead and was halfway to taking out the No. 3 team in the NHL’s regular season standings after sweeping the top team. They ran into Tuukka Rask from there.
Boston stormed back to even the series in Game 4 with a 4-1 win powered by the top line -- three of the four goals were scored by Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.
Saturday’s Game 5 turned into a wild game. After two periods, Boston had a 1-0 lead on David Krejci’s goal, but the teams traded six goals in the final period, including five goals in the final 10 minutes of the game. Brad Marchand made it 2-0 Boston early in the third. Seth Jones got Columbus on the board at 10:33. Less than a minute later, Boston regained the two-goal lead on a goal by Pastrnak. Columbus responded with two goals in 1:51, less than three minutes after Pastrnak’s goal, to tie the game. Ryan Dzingel and Dean Kukan picked up the goals. Pastrnak scored the game-winning goal with 1:28 remaining in the third to give Boston the win and the 3-2 series lead.
Columbus was silenced in Game 6 at home. Rask made 39 saves and Boston got a second-period goal from Krejci and two in the third from Marcus Johansson and David Backes to put the game away.
Boston will host Carolina in the Eastern Conference Final, with Game 1 starting the series on Thursday night.
Blues Rally for Series Win Over Dallas
Following Game 4, the two teams were locked in the series at two wins each. In Game 5, Ben Bishop was excellent, making 38 saves in a 2-1 Dallas win on the road.
Game 6 was set up for Dallas to claim the series on home ice. Instead, St. Louis ruined the party. Alex Pietrangelo scored just 63 seconds into the game, but Dallas answered with a goal by Tyler Seguin. Late in the second, David Perron put the Blues ahead and St. Louis padded the lead in the third with goals by Jaden Schwartz and Sammy Blais separated by 33 seconds in a 4-1 win to force a Game 7 at home.
Game 7 proved to be a classic, a goaltender show between Bishop and 26-year-old rookie Jordan Binnington. Bishop faced 54 shots in the game, allowing the first goal of the game to Vince Dunn at 13:30 of the first period. Dallas quickly got it tied up 2:25 later on a fortunate bounce for Mats Zuccarello. That started the marathon to the finish through the end of regulation and through 20 minutes of overtime. Finally, at 5:50 of the second overtime, Robert Thomas took a shot that hit the post and Patrick Maroon was able to put the puck in to give St. Louis the series lead.
Sharks Outlast Avalanche
The other series in the West also reached seven games with the two sides traded wins throughout the series. After Game 3, San Jose had a 2-1 series lead that Colorado answered with a 3-0 win in Game 4.
San Jose answered back in Game 5, getting a pair of goals from Tomas Hertl, including the winner at 6:26 of the third period in a 2-1 win that put the Sharks one win away from advancing.
In Game 6, the two teams traded goals in the second period. Colorado struck first at 4:05 with Tyson Jost scoring. Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored at 14:36 to tie the game, but JT Compher put Colorado back in front with 1:16 left in the period. The Sharks tied the game again with Brent Burns scoring with just 9.8 seconds left in the period. Compher scored again at the four-minute mark of the third to give Colorado the lead again. They held the lead until the final minutes, when Vlasic scored his second of the game with 2:28 left to force overtime. Overtime lasted just 2:32 as Gabriel Landeskog scored to force a Game 7.
In Game 7, the Sharks got reinforcements with the return of Joe Pavelski to the lineup, and his presence was felt immediately. Pavelski scored on a deflection for the first goal of the game and set up Hertl to make it 2-0 San Jose. Late in the first, the Avalanche got on the board on a deflection by Mikko Rantanen.
Colorado appeared to get the tying goal from Colin Wilson early in the second, but the goal was disallowed after a coach's challenge for offside. San Jose followed the no goal call with a successful penalty kill and shortly after secured momentum with a goal by Joonas Donskoi.
Colorado refused to go quietly, getting a goal from Jost in the opening minute of the third and throwing 15 shots on goal in the final period. Martin Jones stopped the other 14 chances, helping the Sharks hold on for the win.
San Jose will face St. Louis in the Western Conference Final, scheduled to begin on Saturday night.