Past four Cup champs comprise Conference Finalists
The final four of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is truly a tournament of champions.
For only the second time in the history of the League, the final four teams standing in the playoffs are the past four champions. The Los Angeles Kings (2012), the Boston Bruins (2011), the Chicago Blackhawks (2010) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (2009) are the remaining teams in 2013.
The fourth-seeded Kings will play the top-seeded Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final. Coincidentally, the Hawks booked their passage to the conference final with a Game 7 overtime victory on Wednesday against the Detroit Red Wings, who won the crown in 2008. Brent Seabrook scored the series-clinching goal as Chicago rallied from a 3-1 series deficit.
In fact, both teams needed all seven games to subdue their second-round foes.
The Western Conference Final opens Saturday afternoon in Chicago (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS).
Later that evening, the East's top seed, the Pittsburgh Penguins, host the fourth-seeded Bruins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) at Consol Energy Center.
Both teams took just five games in the second round to advance. Each will have had at least a week off between games by the time the Eastern Conference Final begins.
These two teams played three one-goal games during the season with Pittsburgh emerging victorious each time.
It is also a series rife with story lines.
In their first two championship runs in 1990 and 1991, the Penguins met the Bruins at this stage of the playoffs each time.
This season, the Penguins feature forward Jarome Iginla, who landed in Pittsburgh in controversial fashion around the NHL Trade Deadline. The Bruins believed they had consummated a deal to land to Iginla, only to find out that the Calgary Flames had made a separate deal with the Penguins that was binding.
Meanwhile, the Bruins feature veteran forward Jaromir Jagr, who was a member of the Penguins during their back-to-back title runs two decades ago. Jagr, who started the season with the Dallas Stars, was traded to Boston after the Bruins were spurned by Iginla.
Jagr, by the way, sits at No. 2 for almost every offensive category in Pittsburgh franchise history, sitting right behind the iconic Mario Lemieux, who now owns the Penguins. This is the second-straight season that Jagr returns to the Steel City as an opponent, looking to end his former team's Cup dreams. In 2012, Jagr was a member of the Philadelphia Flyers team that upset the Penguins in a wild first-round series.
The only other time that the champions from the previous four seasons played on the final-four stage was 1945. That season, the Montreal Canadiens (1944 champions) played the Toronto Maple Leafs (1942), while the Red Wings (1943) played the Bruins (1941). Toronto and Detroit advanced to the Cup Final with Toronto winning a 2-1 decision in Game 7.