These power rankings, which began with all 30 teams back in October, are now down to four.
The NHL's final quartet features four teams with distinct styles. The veteran Anaheim Ducks are trying to win another Stanley Cup with some of the same horses -- including center Ryan Getzlaf and coach Randy Carlyle -- who won it all 10 years ago. The Nashville Predators have reached new heights, advancing further than ever before in franchise history thanks to P.K. Subban and this fellow defensemen. The underdog Senators are led by their all-world defenseman, Erik Karlsson, and ensnare opponents in their stifling trap. And then there's the reigning champs -- Sidney Crosby and the Penguins are trying to become the first team to repeat during the salary-cap era.
Each one of these teams is halfway there, close enough that the Stanley Cup has become a very tangible goal.
"Every series is about building toward that -- and every game, for that matter," Getzlaf said. "You envision it all the time."
Here are the conference finals rankings, starting with the team most likely to win it all:
1. (Last week: 1) Pittsburgh Penguins
After eliminating the Presidents' Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals, and another of the best regular-season teams, the Columbus Blue Jackets, during the first two rounds, the Penguins maintain their spot at the top of these rankings. The only question is -- what was the cost of victory? The Blue Jackets and Capitals played a very physical brand of hockey that certainly took its toll physically on the Penguins.
Pittsburgh's defense, which was already missing No. 1 defenseman Kris Letang, lost Trevor Daley at the end of its second-round series. Brian Dumoulin was outstanding in Game 7 but likely is playing through an undisclosed injury. Carl Hagelin sat out the final game of the Capitals series.
Sidney Crosby's concussion was front and center in the second round, but he looked like his normal self by Game 7 after a couple of pedestrian games in the middle of the series. Crosby had a productive Eastern Conference finals last year against the Tampa Bay Lightning, scoring three goals to go along with five points.
As long as Crosby, fellow forwards Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury are on their games, it doesn't seem to matter what happens around them. Malkin leads the league with 18 playoff points, and it'll be interesting to see which of Penguins star centers that Senators coach Guy Boucher sends future Selke-finalist Jean-Gabriel Pageau out to face.
2. (3) Nashville Predators
The best part about the Predators' run this spring is the growing appreciation for how great a hockey town Nashville has become. Predators games are loud, rowdy parties, and the support for the team spills well beyond the arena. The hockey world got a taste of how much Music City loves the sport when Nashville hosted the All-Star game last year. But a Stanley Cup would really push the fan fervor to another level.
This team is certainly capable of pulling it off. The Predators have the best top-four defensemen group in hockey. Blueliners Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis are tied for the team lead, with four playoff goals each.
According to Corsica.hockey, the top line -- centered by Ryan Johansen, with wings Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson -- has scored more even-strength goals together as a line (9) than any other in the playoffs. And they've only allowed one even-strength goal against. Now, they face their biggest challenge in Anaheim's Ryan Kesler, who helped contain Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid in the previous round. If they can win that matchup, the Predators will likely advance.
3. (4) Anaheim Ducks
The more you dive into this team, the more there is to like about the Ducks' chances to win it all. They have the experience edge, and they saw it pay off against the Oilers in the last round. Anaheim is the best possession team left in the playoffs, and has controlled 53.6 percent of the even-strength shot attempts so far. The Ducks also have generated 315 scoring chances at even strength, the most among the remaining teams.
But two primary concerns drop the Ducks down to No. 3. The first is special teams. Anaheim's power play is converting at a rate of just 13.9 percent so far this postseason. You can win a Stanley Cup with a below-average power play, but it's much, much harder to do with a bad penalty kill. Right now, the Ducks' penalty kill is at 69 percent, ranking them No. 15 out of all 16 playoff teams. If there's a real gap in special teams play during this series, the degree of difficulty for Anaheim to advance gets even higher.
The second concern is goalie John Gibson. He enters the Western Conference finals with a .908 save percentage, which ranks him 13th among goalies who played at least five games this postseason. Only Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky was worse.
4. (6) Ottawa Senators
According to MoneyPuck.com, Ottawa has the lowest chance of winning the Cup among the four teams, coming in at 15.7 percent. But the Senators have defied the odds all along and found ways to win games -- which is a credit to coach Guy Boucher and his players.
But they've gotten this far mainly because of Erik Karlsson. No player has been more instrumental to his team in this postseason than Karlsson, who has 13 points in 12 games while playing through an injury. He's the Conn Smythe leader right now, and the race might not even be close.
When Karlsson is on the ice at even strength, the Senators control 57.1 percent of the shot attempts. There isn't a defenseman still playing in the postseason with better possession numbers. He's such a weapon. The Senators force teams to dump it in with their 1-3-1 trap -- and then Karlsson just goes and gets the puck and starts the transition the other way.
The Penguins will have to play with patience -- and contain Karlsson -- to advance.