Playoffs tonight: Let the Conference finals begin

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After a couple of days without any hockey, we can all rest easy now as both the Eastern and Western Conference finals begin today. Let the fun begin.

Game 1: Chicago Blackhawks host Los Angeles Kings (5 p.m. ET NBCSN/Live Extra)

Both teams had to sweat things out in a seven-game series in the previous round and now they’re ready to do it up in a conference finals match-up that sees a curious balance of power.

Last year’s Stanley Cup champions against this year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners. A tough, physical team with a red-hot Conn Smythe candidate goalie (Jonathan Quick) against a team oozing with offensive talent with a tricky defense to go with it. If there’s a place to look for how things will go, take a look at special teams.

Chicago will look to keep their game rolling as they were able to get their power play working against Detroit all while their penalty kill continued to be dominant (97.6% of penalties killed this postseason). The Kings, meanwhile, have a solid power play of their own (scoring on 20% of their opportunities). Provided the officials don’t put their whistles away, this could be a storyline to watch.

L.A. hasn’t been all that hot on the road in these playoffs. Of the six road games they’ve played in this postseason, they’ve only won one of them (Game 5 against St. Louis). After being road warriors last season losing just once away from Staples Center, things have evened out in a big way. Chicago will look to make sure they stay dreary on foreign ice tonight.

Game 1: Pittsburgh Penguins host Boston Bruins (8 p.m. ET NBC/Live Extra)

It’s the series you almost knew had to happen after how things played out during the trade deadline. Both teams pursued the same players (Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla) and both chose to go to Pittsburgh. The Bruins countered by grabbing former Penguins legend Jaromir Jagr and now Jagr gets to try and help eliminate his former team for the second year in a row.

While those players will be contributors, all eyes are on the biggest players and how they’ll match up against each other. Sidney Crosby figures to see a lot of Patrice Bergeron while Evgeni Malkin and James Neal will have Zdeno Chara and his shadow stalking them around the ice.

If both teams come into tonight’s game feeling rusty, you can’t really blame them as they’ve had about a week to prepare for the start of this series. A big question here will be how the Bruins try to get Tomas Vokoun off his game. You have to think Milan Lucic will be a big factor here in crashing the net to try and make things uncomfortable.