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New faces in new places: Western Conference's final four a new wave

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com
The Blues and three other Cup virgins will fight it out in the West. (Getty Images)

If the Western Conference had a motto for the postseason, it would probably be "Out with the old, in with the new."

This year is the time for some fresh blood, not blue blood. Gone are the Red Wings, Blackhawks, Canucks and Sharks of the conference, the four teams that have dominated play in recent seasons and, in the case of the Wings and 'Hawks at least, have had postseason playoff success to talk about, especially throughout their storied Original Six pasts.

Instead, we're guaranteed the West will have a Finals participant that has never hoisted the Stanley Cup. Heck, the last time any of the Blues, Kings, Predators and Coyotes ever even reached the Finals was L.A. back in 1993. That was when this foursome picked up its only collective Finals win as the Kings bowed out to the Canadiens four games to one.

Outside of L.A.'s experience, the only other of the quartet that has even seen the Finals was the Blues, who actually made three straight appearances in the franchise's first three seasons of existence from 1968-1970. They were swept in each of those seasons.

So you see, this is new territory for these teams and the NHL really. The league is looking for one of these upstarts to steal the show, join the elites. Because it's looking like none of these are going anywhere for a while (OK, sorry, maybe Phoenix is both literally and figuratively).

These are the new kids on the block sans Donnie Wahlberg and late 80s beats.

The Predators have been looking at space on the street for some time, inching closer and closer to cementing their status as a real threat-to-be, an up-and-comer. The up part is gone, they have now come to the part and, they hope, won't leave soon.

The same can be said for the Kings. They have been seen as a team on the rise for a few years that just hadn't put it together yet. Perhaps you were starting to get the feeling that the hype would never be realized as the Kings fought for their playoff lives. Enter Darryl Sutter and L.A. seems to be realizing its potential, knocking off the Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks in just five games.

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St. Louis went from nobody to somebody overnight. Literally. It was the night Ken Hitchcock was named the new head coach. Since then they, like the Kings, realized their potential. The Blues had long been building a nice group of players that just seemed to be underachieving. Sometimes all it takes is the right coach and/or system.

And Phoenix? Well Dave Tippett receives and will continue to receive credit as one of the absolute best coaches in the business. Every season the expectations are as low as dirt and every season his teams seem to defy them.

It all points to what Gary Bettman has been trumpeting for years now, parity. No, I'm sorry, I have to use the league's language here: competitive balance. The underdogs aren't really underdogs any more. This rag-tag group of news Cup contenders in the West? They aren't underdogs. Just because they don't wear one of the iconic sweaters of the sport doesn't mean they don't belong. This is the new reality in the West, these franchises are ready.

But is that a good thing? Doesn't the NHL need some of the big boys? I mean everybody likes to have the empire, the heavy favorite. Stories are just more compelling with a good vs. evil situation.

I say yes. The powers of the West aren't going to disappear, not yet. Pretty soon one of these four is going to join that power group.

We're guaranteed at least a 50 percent chance of a first-time Cup winner this season. In the East one of the final four (Capitals) has never had the honor either. But that's not a team that is new to this stage, new to the national TV broadcast.

In the meantime, if you enjoy the underdog vibe and seeing fresh faces in the conference semifinals, then the West has a treat for you.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter and like us on Facebook.

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