2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Predicting Who Will Win the Cup
Finally, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us.
Arguably the most intense and grueling postseason starts this Wednesday. The two-month tournament will kick off and teams will be fighting to be crowded champion of the NHL. Players who have never been here get to experience the intensity of the playoffs, while seasoned veterans are looking to get another chance to raise the cup.
These 15 slides will breakdown every matchup, and at the end I will crown who I believe will win the Cup.
History will be made.
Western Conference Round 1: No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 8 Los Angeles Kings
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The final day of the season had two very different outcomes for these two teams. The Kings lost in overtime to the San Jose Sharks, and are now facing the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks, who won the President's Trophy by beating the Edmonton Oilers.
The Canucks come into this series with some very good news, as assistant captain Daniel Sedin is probable for returning to the lineup for the opening game of the Playoffs. Sedin put up 67 points this season and is the second half of one of the most dangerous tandems in the NHL.
The Canucks have no problem putting pucks in the net, as they currently average 2.94 goals a game. Even with Vezina contender Jonathan Quick in net for the Kings, they should be able to put up some big numbers offensively.
Defensively, the Canucks rely on the goaltending tandem of Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. Luongo has been a scapegoat for the Canucks, as he has a tendency to choke in high-pressure situations, as shown in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals. Schneider has been a very capable back-up for him, causing some to demand he become the starter. That being said, Luongo deserves the starting job and will perform well in this round.
The Kings come in with nothing to lose. They are led by their outstanding goaltender Jonathan Quick and they rely heavily on the saying "Defense Wins Championships."
The Kings currently have the second-best defense in the NHL and the second-worst offense. In order for the Kings to do anything in this series, they will have to have their offense ignite out of nowhere. Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty, Mike Richards and many more will have to be repeats on the score board for the Kings to have any chance of an upset.
The Kings rely on defense, and their lack of offense will be the death of them. The Kings will be able to take a game at home, but Vancouver will win the series easily in five games.
Western Conference Round 1: No. 2 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 7 San Jose Sharks
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Blues fans are now ready to get revenge for the 1999-2000 series between these two clubs.
The Blues have been the biggest success story of the season, rising from out of playoff contention to legitimate contenders in a single season, thanks to Ken Hitchcock. He is the biggest reason why this team is doing as well as they are.
The Blues do not rely on a single person to tally up the points, but rather do it by committee. David Backes, T.J. Oshie, David Perron and/or Alex Pietrangelo are bound to end up on the score sheet on any given night. The Blues are not known for their scoring abilities, but when they score three goals or more, the Blues are 38-1-3. It may not happen often, but with the instability of the Sharks goaltending, the Blues can be dangerous.
The Blues also have the best goaltenders in the NHL. Brian Elliot has the best GAA (1.65) and save percentage (.940) in the entire NHL, and Jaroslav Halak is not far behind. Halak has a 1.97 GAA and .926.
The Blues have the best defense in the NHL, allowing only 1.89 goals a game. The Blues are a very difficult team to score on, and their ability to get goals from anyone will be a huge factor in later series.
The Sharks will come into the series with a little bit of momentum, beating the Kings to gain the seventh spot in the western division playoffs.
The Sharks are led by caption and leading scorer Joe Thornton, along with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. These players are the ones that can break the Blues' defensive structure, but have yet to find out how, as the Blues won the season series 4-0. The Sharks are going to have to take every shot possible and crash the net to grab the dirty goals to break the Blues.
The Sharks' final line of defense is goalie Antti Niemi, who led the Chicago Blackhawks to the Cup two years ago. Niemi has not been the same goaltender since, and even with the Blues 'lackluster offense, he will need to play some great hockey to keep the Sharks in the series.
The Blues have been near the top of the NHL for the entire season and will not let the 1990-2000 season repeat itself. The Blues will win the series in five games.
Western Conference Round 1: No. 3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. No. 6 Chicago Blackhawks
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Even with 101 points—four more than the Phoenix Coyotes—the Chicago Blackhawks are sitting in the six spot in the Western Conference.
The Coyotes solidified the Pacific Division in the final game of the season, beating the Minnesota Wild 4-1. The Coyotes are lead by Ray Whitney, Radim Vrbata and Shane Doan, and all are responsible for where this team is today. Even with the instability of their ownership and whether or not they will even be in Glendale next year, the team has continued to be a playoff team. If they had the fanbase of the Chicago Blackhaks, this team could be a legitimate cup contender.
Mike Smith has also been part of the streak that has propelled the Coyotes to the top of the Pacific Division. His 2.21 GAA and .930 save percentage has been keeping the pucks out of the net and giving the Coyotes hope that they can actually make a deep run into the playoffs this year.
The Blackhawks are coming into this series searching for an identity. Captain Jonathan Toews has been out for 22 games and is eyeing a comeback for the playoff opener, according to the Chicago Tribune. The major question is whether he will be at full playing capacity or whether someone else will need to step up.
The Hawks have players like Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp that can put up big numbers on the score sheet. Their natural ability to score goals will help the Hawks put up their 2.94 goals per game.
The goaltending situation is not so clear though. Both Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have never been standout goalies this season. Crawford has been playing well coming into the playoffs, but will the Phoenix scorers be able to figure out his weaknesses?
This series is one that could go both ways, but I think that the playoff experience and the support of the hometown fans will help the Blackhawks win in six games.
Western Conference Round 1: No. 4 Nashville Predators vs. No. 5 Detroit Red Wings
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This series has the potential to be the best in the Western Conference, and it will be a bloodbath.
The Nashville Predators have been a team that has quietly made a case to be considered an elite NHL team, but their noise at the trade deadline showed they were all in for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Predators grabbed star players Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad at the deadline. Since landing in Nashville, Kostitsyn has scored 12 points in 19 games, while Gaustad has only four in 14 games. These two players have added depth and a little more of a scoring touch, but where Nashville really excels is at goaltending.
Pekke Rinne is one of the most underrated goaltenders in the NHL. Sure, everyone knows his name, but every year it seems that he falls short of grabbing the Vezina trophy. His glove is one of the fastest in the NHL, and his 2.39 GAA and .923 save percentage will be enough support for the offense to take some risks up front.
The Detroit Red Wings again end up in the postseason when everyone says they are too old to compete. The Red Wings went on a historic 23-game home winning streak this season, which was led by Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. Both players are consistently on the score sheet and will definitely pose a challenge to Pekke Rinne.
Jimmy Howard is another goaltender that has had an outstanding season, but is falling short of the Vezina contention. Howard's 2.13 GAA and .920 save percentage actually look better on paper than Rinne's numbers. If Howard puts up those numbers in every game, the Wings could pull off the "upset."
This series is going to get dirty and nasty. This will be a very physical series, and most games will be settled by one goal. Look to see the home team win every game, and Nashville will win in seven.
Eastern Conference Round 1: No. 1 New York Rangers vs. No. 8 Ottawa Senators
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The New York Rangers are the team to beat this offseason, and they will show why in this series.
The Rangers have been building up for this season over the past few, signing free agents Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards. Henrik Lundqvist has had his best season to date and it seems the starts are aligning for a long postseason run.
Gaborik and Richards lead the team in points and will continue to do so in the postseason. Captain Ryan Callahan has been leading the team by example all year and his offensive contributions will aid the Rangers in reaching their 2.71 goals per game.
As stated earlier, Henrik Lundqvist has put together a Vezina-leading season. His 1.97 GAA and .930 save percentage puts him at the top of the NHL in both categories, and he has nearly double the starts as leader Brian Elliot. His play will greatly help the Rangers in their quest for the Cup.
The Senators have fallen from grace, now in the eighth spot when at one point they were vying for the Northeast Division title. The Senators are led by veterans Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza, and youngsters Erik Karlsson and Milan Michalek. The Senators average the fourth best 2.96 goals per game, which will give Lundqvist a good test. However, their goaltending is something to be desired.
Craig Anderson is the starter for the Senators, and he has played consistently this season. He has a 2.84 GAA and a .914 save percentage.
The Rangers offense will surgically slice Anderson apart. He will have to at least match the numbers Lundqvist puts up for the Senators to have a chance to beat the best in the east.
The Rangers are just going to be too much for the Senators to handle. The Rangers will sweep the Senators, thanks to the stellar play of King Henrik.
Eastern Conference Round 1: No. 2 Boston Bruins vs. No. 7 Washington Capitals
The Bruins are looking to repeat and the Capitals are just trying to make it another round.
The Bruins are a similar team to the one they were last season. Their offense has averaged 3.17 goals per game, while the defense only allows 2.43 goals per game. Their power play is at 17.2 percent, but their penalty kill is at 83.5 percent. Led by 20-year-old and leading scorer Tyler Seguin, the Bruins' offense looks to match the offensive capabilities of the Capitals.
Tim Thomas may not be having another Vezina-worthy season, but he is still getting the job done. His numbers speak for themselves, as he has a 2.36 GAA and .920 save percentage. Thomas will not have to support the team like he did last postseason, but he will still have to be a big part for them to win.
The Capitals have had a disappointing season, but will try to correct that with the postseason the fans have been wanting for years. Alex Ovechkin had a less productive season than most expected, as 65 points on the season is his lowest point total by 20 points. But, the Caps are getting points spread throughout the roster, as Alex Semin has also stepped up to contribute.
Regardless, the Caps are going to need more scoring from Ovi and other supporting players to win.
In goal, the Caps have Tomas Vokoun, who hasn't exactly turned out as the Caps have wanted; his 2.51 GAA and .917 save percentage aren't up to par with expectations. Vokoun's play has not been good, and because of that, the Caps are looking at a large hill to climb.
The Caps have always been at the top, but not having the pressure of a top seed will be a good change for the team. Regardless, I ultimately see the Bruins prevailing in six games.
Eastern Conference Round 1: No. 3 Florida Panthers vs. No. 6 New Jersey Devils
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Much like the Western Conference, the East has a discrepancy between the sixth seed and the third seed. Because of that, the 94-point Florida Panthers get home ice for winning the division over the 102-point New Jersey Devils.
The Panthers made many signings at the beginning of free agency, and they have paid off, as the Panthers have become one of the most improved teams of the 2011-2012 season. The Panthers signed Tomas Fleischmann in the offseason, and he now is leading the team in points. Their offense is 27th in the NHL, but posts the seventh best power play. If the Panthers play well on the power play and pick up their offense, they can take this series.
The Panthers parted ways with Tomas Vokoun and signed Jose Theodore, who has actually played better this season than Vokoun, posting a 2.46 GAA and .917 save percentage. Theodore has been the best goaltender for the team since Roberto Luongo, and his play will determine how far the team will go.
The New Jersey Devils have been a surprise this season, and they look to make a final deep run to try to persuade Zach Parise to stay in Jersey. Parise posted 69 points on the season, but Ilya Kovalchuck lead the team with 83 points. The Devils average 2.63 goals per game, which is pedestrian for the NHL. The Devils should have no problem putting up points against the Panthers' defense.
Martin Brodeur has been manning the pipes for the Devils for the past 20 years, and even though he has the worst numbers when compared to Johan Hedberg, expect him to be in net for the playoffs. The experience and two rings that he brings to the table is too much of an asset for the Devils to pass up. But, also expect Hedberg to get plenty of minutes in the Playoffs.
The Devils are the better team, and expect them to play like it. Florida will play well against their home crowd, but Kovalchuck will lead the Devils to the second round in six games.
Eastern Conference Round 1: No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers
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This is another 4-5 series that will most likely be the best series of the playoffs, save for the Finals. These two teams absolutely hate each other and this series will be a bloodbath.
The Penguins are the hottest team in the NHL right now with Sidney Crosby coming back. I dislike him as a player, but he is a great player that has his share of playoff experience. Team Crosby with NHL leading scorer Evgeni Malkin and James Neal, and the Penguins' offense can put up numbers against any goaltender.
The Pens are backstopped by Marc-Andre Flerury, who has always been at the top of the NHL's leader board for goaltenders. The 2.36 GAA and .913 he has posted this season is not his best, but he still has the ability to lead the Pens to a deep playoff run.
The Philadelphia Flyers are just as cabal of a team, though. The Flyers signed Jaromir Jagr in the offseason, which adds a lot of playoff experience to the locker room. The Flyers are also led by Claude Giroux with 93 points and Scott Hartnell with 67 points. These two cornerstones of the Flyer offense score often and are main reasons why the Flyers are in the playoffs this season.
The Flyers made another big signing in the offseason, signing Ilya Bryzgalov to mind the nets. Bryzgalov has had a very up-and-down season this year, but ended with a 2.48 GAA and .909 ave percentage. Philly is notorious for being hard on their goaltenders, and Bryzgalov is no exception. But the emphasis they put on production will actually pay benefits in the postseason.
This series is guaranteed to go seven games, and at the end of it, Pittsburgh will win it in overtime.
Western Conference Semifinals: No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 6 Chicago Blackhawks
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It just wouldn't be the Stanley Cup Playoffs if Vancouver and Chicago didn't meet at some point in time. And, this series will be one of the best between these two.
Vancouver will have a relatively easy time beating the Kings and will be well-rested for the Blackhawks. In the regular-season series between these two teams, Vancouver went 2-1-1 and just barely outscored the B'hawks, 11-10. Daniel Sedin should be back to his full potential and the offense will be firing on all cylinders. Corey Crawford will have a very difficult time with this offense.
Also by this series, the goaltending situation could be in two totally different directions. One of the goalies, whether it be Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider, will either have stolen the show and will be the legitimate no. 1 starter for the Canucks, or the goaltending situation becomes even worse.
If Luongo plays very well in one game and then chokes in the next, Vancouver could be looking at giving each goalie every other game. And that would not be a formula for winning the cup.
Chicago also will have Jonathan Toews back from his concussion, and he too will have had some time to assimilate back into the Chicago lineup. With Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp back on a line together, they could do some serious damage to the Vancouver defense. Being the lower seed, the Blackhawks could thrive in the underdog role and could steal a few games from the Canucks.
Corey Crawford has been playing spectacular hockey of late, and that is one reason why they will be able to move past Phoenix. He will have to stay hot in order for the Blackhawks to win. If he gets cold, this series could be over in a hurry, as Ray Emery will not be enough to stop the Vancouver offense.
Both of these offenses are equally lethal, but Vancouver averages more than half a point less in goals allowed per game. That will end up being the X-factor, and Vancouver will head to the Conference Finals after a thrilling seven-game series.
Western Conference Semifinals: No. 2 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 4 Nashville Predators
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Central Division rivals will meet, and it will be an exciting series.
In the opening round, the Blues' offense faced a battle-tested goaltender that has not been as good as he can be. Now, they face a goaltender that they have had a hard time figuring out.
In the season series between the two teams, the Blues went 2-2-2 against the Predators. That number does not bode well, especially with the cold spot the Blues faced coming into the postseason. This team has played well all year, and this will truly test how well the players fit into Hitchcock's system.
The Blues by the second round may have decided who is the legitimate starter for the postseason. But, with the numbers both goalies have, don't be surprised if Hitchcock rotates two. The goaltenders will have faced good scorers against San Jose, and Nashville's won't be as difficult of an opponent for the net minders. The stars of the series will end up being one of these two goaltenders.
Nashville will come off a very intense series with Detroit and will carry that momentum against the rested Blues team. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter will be manning the blue line for the Predators, and this could be their last season together in Predator sweaters. Expect them to go all out in this series, and the forwards will be crashing the net, looking for the rebounds the Blues goalies are bound to give up. If the Predators do that, they could have a good chance of winning the series.
Pekke Rinne has been the Blues' kryptonite all season. The Blues have never really been able to figure him out, and because of it the Predators have been able to win against the Blues. Rinne loves to smother the puck and not let in the gritty goals, and that's the main way the Blues score. Even with the recent 3-0 loss on his shoulders, Rinne will be playing some of the best hockey of his career.
This series will be another long, grueling, Central-division battle. This series can go either way, but I think the Predators will be tired from their long series against Detroit and the Blues will be just too good at home. The Blues will win this series in seven.
Eastern Conference Semifinals: No. 1 New York Rangers vs. No. 6 New Jersey Devils
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Fans won't have to travel very far between stadiums, which will make this series the best atmosphere in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Rangers are the best team in the east and they will show why in their series. These two are very familiar with each other and there is a ton of bad blood after the line brawl that started the final game between these two teams. The Rangers will have the scoring to beat them, but they also have the toughness in their deeper lines that can make the Devils black and blue on the ice, too.
Henrik Lundqvist will take this series in stride after playing a great series against the Ottawa Senators. The Devil's Ilya Kovalchick and Zach Parise will definitely post a threat, but Lundqvist has consistently been the best goaltender in the NHL, and I don't see him letting in many pucks, no matter who is shooting them. He may let one game get away from him, because that's how the Devils can score, but he will keep nearly every game within reach for the Rangers.
The Devils come in riding an upset, and they will definitely be ready to take on the top-seeded Rangers. In the season series between the two, the Devils won 4-2, outscoring them 14-10 in the process.
The Devils are familiar with the Rangers and know how to beat them. These two teams are just as deadly in their offense, and the key for the Devils is their NHL-best penalty kill.
Martin Brodeur will have played a great series with the Devils and should be the starter again against the Rangers. However, expect him to be taken out of games if to grab some rest. His age will definitely be a factor for the team, but having a goaltender with no playoff experience is never good for a team.
The series will come down to the production of Martin Brodeur. If he plays like he did in 2002-2003, he can go far. If he plays like his age indicates, the Devils will lose. The Rangers will pull ahead late in some games, and because there isn't really home-ice advantage, the Rangers will win in six games.
Eastern Conference Semifinals: No. 2 Boston Bruins vs. No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins
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The Bruins and Penguins will meet up in the second round, and expect old tensions to flare back up in what will be a very heated and exciting series.
The Bruins will be coming off of a fairly difficult series against the Washington Capitals. What that series will have taught the team is how to play team defense and capitalize on the chances that they get. The Bruins are the third-highest scoring team in the NHL.
The Penguins have even more offensive capabilities than the Capitals, so every goal will count for the Bruins. Tyler Seguin will be the key for the offense. If he can avoid making youthful mistakes, the Bruins could run away with the series.
Tim Thomas will be the legitimate starter for the series. His playoff experience, plus the play from the first round, will keep him in the net. With Alex Ovechkin firing shots at him all series long, Thomas should have an easy transition to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Even though his numbers are down from last year, Thomas will put on a show for this series.
Pittsburgh has the most prolific scoring offense in the NHL, averaging 3.33 goals per game. Those numbers are also without Sidney Crosby for most of the season. With him in the lineup, they could put up five goals in any given night.
The Penguins' chances will come. All they need to do is just wait for them.
Marc-Andre Fleury will be battle-tested against the Flyers, and the Bruins will not let up. Backup Brent Johnson may see a couple games this series, and it will be a glorious day for the Bruins if he does. Johnson would only play at home games, where the offense can score a bit more and the fans can get in the head of the Boston Bruins. Fleury should be able to shut down the Bruins, but if he has a bad game, it could be the difference in the series.
This series will be the highest scoring series of the entire playoffs. Towards the end, these teams are going to get dirty, too. The series will go another seven, and the hotter Penguins will come out on top.
Western Conference Finals: No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 2 St. Louis Blues
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The last time these two teams met, Vancouver swept the Blues. This series, however, won't be so easy.
Vancouver will have played a hard-fought and very emotional series against the Blackhawks, and will carry that into the series against the Blues. The Sedin twins, along with Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler, will be looking to slice up the Blues' top-rated defense. The season series was 2-2 between the two clubs, and the scoring was also tied at seven. The Vancouver scorers are going to need to show up for the win.
Vancouver's goaltending situation should be much clearer coming into the Finals, as well as it should be. If the club can't figure out who to start, the Canucks will not see the Stanley Cup Finals this year.
If they have a legitimate no. 1 starter who is playing well, then the Canucks will be favored to return to the Finals once again.
The Blues also will be heading into the series with some momentum after beating the Predators on home ice in Game 7. Through beating Pekke Rinne, the Blues' scorers should have learned how to score on the first shot and not look for the garbage goals. If the Blues can do that in this series as well, then either goaltender will have some difficulty keeping pucks out of the net.
By this time in the playoffs, Jaroslav Halak is expected to be in net. He has been in this spot before and he was signed by the Blues to be in this position. However, Brian Elliot's numbers suggest he should be in the net.
Halak will prove himself to be the better goaltender under pressure, and he will be starting. If his numbers slip, then Elliot can take his place. The Blues can afford to switch goalies out because they both have top-five NHL numbers. Too much inconsistency could lead to an exit, though.
There are many X-factors for this series. Vancouver is the hotter team, has the fourth-best defense in the NHL, and will have home ice for the series. Every home team will win their games and Vancouver will come out on top in seven.
Eastern Conference Finals: No. 1 New York Rangers vs. No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins
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The best team in the east will meet the hottest team in the east for a showdown that few will forget.
The Rangers will come off beating cross-state rival New Jersey Devils and will look to continue their run for the Cup against Pittsburgh. The Rangers' star players Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik will be playing the best hockey of the season at this point and captain Ryan Callahan will playing some of the best two-way hockey seen in the playoffs. The Rangers aren't the highest scoring team in the NHL, but they do best on capitalizing on the mistakes of their opponents and making the best of the chances they get. The Rangers will have to shoot often and crash the net to get some wins in this series.
Henrik Lundqvist has already shown he is worthy of the Vezina, but this series will be his truest test. The Penguins score the most goals in the NHL by far, but the Rangers have the third best defense in the NHL. Expect the Penguins to have the better possession time of the series, but Lundqvist will make highlight-reel saves every night.
The Penguins are riding their hot streak as far as it can go, and the offense is heading the charge. Crosby will be back to pre-concussion form, Malkin will be playing like he has all year, and every other player will be chipping in.
The Penguins will have the most goals in the playoffs, and they will try to put everything past the Rangers and their defense. The key is to set up their offense, and wait for the open shot. If they do that, they should have no problem beating the Rangers.
The Penguins' net-minders will be pushed to their limits this series. The Rangers have the ability to get down into the zone in a hurry and make some fancy plays to get the best shot on net. Fleury, just like his opponent 200 feet down the ice, will make highlight-reel saves night in and night out. The defensemen for the Penguins are going to have to step up to keep the Penguins in the series.
The Penguins and Rangers will duke it out and will try to grind out a win. The Penguins are just too hot of a team right now, and as shown by the St. Louis Cardinals, the hottest team can win it all. the Penguins will move onto the Stanley Cup Finals after six games.
Stanley Cup Finals: No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 4 Pittsburgh Penguins
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Once again, the Stanley Cup Finals will be held in Vancouver.
The experience gained from last season's playoffs definitely helped the Vancouver offense last year. They were inept at scoring and couldn't get anything past Tim Thomas, but the same will not be for Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Canucks will have beaten the best defense in the league to get to the Finals and they will have learned how to capitalize on chances. The Canucks, with the fifth best offense, will put some pucks in the net.
Roberto Luongo, as much as fans would not like to see him in the net for the Finals, will be starting every game. He learned how to deal with the pressure of the Finals, and save for Game 7, he was spectacular at home.
Luongo heads the fourth best defense in the NHL and he will play like he needs it to move to number one. Schneider won't have to come in, but if they decided to give Luongo a rest somewhere, Schneider will certainly be able to hold his own.
Pittsburgh will come into this series a little black and blue after playing in a seven-game series, and two six-game series. Crosby's production may falter as he has not played so many consecutive games since the beginning of last season, and if he has to sit a game, it could prove to be the difference. Even with the best offense in the NHL, his absence would slow the overall production.
The Penguins will have to get production from everyone to keep up with the Vancouver defense.
Marc-Andre Fleury has been in this position before, and he knows what it takes to both win and lose the Cup. His Penguins hold the 17th-ranked defense in the NHL, something that will not bode well for the Penguins in the finals. The Penguins will have to step it up, especially with playing so many games and with the amount of travel that they are not used to.
In the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, the special teams also played a vital role in the outcome of the series. Vancouver has the fourth-ranked power play, with Pittsburgh right behind them at No. 5. On the penalty kill, Pittsburgh is third, while Vancouver is sixth. These two teams will be even when playing each other on special teams.
The key to this entire series is health. Whichever team can recover more between games and can stay healthy will win the cup. Both teams have great offenses, special teams, but Vancouver has the edge in defense. Defense wins championships, and Vancouver will hoist the Cup in June after a thrilling six-game series.