Eastern Conference: (3) Boston Bruins vs. (5) Tampa Bay Lightning
Prediction: Bruins win series in six games.
It's not easy choosing between two teams I really felt wouldn't make it to the conference finals, but I have to go with Boston.
The way I see it, the biggest matchup in this series will be Tim Thomas vs. Dwayne Roloson.
Roloson bested Marc-Andre Fleury and Michael Nuevirth in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but neither goaltender occupies the same space Tim Thomas does.
When you look at Tampa Bay, and their high-powered offense, and you look at the way Thomas performed against the Philadelphia Flyers, whose offense is deeper and superior to the Bolts', there's no reason to believe Tim Thomas won't shut down the Lightning the way he did the Flyers.
Boston will get the clutch goaltending they need out of him, which will allow the B's scoring lines to take advantage and make things happen in the offensive zone, knowing that guys like Chara, Seidenberg and Kaberle will be able to defend, and that Thomas has their backs.
I mention Boston's blueline because Tampa is yet to face a defense quite like the Bruins' in these playoffs.
Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier aren't going to get some of the scoring chances they may have gotten during the Washington series.
The Lightning have shown the ability to play any style, which is something that, combined with the efforts of unsung heroes (Sean Bergenheim, Dominic Moore), and the goaltending of Roloson, will definitely help them win a couple of games, maybe even three.
At the end of the day, when you add up Boston's superiority in goal and on defense, and their group of highly-capable forwards (Lucic, Horton, Ryder), I think they'll come out on top.
If, however, the Bruins can't make up for the loss of Patrice Bergeron (concussion) and their powerplay woes continue, not only will this be a long series, but they'll be hitting the golf course by the time it's over.
Western Conference: (1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (2) San Jose Sharks
Prediction: Sharks win series in seven games.
I picked against the Sharks twice, but I won't be doing that now.
Before the start of these Stanley Cup Playoffs, I had doubts and concerns about San Jose's defense and goaltending.
With their strong performance through two rounds of postseason play, they shut me up. I'll be perfectly honest and upfront about that.
Sure, they almost choked against the Detroit Red Wings, but anyone who watched those games closely could tell that at least two of the first three games could have ended in favor of Detroit.
Antti Niemi has been playing like a man-possessed, while rearguards Douglas Murray, Dan Boyle and Marc-Eduard Vlasic have done an excellent job, taking the body and disrupting the offensive flow of opposing forwards.
Throw in San Jose's offense, which is playing absolutely off the charts right now, and this is a dangerous team.
Vancouver's incredibly deep and talented too, and I'm not here to question them. I think they'll be in this series to the very end. They've got a goaltender who can certainly match Niemi, save for save, an offense with arguably just as much depth as San Jose's and a defense that can more than hold their own on the ice.
The problem is, a certain pair of identical twins (I'm not going to name names) has gone M.I.A. in these playoffs, and their continued absence from the score sheet is going to cost their team a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, unless they get their act together.
The Canucks need Daniel and Henrik Sedin to produce, because they'll need all the help they can get, being that they are up against a Sharks team with guys like Joe Thornton (who, almost single-handedly won Game 7 last night), Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Dany Heatley, Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi.
San Jose also has more size and toughness than the 'Nuckies do, something that has killed Vancouver in the past (see Dustin Byfuglien).
It'll be close, but I like San Jose in this one.
Comments are welcome.