Stanley Cup Playoffs: Predictions and Analysis of the NHL Conference Finals
As we go deeper into May, we grow ever closer to crowning a new Stanley Cup champion.
Round 2 gave us some high-quality, exciting and in many ways very surprising hockey. I know I, for one, didn't expect both of the Eastern Conference Semifinals to end in four-game sweeps.
However, the four teams remaining now march onward as we pass the halfway point of the NHL playoffs.
Here is my analysis and predictions of the Conference Finals.
Boston Bruins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Season Series: BOS 3-1-0
On paper, these two teams appear to be drastically different; however, put them on the ice and they're very similar in style.
Both rely on lights-out defense, and both rely on consistent performance from proven veteran goaltenders.
Boston is backstopped by Vezina-favorite Tim Thomas, who's been stellar all season and solid through the entire playoffs.
However, the Lightning have thrived with 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson in net, who's backstopped them to two very difficult series wins so far.
Either way, this series is going to depend on the play of these guys to be spot-on each game this series.
Both teams have also thrived on their offensive depth so far these playoffs.
David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand all have five goals so far this playoffs, Chris Kelly has four, and seven more players for Boston have two, showing that just about any player on their offense can score on any shift
However, the Lightning offense is certainly capable of striking (pun intended) with any given scoring opportunity.
They're led by their "third line" and Sean Bergenheim, who out of just about nowhere has seven goals this playoffs.
Their first and second lines aren't anything to scoff at either. With names like Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Simon Gagne and Ryan Malone filling up those spots, the Lightning have the ability to come at you in offensive waves that will really test the strength of the Boston defense.
However, that defense, led by Zdeno Chara, has shown they're up to the task of shutting down high-power offenses, sweeping a very forward-heavy Philadelphia team last round.
Likewise, Tampa Bay's defense had demonstrated solid, disciplined play through the first two rounds, both at even strength and on the penalty kill, making them a good shot for their second Stanley Cup in franchise history.
Prediction: Lightning in 6
Vancouver Canucks vs. San Jose Sharks
Season Series: VAN 3-0-1
I firmly believe that regardless of what happens in the East, whatever team wins this series will win the Stanley Cup. Both of them are so strong, so balanced and playing so well that whichever opponent they face in the final will stand very little chance of stopping them.
That being said, both these franchises are playing for their first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
For the Sharks, it would be their first ever trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
And as of right now, it really looks like the NorCal boys are hungry for it.
After storming out to a commanding 3-0 series lead last round, the Sharks did manage to stumble pretty badly and drop the next three contests. However, unlike years past, the Sharks didn't choke when the pressure was on and they eliminated what was my personal pick for this year's Stanley Cup champion in the Detroit Red Wings.
The Sharks seem to have everything in place.
Their goaltending was rock-solid last series, with what appeared to be a completely different Antti Niemi in net from the one who looked shaky at best against Los Angeles.
Their offense has come alive, scoring goals and creating some very good scoring chances on nearly every shift.
Rookie Logan Couture has enjoyed a spectacular playoffs to follow up a stellar rookie season that could very likely see him walk away with this year's Calder Trophy.
Defensively, Dan Boyle has had a brilliant playoff year, playing very solid defense for the Sharks, while also creating offensive opportunities.
However, they face arguably their toughest opponent yet in a team that has been nearly flawless in every aspect all year.
The Vancouver Canucks have shown they are vulnerable to high-powered offenses (see their quarterfinal matchup with Chicago), but they have the offensive talent, the speed, and the incredible power play to support just about any shortcomings they might have.
They're going to once again rely on Roberto Luongo to carry them, and with the thought of playing in his first Stanley Cup Final dancing in his head, you know he's going to be pumped up and ready to go.
It's hard to imagine a scenario where the team that finished the year with the best record in the NHL, best power play, third-best penalty kill, best five-on-five goal differential, and a number of other high accolades stopping short of the Stanley Cup, but these are not the same Sharks that the Canucks dominated throughout the regular season.
When Vancouver routed the Sharks 6-1 back on November 26, the Sharks sat 11th in the West, and looked to be in some serious trouble.
This Sharks team is completely different and will give them a much tougher time, particularly because the last two meetings between these teams ended in shootouts.
Even though this year is known as the playoffs of the away team, I've got to think if San Jose can steal one of the first two games in Vancouver, the Canucks are in some serious trouble.
Prediction: Sharks in 6
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