NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions: Conference Finals

Stephen DContributor IIMay 15, 2010

PITTSBURGH - MAY 12:  Jaroslav Halak #41 of the Montreal Canadiens is congratulated by teammates after defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Mellon Arena on May 12, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Canadiens defeated the Penguins 5-2 to win the series 4-3 and advance to the Conference Finals.  (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

We come down to the last four teams standing in the NHL’s Stanley Cup tournament, and while the dominant San Jose Sharks and Chicago Blackhawks will have a showdown in the West, the surprise Philadelphia Flyers and Montreal Canadiens will battle it out for supremacy in the East.

Before I get to my picks for the Conference Finals, I’d like to say that I got a lot of negative comments on my article Why a Montreal-San Jose Stanley Cup Final Is Bad for TV , stating that I didn’t want either the San Jose Sharks or the Montreal Canadiens to reach the final.

I am not rooting against the Habs or the Sharks to reach the finals; I was just saying that Montreal and San Jose meeting in the Stanley Cup Final is not the best for television purposes, and if the Habs do make the final, I would not like to see a Canadian team playing a warm-weather team in the final once again, like the last three times a Canadian team advanced to the NHL's biggest stage.

Lighten up, already!

Western Conference

San Jose Sharks vs. Chicago Blackhawks

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The Hawks are back in the conference finals for the second-straight year, while the “Bay Area Bombers” (aka San Jose) are in the NHL’s Final Four for the second time in their history.

While I predicted San Jose would get a bigger fight from Detroit, the Sharks had no problem disposing the two-time defending conference champions, putting them out in only five games.

The Hawks had a course of good and bad games in their six-game series to kick Vancouver out of the road to the cup.

The Sharks got a better output from Thornton and Heatley in the second round compared to their first-round series versus Colorado. But don’t count out their leading scorer, Joe Pavelski, who’s been a surprise contributor for the Sharks.

The young Hawks already have much more playoff experience than the Sharks at this point of the NHL postseason, and if their young duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane can outscore Thornton, Heatley, and Pavelski, then the Hawks may find their way to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 18 years.

Prediction: Hawks in six games.

Eastern Conference

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Montreal Canadiens

Could the “Cardiac Canadiens” be for real? Well, by the way Jaroslav Halak has been playing, possibly. The Canadiens have shut the door on the Penguins and the Capitals to advance to the conference finals for the first time since 1993.

The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was in the 2008 conference semifinals, where the Flyers bested the Habs in five.

Against the Bruins this week, Philadelphia had to bounce back from a 3-0 series deficit and a 3-0 deficit in Game Seven to become the third team in NHL history to come back from being behind 3-0 in games to win the series.

Despite losing Brian Boucher in Game Five with a knee injury, backup Michael Leighton did a good job of holding the fort together for the Flyers, producing a goals-against average of 1.55 in the three games he appeared in.

Jaroslav Halak made incredible saves against the Penguins, and for the first time in these playoffs, the Habs will be playing a much easier opponent, but the Flyers have faced tougher opponents themselves and will be energized by the shocking comeback against Boston.

So I doubted the Habs in the past two rounds, but I think they have a better shot at winning this series than their previous two. While scoring will dictate the outcome of the Sharks-Blackhawks series, goaltending will determine the outcome of the Canadiens-Flyers series. So far, Halak has been a more spectacular goalie.

Prediction: Canadiens in six games.

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