It should come as no surprise really that the National Hockey League’s last four Stanley Cup Champions are the four teams remaining in this year’s playoffs. Both the Eastern and Western Conference Finals open up today and there is no shortage of storylines.
Eastern Conference Finals
Boston at Pittsburgh – As ESPN’s Barry Melrose said, “The only thing these two teams have in common is that they wear black.” This assertion is pretty accurate. The Bruins will look to play deliberate, low-scoring games while the Penguins will throw lots of pucks at the net and will look to score goals in every opportunity.
This is also a match-up of the NHL’s best penalty-kill in Boston against the league’s best power play in Pittsburgh. Something will have to give here but I just can’t say what. Boston will look to keep Sidney Crosby in check by getting Zdeno Chara on him as much as possible. This may open things up for the rest of the guys on Crosby’s line who can score effectively.
The one issue I see for Pens’ Head Coach Dan Bylsma is goaltending. Tomas Vokoun has been outstanding since replacing Marc-Andre Fleury in round one but what does Bylsma do should Vokoun get shredded early in the series? Does he stay with Vokoun or go back to Fleury?
Prediction: Should the Bruins pull this off it won’t surprise me, but they were 0-3 against Pittsburgh this season and there has to be something to that. Take the Pens in six games.
Western Conference Finals
- I look for Quick to be the difference in the Western Conference Finals.
Los Angeles at Chicago – Both teams are coming off seven game series so there shouldn’t be any excuses as far as who’s more tired. The Blackhawks have to feel lucky in surviving Detroit who most thought would go down in four or five games but Chicago made it nevertheless. Unlike the series in the East where there are numerous differences in style of play, this one will be a little more similar.
If you’re looking for a clear difference it has to be in goal. Jonathan Quick, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy during last year’s Cup run, looks to be on his game once again. His goals against average is 1.50 while his save percentage is .948. Chicago’s Corey Crawford has been nearly as good statistically with a 1.70 GAA and a save percentage of .938. The difference is that Crawford let in some goals in the Detroit series that left many scratching their heads. Also consider that LA’s opponent San Jose, was one of the top offensive teams in the NHL while the Red Wings struggled to score all season with any consistency.
The Kings are also much better along the blue line than Detroit was and I think that will ultimately be the difference but the Blackhawks will not go easily because they do have offensive playmakers in Marion Hossa and Patrick Sharp but will they produce enough?
Prediction: The Kings have already lost more games in this post season (five) than they did in their Cup run last year (four). That does not deter me however from taking them to win in six game behind the play of Quick in the net.
Around the Rink: The New York Rangers parted ways with head coach John Tortorella this week and I think the NY media has to be happy about that. While it’s hard to question Torts’ ability to coach, the guy is a jackass for lack of better term. His conduct during pressers was obnoxious and disrespectful and far worse than anything we’ve seen from Rex Ryan or Bill Parcells in football. So long Torts.