So let me get this straight, Tampa Bay runs over Washington for the sweep, Boston does the same against Philly and two teams that have a history of underachieving advanced to their conference final. If we learned anything from round two, it’s that predicting playoff games in today’s NHL is getting harder and harder. At least I can say that I have taken the lead among my fellow HID writing staff going 2 for 4 with 1 perfect series in round two. That now gives me a total of 7 out of 12 series with 3 perfect calls giving me a slight edge over Mitin Patel who currently sits with 7 out 12 series with 2 perfect calls. Unfortunately I am still trailing my wife as she now sits with 7 out of 12 series and 5 perfects calls. This is becoming a tight race as the only thing separating the three of us are the perfect calls, which in the coming round is going to be very difficult to do. With that being said, here are my predictions for the conference finals.
BRUINS VS LIGHTNING
You can’t help and look at this matchup and think what if? What if the Habs had won game seven against the Bruins? What if Guy Boucher had replaced Jacques Martin as the Habs head coach? Would the Habs still be playing today if one of the above had occurred? Possibly but the reality is that neither happened and we are now left with Tampa Bay vs Boston. Both of these teams surprised the hockey world by sweeping their opponents. Boston made sure to avoid a repeat of last season’s collapse against the Flyers and Tampa did it against arguably the best team of the East, the Washington Capitals. So who has the edge? Well, let’s take a closer look and start with the goaltenders. Thomas Vs Roloson,
Thomas had the best stats over the regular season but Roloson has the best stats in this year’s playoffs. Both have let in questionable goals and have looked shaky at times but they have also looked unbeatable in other instances. I think that when you look at the goalie matchup, it’s fair to say that it’s pretty even. You can probably make the same assessment with the defensemen for both teams. Other than Chara neither team really has a defensive core to brag about. So that leaves us with the forwards.
Boston has had strong performances out of Bergeron and Marchand but Lucic and Horton have been mediocre at best. Tampa on the other hand has received unexpected scoring from the likes of Bergenheim, Downie and Purcell and this has been complimented with scoring support from Lecavalier and the ageless St. Louis. The only star who has struggled a bit is Stamkos and I have a feeling he will make his presence felt in this series. This series will probably go deep but in the end Tampa’s speed and skill will oust the big bad Bruins. Prediction: Lightning in six
CANUCKS VS SHARKS
The West will once again have the marquee matchup of the conference finals with the number 1 & 2 seeds facing off. Two past underachievers determined to make it to the big dance. From the Sedin twins to Luongo for Vancouver, to Thornton & Marleau to Niemi for San Jose, both of these teams will be ready for a battle as they both have a number of players who feel that they have something to prove. Both teams have already overcome major hurdles to get to this point. Vancouver did it in round one when they finally defeated Chicago and San Jose did it in round two when they stopped the Red Wings comeback in game seven.
In goal, you have Luongo vs Niemi. Luongo is considered to be one of the best in the game and Niemi won the cup in last Year’s playoffs. Both of these goalies have the ability to steal a game on their own but the defensive core that they both have in front of them is what makes them so difficult to beat. If you look up front you come to realize that both teams match up very well again as they both possess four solid lines. So what will be the difference maker in this series?
My guess is that the team with the goaltender who collapses first will be the one to lose and I’m thinking that it will be Niemi. Going back to round one Niemi has struggled with consistency throughout these playoffs and I would not at all be surprised if we end up seeing Nittymaki in goal at some point in the series. Luongo on the other hand only seems to be getting stronger in goal with every game and I just don’t see that pattern changing. This series will definitely go down to the wire and should be very entertaining to watch but in the end the Canucks should prevail. Vancouver in seven