Saturday, May 15, 2010

NHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference Final Predictions

With Philidelphia's win last night, that means I ended up going 1 for 4 in my second round predictions, for a total of 5 for 12 so far these playoffs. A smarter man than I would admit that he has not been good this year at predicting, and stop. But not me. I already called Chicago beating San Jose on Thursday, and now it's time to look at the conference final out east - but first a few words about Boston and Pittsburgh.

This will go down as one of the biggest chokes in NHL for Boston, as they become only the third team in history to blow a 3-0 series lead and lose. Not only that, they were also up 3-0 in game seven and blew it as well. Despite that, I still think this is a good team - they have some young guys like Lucic and Rask who came a long way these playoffs. They will be back next year.

Pittsburgh is more troubling. Montreal exposed Pittsburgh's weakness for the entire league to see - concentrate on Crosby and Malkin and leave the wingers along - they can't beat you without their centers, who when double teamed, were ineffective. I'm not saying that Pittsburgh needs to trade Malkin, but they should consider it. Right now, all their money is tied up in the center position, and the wings are weak. For the price of Malkin, you can get 2 or 3 quality wingers to play with Crosby and Staal (who on any other team would be at least a second line center anyway). It's something to consider. Anyway, onto the predictions.

(7) Philidelphia vs. (8) Montreal
I find it very strange that in the West, we have the first and second seeds going against each other, and in the East it's 7 and 8. I also find it exciting - as this shows just how competitive the NHL is compared to most sports - although I feel I should also mention that had Philly on Montreal played to their potential in the regular season, they would have placed much higher. They were as much underachievers in the regular season, as they are over achievers now. Both teams have got to be flying high right now. Philidelphia completed the most unlikely comeback the NHL has seen in at least 35 years - since the Islanders did the same thing. They did it because their big forwards crashed the net and job ugly goals, while the likes of Briere got pretty ones. They went pretty much with 4 defensement in their series against Boston - and they perfected the long pass. After unlikely hero goaltender Brian Boucher went out with an injury, they got another hero in the form of Michael Leighton. I think Philly is going to give Montreal all they can handle - they are a bigger, more physical team than Montreal has played so far, and they won't be afraid to drive the net and make life hell on Halak - just like they did to Brodeur and Rask. I worry that with only playing 4 defensement, that they are going to burn out, and I also wonder if Leighton - who really only has 2 and half playoffs games under his belt can maintain through an entire series. On Montreal's side, they have now beat the President's Trophy winner, and the defending Stanley Cup champion, so they have to feel good about going against Philly. The are perhaps the best coached team in the playoffs right now - Jacques Martin has got everyone playing at their best, and sticking to their system (I find it boring to watch, but it gets the job done). Cammallerri and Gionta have been amazing, the defense has stood tall, and Halak is the best goalie these playoffs. Having said all of that, Montreal will have to change tactics a little against Philly. This is not a team with a few great players to zone in on. Philly has any number of offensive weapons to beat you with, and they are bigger and will likely give Halak more traffic than he has seen so far (why Washington and Pittsburgh never got in his face remains a mystery to me). I think the key for Montreal is to take away Philly's stretch pass - something that has worked for them all playoffs. And since Montreal doesn't really do much forechecking, I think they can. I will be cheering for Philly - I have always, and will always hate the Habs - but my I think I will be disappointed.

Prediction: Montreal in 7.

If I'm right, that means we'll see Chicago and Montreal - two original six teams - in the finals. Of course, with my track record, it will probably be San Jose and Philly.

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