So far these playoffs, my predictions haven’t been good. I was 4 and 4 in the first round, and 2 and 2 in the second – so in total I am 6 and 6. But being wrong has never stopped me from expressing my opinion before, so here’s my conference finals predictions.
1) Vancouver vs. 2) San Jose
I think many people expected these two to make it to the Conference finals. Even though I hoped against hope in the first round that the Kings could beat the Sharks, I knew it was a long shot. Both of these teams are great – Vancouver the best in the NHL over the whole season, the Sharks the best in the NHL since the All Star break. The real question will be whose best players show up. For Vancouver, there can be no doubt who their best player these playoffs have been – Ryan Kesler who has essentially put the team on his back and dragged them to the Conference finals. Luongo, after struggling in the first round, was solid in the second. The question will be how good he is against the Sharks potent offense – they certainly have more weapons than the Preds did. Another major question will be whether the Sedins finally decide to start playing playoff hockey. They haven’t so far. For the Sharks, they have fumbled and stumbled their way through two rounds – outlasting a surprisingly good LA team, and then giving up a 3-0 series lead against Detroit before pulling it out in Game 7. The key to their success is simple – Thornton, Heatly, Marleau, Setoguchi, Clowe and Pavelski have to produce – when they do, the Sharks win. When they don’t, they lose. Like Luongo, Niemi struggled in the first round, but was rock solid in the second. It is also worth noting that so far, Niemi has a 6-0 playoff series record in his career. I have no doubt that this will be a battle.
Prediction: Vancouver in 7.
3) Boston vs. 5) Tampa Bay
It seems like these two teams have been off forever as each has had more than a week since eliminating their opponents. I think this will be a good series – Boston is right where everyone expected them to be, and Tampa has been the surprise of the playoffs so far. However, I think Tampa is going to find Boston a harder team to play than Washington or Pittsburgh were. Tim Thomas is the best goalie still around in the playoffs. The defense is solid. And while the offense lacks stars, they have gotten the job done. The question will be how big a loss Bergeron is for the Bruins, and how long he’ll be out. Tyler Seguin is a promising player, but at this stage of his career, he isn’t ready to bear that much weight on his shoulders. For their part, Tampa is the best coached team still around. Guy Boucher has everyone on this team – from stars like St. Louis and Stamkos to his grinders buying into his unorthodox system that seems to frustrate opponents. The real question for them is how much gas does aged goalie Roloston have left in the tank? The week plus off will certainly help that however. I have had a horrible track record of predicting the outcomes this year – especially in the East – so keep that in mind.
Prediction: Boston in 6.