NHL Playoff Predictions- Conference Finals

NHL Playoff Predictions- Conference Finals

Another round of the Stanley Cup marathon is in the books, and I did pretty well in my guesses for the second round. I was right about the Kings, Blackhawks, and Rangers, while being wrong (again) about the Canadiens. I had the Bruins going all the way to the final, so I was pretty surprised by the results. But it happens, and I’ll take my 75% correct guesses any day.

Halfway done.
Halfway done.

Now we move on to the Conference Finals, the Final Four. After 82 regular season games and two grueling rounds of playoff action, we are left with the four teams who have survived up until this point. The Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Los Angeles Kings, and the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

These both should amount to good series, and the first year of the new playoff format has been a massive success, in my mind, as all of the battles have been pretty good, and there hasn’t really been a dud series yet. You can see the rivalries continuing or developing, as they should for the foreseeable future.

On to my next round of guesses.

Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks

  • How well do the Kings play with their backs up against the wall? So far this year, they are 6-0 when they are facing elimination. That is beyond impressive, as they have been dominant in those games, including both Game 7s they have played in so far. This is a team that knows how to show up and win when it matters most.
  • Drew Doughty is just awesome. He runs the Kings, and he does it well. The guy is absolute beast, and absolutely does it all for LA. He would be in the Conn Smythe conversation if he were putting up a few more points.
  • Someone who is in the conversation for playoff MVP is Anze Kopitar, who has been on fire for the entire playoffs, scoring a point in nearly every game. It will be a great battle seeing him going against another all-world defensive forward in Jonathan Toews. These guys are two of the very best (and both Selke nominees), and it will be a treat to watch them play against one another.
  • Goalie advantage goes to the Kings. I’ll take Quick over Crawford any day, even though I believe that Crawford is in that Chris Osgood area where he does nothing wrong, but still gets no respect from anybody. The guy is a Cup winner, but he is more apt to give up a bad one than Quick is.
  • These are two teams that have incredible depth. The Hawks have a great bottom 6, guys who can plug away, frustrate another team, and contribute offensively. It’s always tough when a team can roll out four lines that can do damage to you in one way or another. But the Kings can offer the same thing. They have toughness and scoring spread throughout their lineup, and they can always be dangerous as well.
  • Any time the Kings play, it will be a bruising series. They are so big and so fast. Chicago isn’t as big, but they can absolutely fly on the ice. That will be the biggest challenge for the Kings, is keeping up with the speed across the way. They will be trying to slow them down with their size, and hopefully they don’t have circles skated around them. Not that the Sharks or Ducks were slow teams, but they were built more like the Kings are, and LA is better at their own game. This will be the first battle where they are playing a different style of team.
  • I can see LA struggling to adapt to the different style of play the Hawks employ. This could get Chicago one or two valuable wins.
  • Have to wonder if LA is getting tired from the grinding seven game series they have had to play already. Chicago has won both their matchups in 6 games, and neither series was as physical as LA.
  • This is a rematch from last year’s conference finals, that the Hawks won. Can the Kings get revenge here? Did they learn anything from last year?
  • This is also the third straight year the Kings have been in the third round of the playoffs, which shows their consistency as an organization.
  • Honestly, I don’t see massive advantages anywhere. If the Hawks are better at one thing, the Kings are better at another. A pretty balanced series, which makes it hard to guess. So I guess I’ll go with my gut.

Prediction: Kings in 7

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New York Rangers vs. Montreal Canadiens

  • Well, I am 0-2 when it comes to guessing the Montreal series. I thought they would lose to Tampa and get whipped by Boston. I was wrong on both counts.
  • I predicted the Rangers to the finals since the beginning of the year (against St. Louis, but we won’t talk about that). Nice to have a horse still in the race.
  • This is a battle of perhaps the best two goalies on earth right now: Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist. You can’t say enough about how either one of them has performed so far. They are the backbones of their teams.
  • This is also an Olympic goalie rematch in the Canada vs. Sweden gold medal game. Of course, Price won that one and the gold medal.
  • Both teams are balanced in a similar way. There is equality all through the forward lineup. The Habs scorers seem to be scoring, while the Rangers scorers are becoming more all around players, even if they aren’t putting the puck in the net (hello, Rick Nash).
  • Overall, I’d say New York has the better D corps, but the Habs have something the Rangers don’t: P.K. Subban. This kid can change the course of a game. With a big hit, or a jaw-dropping goal. Every shift, he is a threat to do something crazy, or something incredible. That is a massive advantage for Montreal, especially coming from the back end.
  • Do I jump on the bandwagon, and cheer for the only Canadian team left (and the only Canadian team to make it, actually) in the playoffs? Or do I stick to my guns with my initial prediction from the beginning of the year?
  • Is it possible to bet against Price at this point. He is absolutely on fire, is completely unfazed by the pressure, and is now facing a team that is decidedly weaker than their previous opponent, the Bruins? Can he keep up this amazing pace? Will the team begin to relax in front of him knowing that he is standing on his head?
  • On paper, I like the look of the Rangers better than I do the Habs. Both teams have good momentum getting here, with the Rangers overcoming a 3-1 deficit against Pittsburgh. Something has to give. The Rangers are clicking at the right time, playing some of their best hockey of the season, while the Canadiens seem to be playing above their heads.
  • Again, this one is going to come down to a gut decision.

Prediction: Rangers in 6.

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I think the fact that both of these series are tough to guess, speaks to how good of matchups they are, and how good these playoffs have been. I can easily see it being a Chicago-Montreal final, or any other combination. But as it stands right now, I’m going for the New York-Los Angeles mega city challenge for the championship.

Golden!

Golden!

Sometimes, waking up at 5 AM is well worth it.

The Canadian men’s hockey team made it well worth while for the millions of Canadians who crawled out of bed at ungodly hours of the morning (or pulled university-style all nighters), by winning the Olympic gold medal with a dominating 3-0 win over Team Sweden.

The morning never seemed so sweet. Or so golden.

goldThis was a dominant performance. The Canadians went to work, won the battles, controlled the puck in Sweden’s zone. Over the course of the game, despite a couple of very good chances turned away by Carey Price, it seemed like the Swedes never really had a sniff. I feel for them, because they are a great team and probably deserved a better game, with their three main offensive forces not in the game due to injury. But that’s the way the tourney goes, and they are definitely a worthy silver medal team.

Canada, once again, can relish in the victory.

This Canadian team was maligned, as most Canadian teams are, from being under a microscope for so long. Sidney Crosby, the best player on earth, was criticized for not contributing enough offense. He scored the important 2-0 goal on a breakaway today, and has been Canada’s best player over the past two games. Even Chris Kunitz, who most people didn’t think belonged on this team in the first place, scored the defining 3-0 goal on a beautiful laser of a slapshot. Jonathan Toews, another forward who had been held goalless, put away the winner in the first period.

This was a team effort, and regardless of the plethora of NHL megastars on the roster, the Canadians played like a team. They remained committed to the team game through the tournament, especially on the defensive side of the game. They could have got nervous and broke down and tried for the offense that the crowds wanted, but they refrained, playing a well-structured game that looked impenetrable against the offensively gifted Americans and Swedes.

At times, it looked like Team Canada was just toying with them, playing keep-away in their end of the rink.

What I liked most about this team, is that they strapped on their hard hats and went to work in a very mechanical fashion. They did what they needed to do, played how they needed to play to win. They didn’t celebrate their goals too hard, or their victories too much. They just scored when they needed to and won games. All of the games. Even upon winning the gold medal, their celebration was sedate compared to the amazing anarchy of Vancouver. They had done their jobs, and done them well. Their goal was accomplished.

For an Olympics that lacked the raw excitement of a home country hosting, such as in Vancouver 2010, this was a great cap to an incredible few days of hockey, and overall, a great Olympics by Canada. 25 medals, including 10 gold. Pretty impressive for our small nation of 33 million people. We can compete with the big boys, the Americans and the Russians, as well as the other winter powers, such as the Dutch, Norwegians and Germans.

We didn’t end up with the most gold, or the most medals, this time around. But because of the men’s hockey, it feels like we won the Games.

Canada vs. Sweden: For the Gold

Canada vs. Sweden: For the Gold

Prior to the Olympic tournament, if I had to pick a winner with a gun to my head, it would have been Sweden. A deep team with great goaltending and experience on the large ice surface, it seemed like a lock that the Tre Kronor would make it to this game. Of course, Canada is always a favorite, even if they have morphed into a different team than probably any of us expected when the selections were made. Canada seemed to be a team based on steady D and amazing offense. One half of that is correct.

canadaWhile they have struggled to score goals, Canada’s defense has been second to none in the Olympics. In fact, it has been better than anyone else by a longshot. Anchored by Drew Doughty and Shea Weber, they have produced goals, dominated possession and kept opposing team chances to a minimum.

If they win the gold medal, it will be because of their defense. They have not been a team to dominate the scoreboard, yet they remain undefeated, overcoming their chief rivals in the US to get to the gold medal game.

The main difference from the Canada we expected and the Canada we have seen is that they have played a more European game, with the tight checking defense and a focus on controlling the puck in the offensive zone. This bodes well against Sweden, in my opinion.

Sweden is a formidable opponent, and Canada has to be sure to be up for this game. Beating the Americans is a huge boon, but they need to show up if they have any hope of defeating a team led by young Erik Karlsson, the standout defenseman from the Ottawa Senators. He is such an offensive force that he is leading the Games in scoring. Not just defensive scoring, but all scoring.

swedenAdd in Henrik Lundqvist and a deep roster up front, and Team Sweden very much deserves to be in this final, and has a very realistic shot at taking home the gold. This will be a tight battle, and it will basically come down to which team can figure out how to either beat the stellar D, or the stellar netminding.

I don’t think anybody is expecting a barn burner of an offensive performance, even though each team has that ability. This will be close checking, and it will be tense.

While it seems like destiny that Canada wins this game, to go along with the gold the women’s team miraculously won, it will be tough.

It will be an interesting Sunday morning. The game starts at 5AM mountain time. And bars in Alberta have been given permission to be open, and serving, during the game. Could be a messy night for a lot of people!

Give me Canada. 3-1.