Saturday, May 16, 2009

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals Predictions

After three series that went the full 7 games, one has to wonder how the NHL Playoffs could possibly get any better. Nearly every game has been filled with drama, and now that the number one seed from each conference has been knocked out, things seem wide open as parity makes for great hockey. Of course, all of this excitement seems likely headed towards a re-match from last years Stanley Cup Final, which was anything but exhilarating.

After going an abysmal 1 for 4 in the second round, here are my picks for the NHL Conference Finals. If I don't start getting a few more of these predictions correct, I should probably just stop making puck picks altogether!

Western Conference Finals
Detroit (2) vs. Chicago
Detroit in Six
This series is the classic match-up between the cagey veterans who have been there before against the young kids who should be nervous but don't know any better. I have wrongly picked against the Chicago Blackhawks in every round, not really believing that they were ready to make this kind of leap into the NHL elite. What I didn't count on was their balanced attack up front and their surprisingly talented defensemen in the back. It all starts with youngsters Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but they also have veteran Martin Havlat and former Flyer Patrick Sharp to add to the offensive mix. Defensively, the Hawks big pick-up in the offseason was Brian Campbell, and he has been his usual puck-moving threat, but they get their best play along the blueline from consistent ice-time eaters Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

Of course, we all know what the Red Wings bring to the table, and that's a little bit of everything. Even though several of their forwards, like Marian Hossa and Pavel Datsyuk, haven't really gotten it going offensively yet, the team has so little drop-off from line to line that there is always someone else who steps up and gets the job done. After surviving a scare against a tough Ducks team, the Hawks might seem like less of a threat to the Wings, but don't look for Detroit to take them lightly. All they need is a few timely saves from Chris Osgood and the Red Wings should coast into the Stanley Cup Finals.

Eastern Conference Finals
Pittsburgh (4) vs. Carolina (6)

Pittsburgh in Six

Let me get this out of the way right now: I'm rooting for Carolina to win this series. As a Flyers fan, I simply can't stand the Penguins. Not only are they the cross-state rival of the Flyers, but the Penguins have now eliminated the Flyers two years in a row. Making it even more painful is the fact that the Penguins are a very good team that looks like they will be a contender for years to come. Both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have risen their level of play in the playoffs, one of the key reasons the Pens were able to oust the Capitals in that epic second round series. Add in goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who always seems to make the big stop, and an underrated defense, and the Pens seem poised to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Not that the Hurricanes will make it easy for the Penguins. Like the Hawks, I picked against Carolina in each round so far, not really believing that they were capable of making a run. In fact, when you look up and down the Hurricane roster, it's hard to understand how they got this far. Yeah, Cam Ward is an excellent goaltender, but they don't have anyone who strikes fear into their opponents. Instead, the Hurricanes are one of those teams whose total is better than the sum of their parts. Carolina has a disciplined defensive approach that will cause Crosby and Malkin fits, and they get timely goals when they break their opponents defense down. That said, I still don't think they can completely shut down the Penguins star forwards which will inevitably expose their offense when they can't muster up enough goals. Unfortunately, the Penguins are on their way to a re-match for the Cup.

So those are my predictions. Let's hope I can do better than my awful showing for the Second Round picks.

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