Saturday, May 15, 2010

2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals Predictions

Talk about a tale of two very different Conferences in the 2010 NHL Playoffs. After two exciting rounds of hockey, everything in the Eastern Conference has been flipped upside down as the history-making Flyers and the upset-minded Canadiens grab all the headlines. As for the Western Conference, things have been relatively quiet as the two best teams held serve and are set to face off for a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. While there are two very different circumstances in each Conference, we do have two evenly matched series that look poised to go the distance.

After going 2 for 4 in the second round, here are my picks for the Conference Finals.

Eastern Conference Finals
(7) Philadelphia vs. (8) Montreal

Philadelphia in 6

If you predicted this would be the Eastern Conference Finals matchup, you are clinically insane. I haven't done the research but I'm willing to bet this is the first time the 7th seed in the conference had home-ice advantage this deep into the playoffs. Of course, since these two teams have gotten this far, home ice hasn't meant a thing in the East.

As for the matchups, despite injuries to Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere, the Flyers are the deeper team at forward and on defense. The major difference between the Canadiens and Flyers is the ability of their goaltenders, with Jaroslav Halak stonewalling two of the best offenses in the league while the Flyers seem to be scraping by with much less talent in net. In reality, the way the Flyers have been funneling the puck to the outside and blocking a ridiculous amount of shots, they haven't needed someone to make spectacular saves, just a goalie who will be in the right place at the right time. That makes Michael Leighton, a solid but not flashy netminder, the perfect compliment to the Flyers. Because of this, the Flyers have to be considered the favorite in the series. Sure, they will have problems scoring on Halak for long stretches at a time, but the Flyers defense will be up to the task of punishing the undersized Canadiens forwards and limiting the number of clean looks they get at Leighton.

Western Conference Finals:
(1) San Jose vs. (2) Chicago

San Jose in 7

This should be a very exciting series between the two best teams left in the playoffs. Each team has a dynamic set of forwards, a deep set of defensemen and a goaltender that, while neither has a great playoff resume, has proven to be solid. These teams are so similar, in fact, it's hard to really make a case why either team is better. Sure, the Blackhawks have the slightly better power play but the Sharks have a good penalty kill and are no slouches with the man advantage themselves. Sure, the Sharks are bigger at the forward position but the Blackhawks are much more shifty and creative. As you dig deeper, though, and start to look at the just how good the Sharks second line, led by Pavelski and Setoguchi, has been, you realize that Chicago might be able to handle both of the Sharks potent lines for a game or two but, as the series drags on, they will eventually get worn down. The Sharks also have the home ice advantage, a fact that actually means something in the West, so that's why I give them the slight edge.

Those are my picks for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Check back tomorrow for a more complete breakdown of the Flyers/Canadiens series.

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