Western Conference Final
I will be the first to tell you that I did not expect the Anaheim Ducks to get this far. Coming into the postseason the Ducks went 6-4 in their last ten and finished 28th overall in power play percentage at just over 15%. Once the playoffs started they certainly flipped the switch. The Ducks have a post-season best powerplay clicking at 31% and goaltender Frederik Andersen has been spectacular posting a .925 save percentage thus far. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf have been outstanding. Perry leads the playoffs in points thus far with 15 (9G 7 A). The Ducks are returning to the conference final for the first time since 2007, when they went on the win the cup. However, facing the Blackhawks is very unfamiliar territory for Anaheim; the two have never faced each other in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Perhaps they have history on their side.
The Blackhawks on the other hand have become the gold standard of the Western Conference Final appearing in 5 of the last 7. They certainly belong here. Since his return Pat Kane has been marvelous, posting 7 goals and 6 assists for 13 points over the first two rounds. Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews have also been good (9 and 11 points respectively). However I notice the Marian Hossa seems to have run dry in the goal department having only cashed in once over the first two rounds. After struggling a bit in the first round with the Predators, Corey Crawford seems to have stabilized getting his save percentage back up to .916.
Verdict: As much as I don’t like to cheer for the Blackhawks, I’m going to take them in 7 here because I would love to see Kimmo Timonen get a shot at the cup in likely his last season.
Eastern Conference Final
The Tampa Bay Lightning had a VERY scary first round. The Detroit Red Wings took the Bolts the distance in a well fought seven game series. The Lightning didn’t begin to look like themselves until about game 5. Since then however, they seem to have found their legs. The Bolts took the first three games from the Habs before ultimately defeating them in six games. Surprisingly, it hasn’t been Steven Stamkos providing the offensive spark but rather Tyler Johnson. He leads all players in the playoffs with 8 goals (12 points total good for 3rd). Stamkos has woken up in the second round and now sits with 10 points. Nikita Kurcherov and Alex Killorn have been outstanding supporting players, and Ben Bishop has provided solid goaltending (1.81 GAA). The Lightning’s strength lies in their speed. Every player on the team can explode through the neutral zone and get behind the defenders rather easily. Insert opponent will have to watch out for the stretch passes and be strong at the blue line. I picked the Bolts to win the cup in my opening round preview.
The New York Rangers return to the Eastern Conference Final after being here just one year ago. They finished off the Washington Capitals in a thrilling Game 7 victory. The Rags are a solid team. On paper they have a ton of offense from, Rick Nash to Marty St. Louis to Carl Hagelin but they haven’t been able to find the back of the net that often. They have a solid D-Core headed up by captain Ryan McDonagh and Keith Yandle and of course they have the King, Henrik Lundqvist in goal. Most people expected the Rangers to be here, but most people didn’t expect it would take them this long. New York is another team that has been AWFUL on the powerplay clicking at just 14%. I would argue that the Rangers only got this far because of Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers are like the Habs, with better defense and penalty killing. If they can’t find ways to put more pucks to the back of the net, they may not make it another round.
Verdict: I’m sticking with the Bolts, 6 games to the Cup.