Playoff Hockey Roundup: Conference Finals Preview

Conference Finals Preview

We’ve reached the Final Four. With the way the Playoffs are now formatted, we may have seen the de faco Conference Final in the previous round. Let’s go to it!

Eastern Conference Final

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Entering the Playoffs: one team was the hottest team in the league and the other was one of the coldest. The Penguins entered the season as an early favorite but started inconsistent and didn’t truly break .500 until February. In fact, since March 1st the Penguins have gone 24-8 including postseason games. The Pens breezed by the Rangers in the first round and downed the Caps in long six-game series that included three OT games. Pittsburgh was favored at the beginning of the season due to their depth, including a huge addition of Phil Kessel, and the depth is what powered the Pens into the ECF the fourth time in the last ten seasons.

Tampa Bay has had the easier route at this point. While the Lightning may have been one of the colder teams entering the Playoffs, the rest of the Atlantic Division was ice cold; so much so, I was convinced the Isles would fly into the ECF. The Lightning have shown what makes them such a great team with Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov being amongst the leaders in playoff points and Ben Bishop have one of the better postseason performances of a goaltender.

Bishop being a stonewall wasn’t a big surprise, the guy is gigantic and he is one of the league’s best. What was surprising was how great the Pens’ Matt Murray has been between the pipes. The rookie has kept his cool but fans and analysts everywhere were worried after Game Five against the Caps. People were calling for Marc Andre Fleury but Murray stepped up. The series won’t be about special teams like previous matchups; both teams are amongst the best in penalty killing. What will make the difference are the stars. Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combined for four points against the Caps. If they get it going and the rest of the lineup is as electric as they’ve been, it could be a quick series. As much as it pains me to say: Pens in 6. Game One is tonight at 8pm on NBCSN.

Western Conference Final

St. Louis Blues vs. San Jose Sharks

Probably a matchup that not many may have expected, the Blues have been one of the better teams in the league all year while the Sharks have been fighting off their franchise label of “choke artist” round-by-round. .

The Blues have grinded out the first two rounds going the full seven games in both rounds and playing a lot of overtime. St. Louis took down the powerhouse Dallas Stars on the road in Game Seven in a dominant fashion. Goaltender Brian Elliott has been clutch and the Blues are probably one of the complete team remaining. San Jose on the other hand, dominated their division rival Los Angeles Kings in the first round and seemed poised to cruise through the Predators taking a 2-0 lead going back to Nashville. The home teams would not lose (including an incredible three-overtime Game Four) but San Jose would leave no doubt in Game Seven last night crushing the Preds into elimination..

This series may not be the de facto Cup Final like we have seen the WCF be in the past, but it will be a titlebought. St. Louis has a fantastic all around team while San Jose has shown off their offensive juggernaut potential. As much as I’d love to see the Sharks move on (so I make a pun about devouring Sydney Crosby) but the Blues are too good. The Sharks offense may be better than St. Louis’ but the Blues’ defense is by far superior. Blues in Six

Disagree with my picks? Who ya got moving on to the Stanley Cup Finals? Let me know in the comments below.

(cover photo via)


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