Conference Finals Preview
We’ve reached the Final Four. With the way the Playoffs are now formatted, we may have seen the de facto Conference Final in the previous round. Although I’ve doubted one of the final four throughout the playoffs. Let’s go to it!
Eastern Conference Final
Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins may not have entered the 2017 playoffs as hot as they did a season ago. In fact, the Pens came into the postseason banged up. The most notable loss was defensive stud Kris Letang but he is the tip of the iceberg (no pun intended). Goalie Matt Murray was yanked in warmups of Game 1 against Columbus. However, the Pens prevailed and nearly swept the Blue Jackets in the first round. Marc-Andre Fleury settled in as a goaltender and carried that momentum into the second round against Washington. Pittsburgh quickly won the two games of the series on the road and despite losing their captain in game three, the Pens overcame a two-goal deficit but lost in OT. With Crosby out for game four, the series must have swung the Caps’ way right? Nope, the Pens won. Ironically, Crosby would suit back up and the Caps would win games five and six leading people to idiotically ask if the Penguins are better without him. Crosby may have only gotten the second assist on the first goal in game seven, but his presence on the ice drew a Washington defender off enough to give Rust a great shot and snipe. The Pens may be able to win “without” their stars, but the big three of Malkin (18), Crosby (14), and Kessel (13) are within the top seven in the playoffs for points–along with Jake Guentzel’s 14 points.
Admittedly, I really doubted Ottawa. I probably should have picked them over an injured Bruins team but one could argue that the refs had something to do with the result of that series (*cough* Greg *cough). What shocked me was beating the Rangers in six games in the second round. I had said both on the podcast and the second round preview that this series was the ultimate lock and the Sens went on their rage-fueled revenge tail. Although, when New York knotted it up at two games apiece, I thought the might have broken the collective backs of Karlson and crew. The Sens grinded down one of the best goalies in the league and absolutely deserve their spot in the ECF.
I think this will go deeper than expected but the choice is pretty clear. Pittsburgh is too deep for the Senators to match. While I said that about the Rangers in the last round, the Penguins are better than the Rangers. Pens in six. Game one is Saturday night at 7pm on NBC.
Western Conference Final
Nashville Predators vs. Anaheim Ducks
Anaheim returns to the WCF after blowing their first round series. Who beat the Ducks last year? The wild card winning Nashville Predators. The Ducks are an offensive juggernaut who entered the playoffs as the Pacific Division regular season champ. After sweeping the Flames, Anaheim went toe-to-toe with the youngsters of the up-and-coming Edmonton Oilers. Edmonton made a valiant effort but Anaheim prevailed in seven games.
Another shocking appearance is one the country music scene is excited to see. The Nashville Predators squeaked their way into the playoffs as the second wild-card team in the West and SWEPT the Chicago Blackhawks (throwing Hawks fans into a massive panic). Pekka Rinne got hot against Chicago and got even hotter against the St. Louis Blues in round two. Nashville took down the Blues in six games and the party in the Music City roars on.
I said on last this week’s podcast (The Bullpen Cart on iTunes) the Cup winner will come out of the West and I’m sticking to that statement. The Ducks have found the back of the net more than anyone else alive in the final four but they haven’t faced a goalie like Rinne. Further, the Preds defensemen provide an extra dimension for the Preds’ offense comparatively to Anaheim’s. Preds in seven. Game one is Friday night at 9pm on NBCSN.
Disagree with my picks? Who ya got moving on to the Stanley Cup Final? Let me know in the comments below.