Last round, I definitely thought most of the series’ would go the other way. The only one I predicted correctly was the Lightning/Capitals series, though I thought the Caps would win a couple games. Both of the eastern conference teams swept their last series and both of the western conference teams struggled. This round should be interesting.
Now, it’s time for my conference final predictions…
Bruins vs. Lightning
Lightning in 6 – The Lightning have looked good consistently this playoff season. The Bruins have been hit or miss. The first round, it looked like the Bruins were going to get knocked out. They came back, advanced, and then swept the Flyers, but both of these teams depend heavily on their goal tending and Roloson of Tampa Bay has been the better goalie this post season. Boston’s Tim Thomas was the best in the regular season, without a doubt. However, the regular season doesn’t matter any more and Roloson has looked great in the playoffs. When you add that to their superior playoff offense (St. Louis, Lecavalier, & Downie are all in the top ten, while the Bruins only have one player in the top ten) and I think the Lightning will advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. It won’t be an easy battle, but this round should be more interesting than the last round in the eastern conference. No one at this level should sweep.
Canucks vs. Sharks
Canucks in 6 – I think the Canucks were given the gift of being able to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals when the Sharks won game seven against the Red Wings last night. The Canucks and Sharks both struggled in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but I think in their most recent games the Canucks have looked more prepared. Nabokov was blamed for years when the Sharks lost in the playoffs. They’ve never made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, but I don’t think they’ll make it with Niemi this year, either. Perhaps if that happens, Thornton will finally get a bit of the blame.
A lot of emphasis has been placed on how little the Sedin twins have done in the post season compared to the regular season. I think that could actually be dangerous for the Sharks, though. If the Sedins both get hot, think of how much better the Canucks would look at that point. Before the season, the Canucks were my pick to win the Cup this year. I changed that when they won the Presidents’ Trophy, since a small percentage of teams best in the regular season take the Cup home. I’m not sure if I think the Canucks can win it all yet, but I do think they’ll make it to the Stanley Cup Finals this year.
Enjoy the playoffs!
Tags: Antti Niemi, Bruins, Canucks, Daniel Sedin, Dwayne Roloson, Evgeni Nabokov, Henrik Sedin, Hockey, Joe Thornton, Lightning, Martin St. Louis, NHL, playoffs, Presidents' Trophy, Sharks, Stanley Cup Finals, Steve Downie, Tim Thomas, Vincent Lecavalier
Tonight’s game in LA was beyond disappointing for the Kings fans (18,216 sellout crowd with standing room only announced and unlike the Honda Center for the first two Ducks playoff games, Staples Center was packed). The Kings lost game one to the Sharks 3-2 after coming back from the very early Sharks goal. They bounced back from that to shut out the Sharks in San Jose Saturday night winning 4-0. They scored 2:26 & 2:39 into the first period tonight, ended the first period up 3-0, and even scored 44 seconds into the second period. The Kings scored eight unanswered goals after losing in overtime in game one. Then… they collapsed, hit the wall, stopped playing hard enough, … whatever you want to call it, the Kings had an embarrassing loss at home and many fans are (rightfully) upset with their team.
After the fourth goal in tonight’s game, the Sharks pulled goaltender Antti Niemi and apparently he took the Kings’ mojo and will with him. The Kings scored only one goal against Antero Nittymaki, who got his first win of the series, and allowed 5 goals in regulation to end the second period tied at 5 goals each. The Kings seemed to stop the bleeding when they answered the Sharks’ third goal with their fifth, but they allowed two more goals before that period ended and were quite simply outplayed. The Sharks looked like they had extended power plays. Though coach Terry Murray was happy with the way the Kings pulled themselves together for the third period, the only really good thing that can be said of the period is that the Kings allowed no goals against.
Unlike the regular season, where the Kings could do their best to survive five minutes of four on four overtime to win in the shootout (where goaltender Jonathan Quick was undefeated, 10-0), the playoffs don’t have a skills competition. Playoff hockey is 5 on 5 in 20 minute periods that become sudden death starting with the first overtime. TV timeouts are eliminated and intermissions get a bit shorter, but the game remains a real hockey game until a goal is scored. Devin Setoguchi scored the game winning overtime goal just 3:09 into the first overtime. On the bright side, since their team lost, at least the Kings fans were spared an agonizing 3 overtime game that ends with the same disappointment, but includes decreased sleep and a lot more disappointment.
Coach Terry Murray said you had to give the Sharks credit for their power play goal in the second period, “but outside of that, we did this to ourselves… we get caught out for extended shifts… you’re exhausted, you’re getting rattled…” It’s good that Murray acknowledged that the Kings brought the loss on themselves, since perhaps that means he’ll be able to address that problem with the Kings tomorrow, so they can come back from this demoralizing loss at home to win game four Thursday at Staples Center and re-tie the series.
There are a ton of stats (mostly not favorable) about teams (and the Kings specifically) who lose game three of a seven game NHL playoff series and go down two games to one. I’ve always thought those stats (even if they include the same teams from the year before, since there are always some changes from year to year) are as useless as knowing what numbers have hit recently in roulette or the recent coin flip stats. How the team performed when Wayne Gretzky was in the lineup is irrelevant. This team is a completely different team and only they can decide how they’ll play Thursday.
Regardless of what happens in the series, it was nice to see a southern California team properly celebrating the playoffs. The Kings do more for the first round of the playoffs than the Ducks did during the Stanley Cup Finals the year they won the Cup. The Kings had a DJ, live pep band, temporary tattoos, a beer garden, and other booths set up outside. They had The Briggs (who sing their theme song “This is LA”) perform inside before the game to get the fans into the game and after the second goal of the night, I can’t remember hearing Staples Center so loud before. I’m sure the “Frenzy on Figueroa” comeback win against the Red Wings in 2001 was louder and I was there, but it’s hard to remember the arena being that loud before. Kings fans are hoping their faithfulness and support will be rewarded Thursday and they’re sure to fill Staples Center with another SRO sellout crowd. Perhaps this time, the home crowd will be happier when they leave.
Tags: Antero Nittymaki, Antti Niemi, fans, Frenzy on Figueroa, Holiday, Honda Center, Jonathan Quick, Kings, NHL, playoffs, sellout, Sharks, standing room, Stanley Cup, Staples Center, Terry Murray, Wayne Gretzky
I was 100% right for the winners of the last round, but was drastically off for the number of games it would take each team. I thought the Blackhawks (who swept the Sharks) would need 6 games to eliminate the Sharks. I thought the Flyers/Habs series would go to 7 after the road the Flyers and Canadiens had taken to get to that point, but the Flyers (who shut out the Canadiens in 3/5 of their games) figured out how to effectively shut down the Habs and eliminated them in 5 games.
In spite of the fact that the Flyers were ranked 7th in the east and tied in points to the Canadiens as the team with the lowest points to make it to the playoffs and the Blackhawks were only third in the NHL (2nd in the west), I think this year’s Finals will be very interesting. It was hard for me to pick a team to win this one. Though I’m picking the Blackhawks, a lot of this series might depend on which team ends up having the hottest goalie and Michael Leighton of the Flyers, ranked 1st in playoff goaltending save percentage among goalies that have played more than one game and having the most shutouts of the playoffs (3, all in the last round against the Canadiens) is definitely the hottest goalie coming into the Finals. I think the Blackhawks’ scoring will make enough of a difference to neutralize the Flyers’ momentum coming into the Finals.
My prediction is… Blackhawks in 6. The Flyers may have the hottest goalie, but Antti Niemi is still doing very well in goal. The Blackhawks also have the number one scorer in the playoffs (by points and by points per game) and two in the top 10 in points per game. The Flyers’ top scorer is 11th in points per game. The Flyers have the top penalty takers remaining in the competition and with a 22.6% success rate, the Blackhawks have the best power play left (ranked 5th out of the 16 teams in the playoffs). The Flyers (87%) and Blackhawks (86.6%) both have great penalty kills (ranked 2nd & 3rd overall in the playoffs) and defenses, so the Finals this year should be very intense.
The Flyers haven’t been to the Finals since they lost to the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 (the first year of Detroit’s last back-to-back Stanley Cup wins). The Blackhawks lost to the Penguins in 1992 (in their second year of their only back-to-back Stanley Cup wins).
No matter which team wins this year’s Finals, it will be a team that hasn’t won the Cup in quite a while. It will also definitely go to a team who lost the last five times they were in the Finals. Philadelphia last won the Stanley Cup in 1975 – they won back-to-back Cups in 74 & 75. Chicago, who last won the Cup in 1961 is actually the team in the NHL with the longest period without winning the Cup. It’s been almost 40 years and I think it’s time. The Blackhawks and Flyers have each been in the Finals five times since their last wins 49 & 35 years ago.
Both teams have a lot of drive and both have good stories about not having won the Stanley Cup in a long time. Versus and NBC must be thrilled. This year’s Finals includes two teams that have been around for a long time. The Blackhawks are one of the original six teams of the NHL and the Flyers are part of the next six. Both teams have fans all over the country, so this year’s Finals should do well in the United States.
Tags: Antti Niemi, Blackhawks, Canadiens, Flyers, Hockey, Michael Leighton, NBC, NHL, original six, penalties, penalty kill, Penguins, power play, Red Wings, Sharks, Stanley Cup, Stanley Cup Finals, Versus