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
The Los Angeles Kings are back in 1st place in the NHL (the Flyers were there for a few hours until the end of the Kings game). Before tonight, the Lightning had never lost at Staples Center and their goaltender Mike Smith had never lost a game to the Kings. The Kings had also not lost at home this season (4-0-0). Los Angeles hadn’t started 4-0 at home since the 1988-89 season. Clearly, something had to give tonight – at least one of the streaks had to end. The Lightning & Smith’s streaks gave way as Jonathan Quick stopped all 24 shots he faced (including 3 by NHL leading scorer Steven Stamkos) and extended the Kings’ home winning streak to 5-0-0 so far this season. Jonathan Quick also ended Steven Stamkos’ 7 game point streak.
In spite of the low score, tonight’s game in LA was a lot more exciting than the game the Lightning played in Anaheim last night (where they lost to the Ducks 3-2 in overtime). Tonight’s game had the potential to be one of the best hockey games in the NHL this season. Two of the top teams in the country (who were #1 and #2 in the NHL before any of tonight’s games were played) faced each other for the only time this season. Hockey fans everywhere were interested in this game and it was definitely more exciting than last night’s game. The Kings’ 4th sellout of the season was definitely more full than most of the sellouts in southern California hockey.
Dustin Brown got hit hard into the boards from behind pretty early in the game… not exactly the birthday present he was looking for tonight, but I’m sure the win helped make today a great birthday for the 26-year-old Kings Captain.
The Lightning players were a bit tired after last night’s game in Anaheim, but a great team usually rises to the occasion when facing another great team and the Lightning seemed to have plenty of energy tonight. The Kings had been off for four days, which can also make it difficult to keep energy levels up. They came out with all cylinders firing and looked really good at the start of the game.
The game got very chippy at the end. There had been some tough hits already and Downie clearly wanted to fight someone, but when he went after Doughty Mitchell stepped in. Downie missed, but Mitchell had to send a message. Fans always like to see players sticking up for each other. Things were definitely very chippy near the end of the game, but there were only two fighting penalties in the game (when Mitchell and Downie fought). Things seemed a bit out of control near the end of the game, but no one was seriously injured.
Justin Williams’ goal was the only goal of tonight’s game. It extended his goal streak to tie his career high of four games. His goal was a beautiful goal with a great pass from Smyth to start it off. Williams continued to be the Kings’ best offensive player this season. Williams talked about how important it was to have Drew Doughty, the Kings’ most important defensive player, back tonight and how well Quick played.
Naturally, Jon Quick talked mostly about how great the team in front of him performed and didn’t take much credit for his stellar performance tonight. That’s the kind of guy he is, but Kings fans know how important it is to have a solid goaltender and so do the players on the team.
The Kings host the Predators at Staples Center on Sunday in a fairly rare 7:00 pm start. They’ll try to be the second team this season to start out 6-0-0 at home (the Blues have won all six of their home games this season). The Lightning head to San Jose to face the Sharks on Saturday and try to win at least one game in California on their west coast trip (they’re 1-1-1 in their road trip so far and I’m sure they want to head back to a win before heading home).
Tags: Drew Doughty, Ducks, Dustin Brown, Hockey, Jonathan Quick, Justin Williams, Kings, Lightning, Mike Smith, NHL, Ryan Smyth, Staples Center, Steve Downie, Steven Stamkos, Willie Mitchell