Conference Finals: 2011 Stanley Cup NHL Playoffs
NHL Playoffs Conference Finals, the east offers hockey fans a showdown between the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning. The west offers a battle between the Vancouver Canucks and the San Jose Sharks. After going 7-for-8 with my round one predictions, I managed a fair 3-for-4 to close out round two. My NHL Playoffs 2nd-round predictions faltered only on the game between the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning.
The NHL Playoffs Eastern Conference round two games were a completely clean sweep, with the Boston Bruins brushing the hapless Philadelphia Flyers out the door in four games. The Tampa Bay Lightning similarly swept the Washington Capitifuls into a dust pan and unceremoniously dumped them into the off-season without a Stanley Cup bid. These games were hardly competitive, but I suppose that both of them resulting in sweeps were a merciful ending to a round that didn’t live up to the excitement of previous one in the 2011 NHL Playoffs.
The NHL Western Conference, on the other hand, lived up to my expectations. It took to Vancouver Canucks six games to dispatch the Nashville Predators. While Nashville faltered at home, losing all three of their games, they managed to put up a fight in Vancouver where they were 2-1. The Detroit Red Wings looked like they were going to be cut loose by the San Jose Sharks in short order before they surged back to tie the series at three games each before the Sharks knock-out punch in game 7.
The #3 seed Boston Bruins against the #5 seed Tampa Bay Lightning
These two teams have been waiting more than a week to get back to playing the NHL playoffs. If there is an advantage or disadvantage to a long layoff – well neither team has the upper hand in this contest.
Tim Thomas has continued to carry over his outstanding excellent regular season play into the post-season and is a sure to receive the Vezina Trophy for these NHL playoffs from what I’ve seen. Hopefully, my thoughts don’t become a kiss of death for his receiving that award. While Dwayne Roloson is no slouch, I’m giving the edge to Boston.
The Boston Bruins craptastic power play unit is going up against a formidable post-season penalty killing unit in the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are shutting down opponents at a shade over 94%. With Boston’s power play performing at a 5% success rate combined with the loss of Patrice Bergeron – means the special teams play favors the Lightning.
At even strength, I come down on the side of the Boston Bruins. The Tampa Bay Lightning were generally outscored at even strength in both previous series’. Yes, the Bruins did play against the goalie carousel in Philadelphia, but they do have talent and depth. On top of that – they’re tough. Tampa Bay shouldn’t be overlooked, with the likes of Stamkos, LeCavalier, and St. Louis. With Sean Bergenheim and Martin St. Louis in the NHL playoffs top 5 for goal scoring, they’re sure to test Thomas early and often in this one. Boston’s goal scoring has been spread around quite nicely and Roloson will have to have his head on a swivel as the shots come from Nathan Horton, David Krejci, Chris Kelly, and Brad Marchand.
The Boston Bruins are going to the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals in 6-games.
The #1 seed Vancouver Canucks against the #2 seed San Jose Sharks
Don’t look now but there is some very good goaltending going on way out west. Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and – shocker – there’s that Antti Niemi of the San Jose Sharks on the brink of another chance to get his name etched on the Stanley Cup in his second consecutive NHL playoffs appearance. Luongo’s goals-against is nearly a full point better than Niemi’s while their save percentages are nearly identical at just over .900. While I’m one of the few who don’t disrespect Antti Niemi, I still am giving the edge to the Vancouver Canucks.
The special teams are a virtual deadlock. Both teams have demonstrated outstanding penalty killing skills. Further, the Vancouver Canucks never seem to take many penalties, either of the necessary or unnecessary kind.
At even strength, Joe Thornton, Dan Heatley, and Patrick Marleau lead the charge for the San Jose Sharks. Throw in Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture and the Vancouver Canucks are going to have their toughest tests of the 2011 post-season. For Vancouver, the spotlight seems to be shining brightly now on Ryan Kesler. In the mix are the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik. While Henrik hasn’t been producing as much as the Canucks fans would like, Daniel Sedin has put up six goal and four assists. Defensively, they need to play much better as both are a -8 to go with their 10-points each. I’m going to side with the San Jose Sharks here.
The play of both of these teams has been stellar which is why they are the top two seeds in the Western Conference. Still, I continue to believe that the Vancouver are on a Stanley Cup Finals mission this year and will manage to get there in six games.