Last time I talked about the NHL Playoffs, I preached the importance of expecting the unexpected when it comes to May hockey. After all four favored teams reached the Conference Finals, I might have to rephrase that statement.
It doesn't take much research or brain power to remember the four teams left in the playoffs are the winners of the last four Stanley Cups. The Penguin's 2009 trip should stick in the minds of many of my Detroit Red Wings friends, as well as the 2010 run made by the rival Chicago Blackhawks. 2011 and 2012's champions, the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings will also be remembered for their recentness and their incredible goal tending. Now as hockey fans should we start worrying that our beloved league has become top heavy? No we should not.
This is just the normal growth of a league. Teams become great and stay great for a few seasons before that one trade or injury changes the course of the franchise forever. In fact, we should applaud the 'tournament of champions' now placed in front of us. All of these teams have been playing some great hockey all playoffs if not all season. We should be licking our chops for the delectable series that will offer fans of all kinds some good hockey. It's going to a darn good concentration prize for anyone's team who didn't make it this far.
Now time for some picks!
Pittsburgh Penguins - 4 Boston Bruins - 2
Offensively minded teams vs defensively minded teams seems to be the theme of the Conference Finals. The Boston Bruins come in flying underneath the radar after a very impressive season. It seems as if everyone has forgotten how good of a team they are and that they won a Stanley Cup just two years ago. (Wait, I picked against them last week?) Tuukka Rask has been impressive throughout the playoffs and season. The 26-year-old has allowed an average of 2.00 goals per game this season and has showed his mental toughness in many key moments during the playoffs. He is 3-1 in overtime games in the playoffs which is pretty good for a guy who is getting his firs real playoff run as the main man. When you add in the fact Boston has top notch defenders like Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk, it is easy to see any offense will struggle against them.
The Penguins will rely heavily on their offense to beat the Bostonians. I don't know about you, but I don't have much faith in the Penguin's goal keeping, so their best bet is to try to score four goals a game and hope Vokcoun can stop a few shots. During the regular season, the Pens averaged 3.4 goals per game which is best in the NHL. Unfortunately for the teams left, the Penguins have gotten better in the playoffs scoring an average of 4.2 goals per game. The Penguins have also been held below three goals once, and when they score four or more they are 8-1. Those have to be scary numbers for an opponent and that is why I am picking them to win.
With Malkin, Neal, Kunitz and Crosby playing out of their minds, it is nearly impossible to pick against them. Plus, I don't think the Bruins have enough fire power to keep up. They have hit a scoring streak in the playoffs, but I don't think they will be able to maintain it. They also lack in the power play department, where they have converted 14.8 percent of their chances, which is one of the worst percentages in the league. Boston will be able to take advantage of the Penguin's bad net-minding, but they will simply be outgunned in the end.
Chicago Blackhawks - 4 Los Angeles Kings - 1
After Chicago's thrilling seven-gamer with Detroit, they move on to face LA. The Blackhawks have a hot offense just like the Penguins, but they have better goal keeping. This alone makes them favorites for this series and to win the Cup. During the regular season, they scored an average of 3.1 goals per game and allowed an average of 2.00 goals per game. They are really good at killing power plays and only lack in converting power plays. Patrick Kane will be the key player of Chicago because of all he does for the team. He leads the 'Hawks in goals and assists, and may be the reason Chicago is this good. When he is playing well and creating chances for his teammates, the Blackhawks look unstoppable.
The Kings will combat the high flying Chicago offense with their almost mythical goalie, Johnathan Quick. Last season, he was the biggest reason why LA won the Cup and is one of the biggest reasons the Kings are still in contention this year. In the playoffs, Quick has allowed an average of 1.53 goals per game and has three shutouts. In addition to his shutouts, he has the ability come come up in big moments and keep his team in games. All five of the King's losses have been by one goal and five of their wins have come by the same margin. He knows how to handle pressure, which will be vital for this series.
Unfortunately for the Kings, I don't think they can score enough goals to keep up with the Blackhawks. more Importantly, they are 1-6 in away games which won't cut it this deep into the playoffs. Though they are undefeated at home, I think the Blackhawks kill the King's spirit early by winning the first three games then going on to win the series in five.
Thanks for reading!