[Editor’s Note: Guest-blogging extraordinaire Nkilla is back with his preview of the Conference Finals. That’s right. We’re finally halfway through the Stanley Cup Playoffs. One month down, one to go.]
Well, well, well… look who pulled off a sweep in the second round of the NHL playoffs. That’s right, I did, your favorite guest blogger. I predicted the winner of all four second round series correctly. Before I basically give you free money by picking the semi-final winners, let’s quickly recap what happened in round two.
[Editor’s Note: Classic douchey sports prognosticator move by Nkilla here. Highlight the fact that you got the winner of each series right, but ignore the fact that you didn’t correctly pick the right amount of games for any of those series. It’s like anyone who picked the Baltimore Ravens to win the Super Bowl before last football season by saying they would be the #1 seed in the AFC and go on to win their second Championship. Yeah, buddy, you knew exactly how things were going to play out.]
Pittsburgh eliminated Ottawa 4-1. This series was never really close. In fact, if the five players on the ice for Pittsburgh in the last minute of game three do not collectively stop playing defense for eight seconds Pittsburgh probably sweeps Ottawa. After fending off a feisty Islanders team in round one, Pittsburgh apparently decided to take the playoffs seriously in round two and just go out and dominate their opponent. Ottawa may have fooled us a bit by how easily they eliminated Montreal in round one, but Montreal was probably more inured than they let on, and they let on that they were very injured.
Boston eliminated New York 4-1. This series was never really close either. In fact, if Tuukka Rask does not forget how to play goalie in game four Boston probably sweeps New York. After the Toronto “almost a fiasco but really one of the great Boston sports moments of the last thirty years”, the Bruins, much like Pittsburgh, decided to get serious and end their second round series quickly. A couple of things factored into this being a quick series: just because one sucky team (New York) beat another sucky team (Washington), the winner does not all of a sudden become good; the Bruins three rookie defensemen added some much needed life into the Bruins and helped them dominate the series; and most of all, the growing legend of Krug.
Los Angeles eliminated San Jose 4-3. The home team won all seven games in this series. It was a very well-played series with five of the seven games being decided by one goal. Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick is starting to look as unbeatable as he was during last year’s Stanley Cup run, and he really carried the Kings through this series. San Jose probably lost this series when they gave up the game-tying and game-winning goal twenty-two seconds apart with less than two minutes to play in game two.
Chicago eliminated Detroit 4-3. Best series of the second round between two long-time division rivals that will not even be in the same conference anymore as of next year. Chicago dominated game one, and then Detroit came out and cruised through the next three games to take a 3-1 series lead over the West’s top seed. At this point Chicago came to life offensively and dominated game five at home, came from behind to win game six on Michael Frolik’s sick penalty shot, and then won game seven twice, once with one minute left in regulation that was overturned on a horrendous penalty call, and then a second time in overtime.
So, that leaves us with a great final four. If you look at the sixteen teams that started the playoffs, it is tough to come up with a better final four option than how it actually played out. All four of these teams are worthy of winning The Cup, which isn’t always the case once you get to the final four in any sport. These are also your last four Stanley Cup champions. Let’s break the two series down and reveal the winner of each:
Chicago v Los Angeles – Chicago wins if: They score on the power play and Corey Crawford does not give any games away. The power play is going to be particularly important for Chicago because Jonathan Quick is playing so well right now. I think goals are going to be hard to come by in this series. Also, if Chicago gets two or three goals past Quick in a particular game, Crawford cannot have a shaky game and give up five goals.
LA wins if: Jonathan Quick keeps playing like he did during last year’s championship run. Listen, LA’s offense has by no means been lighting up the scoreboard this postseason, but with the way Quick is playing two goals is going to be enough most nights.
And the winner is…: Chicago was the best team in the regular season and dominated their first round matchup against Minnesota, but showed some weakness in the Detroit series. Quick seems to be getting better as the playoffs go on. If LA was scoring goals at even an average rate during these playoffs, I could see LA winning a short series. The Sharks won three games against the Kings by a score of 2-1 in the last round. I see no reason why Chicago can’t grind out a couple wins like that in this series. I think this goes seven, and I want the better goalie in game seven. LA in 7.
Pittsburgh v Boston – Pittsburgh wins if: They continue to play outstanding special teams and their offense continues to run amok. Pittsburgh has the number one power play in the playoffs and the number three penalty kill. Most of the time their power play looks surgical. When their five-on-five offense is clicking, they can make it look like they are on the power play even when they are not. They have three of the top four goal scorers and point leaders so far in the playoffs.
Boston wins if: They continue to play the best two-way hockey in the playoffs and the rookie defensemen continue to play like veterans. The Bruins have the top four plus/minus players in the playoffs so far, and that is because when the Bruins are playing well the forwards are forechecking and helping on defense. Based on what I just taught you about Pittsburgh’s offensive proficiency, the Bruins young defensemen need to not only provide the youthful energy they brought against New York, but they have to play solid defense.
And the winner is…: On paper Pittsburgh is slightly more talented and their offense really started to click against Ottawa. As good as the Pittsburgh offense is, their defense is a little soft. A couple of these games may end up being of the 6-4 variety, and I prefer Rask over Vokoun easily in those games. If you watched the Pittsburgh/Ottawa series, by game four it seemed like Ottawa was afraid of Pittsburgh. The one thing the Bruins will not be at any point is scared of this Pittsburgh team. In fact, I think the personality of this Bruins team is one that wants to go through Pittsburgh to get to the finals. I think there is a small part of Pittsburgh that wishes someone else took care of Boston for them. Boston in 6.
[Editor’s Note: I love that Nkilla picked a Stanley Cup Finals between my hometown team (Boston) and my new hometown team (Los Angeles). Really, there’s no wrong answer for the NHL when it comes to the possible Finals matchups. It’s either Pittsburgh vs Chicago (the two most-talented teams and the top two teams from the regular season), Pittsburgh vs LA (the best offensive team against the best goalie/last year’s champs), Boston vs Chicago (two original-six teams, great hockey cities) or Boston vs LA (the last two Cup winners, the two most physical teams, and my overall preference). This is going to be a fun four weeks.]