Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals Preview

Oh man, we made it all the way here.  Four teams left.  Two series.  The winners play for the Stanley Cup.  Let’s jump right into it:

Western Conference Finals:

Ducks vs. Blackhawks

Anaheim did what I expected them to do in the second round against Calgary.  They out-skated them up and down the ice, and took advantage of all the defensive miscues made by that young team.  Lesson learned, you have to play defense against the Ducks.  They kill you if you don’t.  And when they’re angry, or are playing faster than usual, they’re unstoppable.  Anaheim handled the Flames in five, as I nailed the pick exactly.  It was a great run for the young Flames.  Nobody expected them to get that far.

The Blackhawks swept the Wild, in a rather disappointing series.  Minnesota, who had convinced many that they could be Cup sleepers, just fell apart in the series.  They had too many issues, with a different one popping up in every game.  The series gave the Blackhawks a good amount of rest, which is something they’ll need against Anaheim.

This is gonna be a series full of speed on the ice.  Both teams are fast and can score.  While Chicago plays excellent defense, Anaheim is just too fast. It’s gonna be up to Corey Crawford again.  Crawford, after losing the starting spot in the first round, played great against Minnesota last round.  While the stats don’t totally back him up, he was one of the reasons Chicago swept Minnesota.

With Anaheim’s ridiculous offense, Crawford has to stay alert.  If he continues his second-round-like play, he’ll keep the job.  Scott Darling is his backup though, and in case of a collapse by Crawford, Darling is there and ready to go.  Crawford will have to trust his defense in this series, which is a tad risky.  In the second round, Minnesota didn’t push the puck much.  The Blackhawks defense shut them down, but the Ducks are sometimes unstoppable.

Anaheim’s offense has two levels.  The normal, top ten ranked league-wide offense that features Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.  That’s pretty hard to defend itself.  But then there’s the top level, a type of offense that goes 110 MPH rather than the speed limit.  It usually sparks when there’s around five minutes left, no matter what the score is.  The Ducks were never out of games because they kept up.  When the score wasn’t going their way, they answered, quickly.

This is what Chicago has to be scared of.  This will be the best offense their praised defense has faced.  Losing Michal Rozsival for the rest of the post-season was killer, and please, don’t look up his ankle injury.  It’s not pretty.  Johnny Oduya has only scored two points this postseason, dropping his +/- to -5.  This is the series they need him and others to step up.

Where this gets frisky for the Ducks is the same place it does for Chicago.  Defense.  I’m expecting a lot of goals between these two teams.  The Ducks defense is simply okay, and statistically below average this season.  It’s been much better in the postseason, but you could argue this is their first true test.  Patrick Kane has been phenomenal this postseason, tallying 13 points including seven goals.  Duncan Keith’s offense impact has been huge too, as his +/- is soaring to a +10.

The Blackhawks have plenty more to offer.  Brad Richards has been great in the playoffs, and Brent Seabrook is laying down a +4 while playing hefty minutes.  Chicago is really deep, and they don’t have a ton of holes.  They’re also working against a goalie who’s been decent during most of the year.  While the stats disagree, Frederick Andersen has been average this season.  The postseason record this year is pretty, but it’s the offense that’s winning games for the Ducks.  The Blackhawks love to take time with attacks, and they’re super good at setting up.  Pushing the puck to get Andersen off guard is the key to scoring.  Chicago has to keep up in this series, or else they’ll find themselves in trouble.

Since neither team matches up totally well with each other, this series is super hard to pick.  I feel like I have strong cases for both teams.  Overall, Anaheim has been unstoppable in these playoffs, but haven’t played anyone super tough.  Chicago has a great combination of everything, but has a frisky goaltender who can collapse at any time.  Anaheim has the tougher task overall, but they’ll get it done.

Prediction: Ducks in 7

Eastern Conference Finals:

Lightning vs. Rangers

The way both teams got here has been severely different from one another.  The Lightning took a 3-0 series lead over Montreal, but got it done in six games.  The Rangers found themselves in overtime in Game 7 against Washington Wednesday night.  As a Rangers fan, I having a seizure on every New York possession, then this happened:

Then capped off my celebration with this:

Let’s just say, it was quite a series.  Just incredible.  But that’s what these playoffs are about right?

The Rangers face a similar dilemma as the Blackhawks above.  They have to score, a lot, in this series.  If they don’t, they’ll fall behind fast.  No one has been able to stop the Lightning’s offense all year, and that only continued in the postseason.  Montreal was caught totally off guard, as the Steven Stamkos/Tyler Johnson duo killed them.

The Rangers’ defense is what they’re know for, and that trait will have to show up.  Dan Girardi has had a great postseason, putting up a +5.  He had a great end to the season, and is continuing the success through the playoffs.  Containing Stamkos and Johnson is priority No.1 for the Rangers.  Henrik Lundqvist, who has been a wall this postseason, has to get help.  Every goalie has faults, and the Lightning know how to expose them.

New York has to expect a lot of scoring from Tampa Bay.  I wouldn’t be shocked if see three goals a game being produced by them.  The Rangers will have to match it.  Meaning, they’re gonna have to score too.  The Lightning can pile it on teams, as they did in Game 2 against Montreal.  Thankfully, the Rangers aren’t going up against a great defense.  Tampa Bay’s has been good enough to get them here, but not fantastic.  They’re similar to Anaheim:  The offense wins them games.  We’re just gonna pile it on you.

New York is a very good power play team, and getting penalties from Tampa Bay will be a huge boost to their offense.  The Lightning led the league in minor penalties.  If that keeps up, the Rangers will make them pay.

From a big picture, this series is all about who can keep up.  Both teams have the ability to score, it’s just a matter of who will.  Ben Bishop has been good this postseason, but it’s not him who’s really winning games for the Lightning.  New York has to control the offensive attack from Tampa Bay, and take advantage of any power play they can get.  The Rangers don’t play insanely fast, and take their time on attacks.  Getting many shots on goal in a short matter of time to distract Ben Bishop is the key.  Settle down and play your game.

This is going to be a good series, but I think it could be over sooner than we think, either way.  Both teams are gonna be able to score.  It’s a matter of who can take advantage of the other’s weakness and when.

Prediction: Rangers in 6

Enjoy the weekend!!!!