Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Final Preview
After last night’s Game 7 between the Sharks and Avalanche, we are down to the Final Four. The cinderella Blue Jackets have met their match, the Hurricanes are still surging, and I still do not regret betting on the Sharks to win the Cup.
The Bruins and Hurricanes will square off Thursday night in Boston in what will be a matchup of two opposite styles. The Blues and Sharks will faceoff in Game 1 on Saturday Night in what will be a battle of two very skilled, experienced groups. However this round turns out, the Stanley Cup will feature two teams who were, by most, not projected to be there. Strap on in for an intense second half of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Western Conference Finals
St. Louis Blues Vs. San Jose Sharks
The Blues managed to survive Ben Bishop and the Stars, scraping by in a Game 7, double overtime win (scored by St. Louis native Patrick Maroon). The Stars didn’t make things easy for the Blues. Dallas had a perfect penalty kill in round 1. Seriously, they went 15 for 15 in penalty kill attempts. They weren’t quite as perfect against St. Louis, allowing 2 goals on the penalty kill in the series., finishing with a 94.6% kill percentage.
St. Louis had a hard time beating Ben Bishop for most of the series, and that didn’t change in Game 7. Bishop saved 52 of 54 shots. The Blues’ defense matched the Stars’ defensive strength and standout goalie Jordan Binnington made crucial saves throughout the first 3 periods and held down the fort in overtimes 1 and 2.
In the Bay, the Sharks outlasted the Avalanche in Game 7. A return from Joe Pavelski boosted the Sharks spirits off the bat, and he quickly made an impact. Scoring the first goal of the game and assisting the second. Nathan Mackinnon was in the dressing room during this time. He was bothered with an upper-body issue and later returned when his team trailed by 2. The Avalanche got the game to 2-1 and scored what appeared to be a tying goal before it was reviewed and overturned for an offsides call. The Sharks Joonas Donskoi went on to score minutes later and the Sharks went on to win from there. Jumbo Joe Thornton’s hopes of finally winning a cup are still alive.
These teams have a lot of playoff experience between them. Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, and Brent Burns have been together for a long time and have gone on multiple playoff runs together. The Blues may not have a ton of experience as a team together in the playoffs, but have been led by Alex Pietrangelo, David Perron, Patrick Maroon, Ryan O’Reilly, and Brayden Schenn who all have playoff experience with different organizations (excluding Pietrangelo who has been with the Blues for years). This series is bound to go the distance.
Winner: San Jose in 7
I’ve doubted them the first 2 series and I’m not going to doubt them anymore. The teams are both physical, have a couple dangerous offensive lines, and use the defense to help generate offense. I will admit I’m still not sold on Martin Jones in net for the Sharks. He played well against Colorado but he still looks shaky and consistently kicks out big rebounds which will be a huge advantage to the Blues who love to crash the net after a big Colton Parayko slapper. However, the Sharks have used the defense as an offensive weapon so well the first half of the playoffs. Erik Karlsson is bound to break through and finally get his first goal of 2019. This team has also rallied behind Joe Thornton, who is likely on his last lap in the NHL. He will not get any closer than he is now. Sharks in an exciting and grueling 7 games.
Eastern Conference Finals
Boston Bruins Vs. Carolina Hurricanes
In what was a shock to me, the Hurricanes swept the Islanders and dominated them from start to finish. This was bound to be a defensive series, and with goalie Petr Mrazek injured, I figured the Islanders would start to overwhelm backup Curtis McElhinney and take the series over. That was just not the case. In fact, it was the opposite. The Islanders continued to struggle creating opportunities and the Hurricanes’ offense overwhelmed the Islanders defense and Jennings winner Robin Lehner.
Up in Boston, the Bruins finished off the high flying Blue Jackets. The Jackets were flying high after they shocked the world and swept the Lightning. They were properly shot down by Tuukka Rask. Who only allowed 11 goals in the 6-game series. Rask’s save percentage currently sits at .938. The Bruins just seemed to come together perfectly. Their defense began to cut down the amount of opportunities Matt Duchene and Cam Atkinson could muster up and slowed down the speedy tempo. On the other end, David Pastrnak began to heat up, as he tallied 4 points in the last 3 games and Brad Marchand added 3 points in the last 3 games. This series will come down to how well the Bruins can manage the Hurricanes’ tempo.
Winner: Boston in 6
The Bruins have an extremely strong and experienced core playoff group. Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask and David Krejci were together to win the Cup in 2011 and have been together since. They haven’t missed the playoffs much since 2011. Although the Hurricanes have basically no prior playoff experience as a group, they have multiple cup winners including Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen and Mr. Game 7 and captain, Justin Williams. This team will not go to bed lightly. They have a lot of offensive skill between Sebastian Aho, Teravainen and many others. The Hurricanes can be high-flying and they do a good job of bringing defenseman Jacob Slavin and former Bruin Dougie Hamilton into the offensive rushes without being too risky. Regardless of the outcome, this will be an exciting back and forth series.