An incredible Round 2 has just concluded. After seeing so many Game 7′s in Round 1, we get just one in Round 2, along with two sweeps. Detroit/San Jose concluded with an exciting Game 7 win for the Sharks, hanging on by the skin of their teeth. The series finished with 6 one-goal games, which would’ve been all seven had it not been for the empty netter in Game 4. I went an ugly 1-3 last round, dropping me to 5-7 for 2011. Not pretty, but I’m loving how unpredictable this playoffs has been. Here’s a look at the Conference Finals:
Eastern Conference Finals
(3) Boston Bruins vs. (5) Tampa Bay Lightning
I don’t think anyone saw the Lightning making it this far. It’s the first time they’ve advanced past the first round of the playoffs since they won the Cup in 2004. Both teams struggled early from the early going–Boston lost their first two games at home against the Habs, and Tamps was down 3-1 to the Pens. Both teams fought back and won Game 7 before sweeping their respective Round 2 opponents.
I said in my Round 2 preview that D Zdeno Chara would need to pick it up, and he’s done just that. He leads all Eastern Conference players in average TOI per night (28:41) and leads all players with a plus-11 rating. Chara and blueline partner Dennis Seidenberg shut down the Flyers offence, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Bolts try and solve them. The same can’t be said for D Tomas Kaberle, who’s been totally invisible this playoffs. As always, nothing else matters if Kabs can do something big in the series.
Special teams will be something to watch, as Boston’s wavering powerplay goes up against a strong Lightning penalty kill. The Bolts went 17/19 on the PK against the Caps, a big reason why they dominated them so much. Tampa also went 34/35 on the PK against the Pens. On the flip side, they’ve scored at least one power-play goal in 6 of their 11 playoff games–they’re also 5-1 when they score on the PP.
Both teams are currently battling injuries, with B’s F Patrice Bergeron out with a concussion. That will draw F Tyler Seguin into his first career playoff game, as he’s been a healthy scratch throughout the playoffs. Bolts’ D Pavel Kubina out. F Simon Gagne, however, is expected to return at some point.
I love how both goalies in this series are ‘old.’ Dwayne Roloson has won 7 straight games, and is just one shy of Jacques Plante for most consecutive playoff wins at age 40 or older. Meanwhile, Tim Thomas is on the heels of a 52-save win in Game 2, and has allowed just four goals in his past three games.
In the end, this should be a great battle between two very deep teams. The Bruins have three players with five goals, one with four and seven more with two goals apiece, while the Lightning’s third line has a combined 28 points. If Cup experience matters, the Bolts have an edge in that category. Milan Lucic will need to keep rolling, and Tampa will continue to need scoring from their Bergenheim-Moore-Downie line. This will all come down to whether the Bruins can score. We know Thomas can steal games, so Boston will need to put the puck in the net and use their size advantage in front.
Pick: Bruins in 6
Western Conference Finals
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (2) San Jose Sharks
Two teams with playoff choker images. Something’s gotta give. Vancouver can reach the Cup Final for the first time since 1994, while San Jose is looking for its first ever appearance.
The Sharks are incredibly deep down the middle, with Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture who are going to cause nightmares for the Canucks’ blueline. San Jose is arguably the deepest team in the league, which will indirectly force Daniel and Henrik Sedin to get back to regular season form.
On special teams, the Canucks have given the opposition four or more power plays seven times in 13 postseason games. That’s an insane amount, especially against a team as lethal on the PP as San Jose. On the flip side, the Sharks have killed off 15 consecutive PK’s.
If Ryan Kesler can keep rolling, it’s possible that nothing will stop the Canucks from advancing. In net, both teams have big question marks in terms of consistency. Roberto Luongo gave up just 11 goals in his past 6 games, but a lot of them were bad goals. The same can be said for Antti Niemi. Luongo is past the second round for the first time in his career, while Niemi won the Cup last season with the Blackhawks.
After being called out as “gutless” by Jeremy Roenick, Patrick Marleau responded with a goal (his first point of the series) in Game 7 to help get the Sharks the win. Is this his official playoff coming out party? If the Canucks want any chance of advancing, they’ll need the Sedins to get going–the two combined for 198 regular-season points but managed two goals and five assists in six games versus Nashville. Not bad production, but it won’t be enough against the Sharks.
Pick: Sharks in 6