Friday, May 31, 2013

Brett's 2013 NHL Conference Finals Predictions

Well, it's time for a new round of predictions for the NHL playoffs. I was 4/4 in the second round, bringing my total to nine correct out of the 12 series so far.

Now to the interesting part. The previous four Stanley Cup winners will meet each other to determine who reaches the Stanley Cup Final. The 2009 and 2011 champions meet in the East, with the 2010 and 2012 champs meeting in the west. Which two recent champions will meet for another chance to raise the Cup? It's prediction time!

Eastern Conference Final
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (4) Boston Bruins
Image from Yahoo! Sports
Heading into the playoffs, this was probably the most expected outcome for the Eastern Conference. Both teams made moves mid-season to bolster their team for a long run in the playoffs. After both teams only took five games to dispose of their semi-final foes, they played the waiting game while the dust settled in the Western Conference.

For Pittsburgh, things seemed to click once they put Tomas Vokoun between the pipes. Since he has taken over the starting job, the team has allowed 2 goals per game. Contrast to an offence that is hitting its stride with the Sidney Crosby rounding into form, the Penguins will be a tough out.

As for Boston, they have been a tale of two teams to this point in the playoffs. They looked extremely vulnerable in the first round, almost dropping the series despite leading 3-1. However, the second round resembled the Bruins team most people expected to see all along.

So, let's figure this series out. The emotions will be interesting, with both Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow picking the Penguins over the Bruins. It will also be a return for Jaromir Jagr, playing a playoff series against his former team. Last year, the Penguins showed their frustration in a series against the Flyers and I expect the Bruins to play in a similar fashion. Led by super-pest Brad Marchand, the Bruins have a roster that will get under the skin of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, and the other stars in the line-up. While both teams have a lot of experience, I believe it will be the Penguins who pull out the series in again. The added leadership of Morrow and Iginla will be a calming influence on the team. Plus, they have the ability to put out three lines that score effectively. They were never in danger of that with the Rangers. It will be a long, hard-fought series, but Pittsburgh wins it in the end.
Pittsburgh wins the series in 4-3.
Western Conference Final
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (5) Los Angeles Kings
Image from Fox Sports West
Back in January on my Sports Journalism radio show, I said the Kings would have a very strong chance to repeat as champions. They have a young, physical core and an extremely talented goalie. One of my classmates said a team to watch out for would be the Blackhawks, looking to rebound after a first round exit in the 2012 NHL Playoffs. Almost half a year later, it looks like we were both right.

The Blackhawks survived the Detroit Red Wings, coming back from a 3-1 series deficit. It was a tight series between two divisional foes, pushing Chicago to the brink multiple times.

The Kings were also tested during the second round, facing an elimination game for the first time during these last two playoffs. They responded with a true Game 7 performance, aided by Jonathan Quick.

The series will come down to whether the Kings can keep up with the high-octane offense of the Blackhawks. Chicago has shown flashes of what they are capable of during the playoffs, but nothing consistent. Los Angeles has been able to dominate teams with their defence, bolstered by the strong play of Quick in net. He will be able to keep Los Angeles in every game of the series, but will he get enough goal support? In the long run, I don't think that will matter. I'm sticking with my pick from January. Los Angeles will be able to frustrate Jonathan Toews and the rest of the Blackhawks during the series. They will have a hard time scoring, and Quick will be able to erase any mistake the Kings make in their own zone. Plus, the Kings haven't lost a game at home during this year's playoff. I see that trend continuing.  Los Angeles will have a chance to defend their title in the Finals, marking the first time a team has reached back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals since the Red Wings and Penguins both did it in 2008 and 2009.Los Angeles wins the series in 4-2.

So, those are my picks. I'm sticking with the team that I picked back in January. Do you agree or disagree? Sound off in the comment section below.

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