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NHL Conference Finals Preview

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The NHL Conference Finals are upon us and we have some very interesting match ups for a good number of reasons.

Starting with the Canadiens and Rangers battling for the Eastern Conference title after beating Boston and Pittsburgh respectively. The Canadiens won their last two versus the Bruins whereas the Rangers overcame what seemed to be an impossible 3-1 series deficit to the Penguins. This series will feature the Gold medal winning Carey Price and the Silver Medal winning Henrik Lundquist. The series starts Saturday at 1PM ET on NBC and CBC in Canada. The rest of the series will be on NBCSN in the US and CBC in Canada and have 8 PM ET start times.

And then there is Los Angeles vs Chicago which starts on Sunday at 3 PM on NBC and TSN is another series that will be interesting because it is a battle of the last two Stanley Cup Champions (LA in 2012 and Chicago in 2013), what’s more is that this will be the second straight season that these teams will meet in the Western Conference finals, Chicago won last season obviously as they were the Champions of the league.

Eastern Conference

Canadiens vs Rangers

This is one for the history books, an original six battle between the Canadiens and Rangers with a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals hanging in the balance. The Canadiens road here went through the Lightning in a four game sweep, and then the Bruins in what was a hard fought seven game series. The Rangers path was a little different, they knocked off the Flyers in the first round and then they came back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

These teams play opposite styles, the Canadiens are more of an offensive style team whereas the Rangers play more of defensive style even though this season they have been more offensive than they were under John Tortorella and his defense first system.

I personally think the series will be a high scoring, light checking series. The key to the series will be goaltending, which goaltender does the best work for his team? Well if previous series’ are any indication than the Canadiens have the edge in net. I think the Rangers need to really pressure the Canadiens into making mistakes which is what Boston didn’t do for some reason, the Canadiens are a fairly young team and the Rangers are more experienced especially guys like Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis on that club.

My prediction is Montreal in seven games, I think the Canadiens will be the better of the two offenses, and I think Carey Price is locked in and will win the goaltending battle (again) in this series.

Western Conference

Kings vs Blackhawks

For the second straight season the Los Angesles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks will do battle for a chance to move on to the Stanley Cup Finals, last season the Blackhawks needed only 5 games to win the series, but I have a sneaky suspicion that the series this year will go 6 or 7 games, I expect seven to be honest.

The road to this series for both teams were tough, Chicago had a vicious six game series against the St. Louis Blues in what might end up being the series of the playoffs in terms of pure hatred, the Blackhawks then played Minnesota and that series were much calmer (actually all the second round series were pretty calm) and it was a laugher of a series, though give the Wild credit they tried their best to overcome the slow start to the series that they had.

Los Angeles on the other hand had an incredible series with the San Jose Sharks coming back from a 3-0 series hole to win the series over the Sharks and then they had another seven game series against the Anaheim Ducks (and who said California doesn’t know hockey? They got to see some great series this year) edging them out in a 6-2 game in game 7.

These teams are both very similar, they both play solid D and both are very good checking teams. I think that LA has the edge in goaltending though, Jonathan Quick is a playoff performer, he doesn’t get playoff jitters, he is as cool as it gets in the playoffs which has spelled success for the Kings making three straight Western Conference Finals and winning the Stanley Cup in 2012, you can’t deny the success of the Kings. But at the same time the Kings do not stack up against the Blackhawks who have won two Stanley Cups in 4 years and are going for a third in five seasons, one of the consistent factors is Patrick Kane who is a clutch playoff performer, he is as good of a player as it gets in these type of games, which is good because God knows Buffalo is disappointed in the rest of their sports adventures so it is nice for that city to see a local kid in Kane do well.

My prediction this series, I predict the Kings win the series in seven games. I think Jonathan Quick comes through again in the clutch, and I also predict Patrick Kane scoring a goal in the series deciding game, whether the series ends in four games or goes seven like I think it will.

NHL Games to Watch; March 3rd

NHL games to watch

Canadiens @ Kings 10:30 PM ET|7:30 PM PT (TSN-HABS|PRIME TICKET|RDS)

This game will feature two teams that play different styles, the Canadiens are more offensive minded of the two teams which makes for an interesting contrast. They typically have to rely on Carey Price to help them out, while the Kings are a strong team on defense with an Olympic caliber goalie in Jonathan Quick to help them win games. So we in a sense have a game where we will see which style eventually wins out. This is also a great test for the Canadiens because they are going to be playing two teams in a row that could make a run at the Stanley Cup finals in LA and Anaheim, and while I don’t view the Canadiens as a team that will be in the Stanley Cup finals, I do think this is a great measuring stick for the Canadiens to see where they stand, I expect them to put up a good fight.

But in the end I think the Kings will beat the Canadiens 3-1, the Candiens still suffer from being a smaller team, and they are going to have battles with a team that can be physically punishing, and mix that with a team that can score on a couple quick strikes and we’ve got a team that can and usually will smoother the opponent into defeat.

Honorable Mention(s)

Blue Jackets @ Maple Leafs 7 PM ET|4 PM PT (FS-Ohio|SNET-Ontario)

Flames @ Wild 8 PM ET|5 PM PT (SNET-West|FS-North)

NHL Conference Finals

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Gesterling:

First off this should be a great series, both teams are talented I see it going seven games, and anyone who says Pittsburgh in four or five is completely discounting the Boston Bruins entirely.

With that said that isn’t to say the Penguins can’t or even won’t win the series, because on paper they should. But to me it will come down to Bergeron and his ability to contain Sidney Crosby, if he can take Crosby’s effectiveness away then the Bruins have a good chance of winning the series.

But I don’t see Bergeron containing Crosby for an entire series, in fact he will face insane challenges in this series along with Marchand and Jagr trying to also contain Kunitz and Dupuis, That last part scares me, the fact that the aging Jaromir Jagr will have to cover either Kunitz or Pascal Dupuis, I just do not think he can skate with either of those two, I can see Chris Kelly replacing Jagr on that line in all honesty. And the other big line combination will be Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton will be countered with James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, and Jarome Iginla. And the Jarome Iginla angle is already known, so that is another element that will be fascinating to watch out for.

Those top two lines for both teams will be key factors for both teams but another line that Pittsburgh might want to watch out for is Daniel Paille, Gregory Campball, and Shawn Thornton because they played great in the Conference Semis against the Rangers, if you want to talk about a real series changing line, that very well could be it.

In terms of defense I like Boston’s defense more, I think they have the better depth which should suit them well in a long physical series if need be. They might be playing with two rookies but they rookies have been amazing. Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski have both been very good when called upon, with no promises that Andrew Ference will be back, these guys need to really be sharp. That isn’t to say Kris Letang, Matt Niskanan or Brooks Orpik won’t be important pieces to the series because they can get the job done themselves, but in terms of depth I like the Bruins better in this series.

In terms of goalies, I think it is an even match up. I think both Rask and Vokoun are very solid goalies and I think the goalie with the most timely saves will win the series. Which if we go by the first two rounds than that would mean Tomas Vokoun. But no one can say how this will play out.

At the end, I think defense and goaltending will prevail over the offense. So I say Boston in seven games, I think this will be an outstanding series and possibly the best series of the playoffs.

Whetstone:

Tough decision on who will win the series but I favor Boston over Pittsburgh for many reasons because Boston has a courage to win the series because of Boston Bombing. However, Pittsburgh may win the series easily because they been in playoffs for a long time and they have a lot of key players in the team (Crosby, Cooke, etc.) but if I have to decide on whom will win the series, I will say Boston to win the series.

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Gesterling:

These two teams have two different styles, Los Angeles is more of a sit at home defensive team while the Blackhawks can bring a solid offensive game. So this is a tough one, because I like LA for the same reason I like the Bruins, I think defense and more so in this case goaltending with Jonathan Quick being on another one of his incredible rolls in this years playoff. I think if Quick can keep it up the Blackhawks will struggle. I also think LA is a deeper and better team in this series. That isn’t to take away from the Blackhawks because they’re a great team, but in terms of depth I feel LA is deeper.

One thing I am looking for is how the Chicago Blackhawks top line does versus Los Angeles’ top defense because I think that match up will be critical for Chicago’s chances in this series.

For key players in this series, I think for Chicago it is Patrick Sharp, and for the Kings is has to be Justin Williams. I choose these two because they both can score, but on typically focal points to the series say like the likes of Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown for LA and Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa for the Blackhawks, so keep an eye out for those two players.

Goaltending I give the edge to Los Angeles, Quick has been strong again this playoffs and could steal them another Stanley Cup. But it will be very interesting to see if Corey Crawford can step in and steal Quick’s thunder.

My prediction is Los Angeles in six, I think on paper the teams are even outside of goaltending where I think the Kings have the advantage in this series, and every series down the road regardless if they move on and have to play either the Bruins or Penguins.

Whetstone:

I don’t like Chicago Blackhawks very much for many reasons but one of many reasons that they beat my team, Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, you can say that I am a bitter fan but hey, I will tell you my predication. I think that Kings have a so/so chance to win the series but this series is a gambling series because both of them are very good in their own ways. I gotta say that Kings to win the series.

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