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.
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.
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.
Re-Post: NHL Round Up: LA makes History; Tortorella Fired; Halak Traded; NHL Conference Semi-Finals Preview
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Bruins @ Wild 8 PM ET (NESN|FS-N)
This is the best game of a day full of iffy games, none of the games jump out at me as must watch games. But since these are two playoff teams (I am assuming the Wild squeeze into the playoffs since they only need one point in their next three games) playing it should be a highly competitive game, and a low scoring game since the primary focus is on defense typically for both of these clubs. I’ll predict a 2-1 Bruins shootout win.
Ducks @ Canucks 10 PM ET (PRIME TICKET|SNET-P)
This should be a dandy of a game between two Western Conference teams seemingly heading in the opposite directions. For the Ducks they have already clinched a playoff spot whereas Vancouver has been a mess since January 10th going 11-18-2 in that span and have had several stretches of poor hockey in that time including two 3-game losing streaks and one 7-game losing streak. The Canucks are fighting for their playoff lives in this game as well as the rest of their games in a last second bid to avoid what would be an embarrassing season considering the talent level this team has.
And just think, when the Canucks traded Luongo they were in a playoff position.
The Boston Bruins take a 16 game points streak (including 15 of those being wins) into the Motor city when the face off against possible first round match up the Detroit Red Wings who in their own right are in need of some points as they’ve yet to clinch a playoff spot heading into the final week and a half of regular season hockey. The Red Wings are however in really good shape having two points on the ninth place Toronto Maple Leafs and two games in hand on them as well. I can see a Detroit win in regulation in this game, they historically have been better in head to head match ups against the Bruins, especially more so recently over the last few years.
Flyers @ Blues (NBCSN|TSN2|CSN-PHI)
These teams played two weeks ago and it was a great battle, there was a good dose of hitting and a few goals along the way. The pace of the game was fast and exciting and it really reminded me of a playoff game which is rare for a game played before April. And now that we’re in April, it will be even more critical for the Flyers to pick up two points. I think the Blues will win 4-3 in a shootout. It should be an amazing game!
Wild @ Kings 10 PM ET (NBCSN)
While there is slim pickings tonight this one is a stand out on most nights, it features two very skilled defensive style teams. I don’t think there will be much scoring but it should be a solid checking game. I think the Kings win, they are the better of the two teams in my opinion, I think this could be a rare entertaining low scoring game.
Maple Leafs @ Flyers 7 PM ET (SNET-O|CSN-PHI|RDS)
This game should be an excellent battle between two teams trying to make the playoffs. Plus I think both teams are very much on a level playing field in terms of individual talent on the roster. The Flyers are currently in a playoff position and the Maple Leafs are on the outside looking in technically even though they are in a 4-way tie for the last two wild card positions.
Penguins @ Blue Jackets 7:30 PM (ROOT-PIT|FS-O)
Ducks @ Oilers 9:30 PM (Prime Ticket|SNET-W)
Flyers @ Rangers 8 PM ET (NBCSN|TSN2|RDS)
I flip flopped between this and the Canucks @ Wild game for game of the night because both games should be entertaining and wild all in one. In terms of this game this could be a possible playoff preview between these clubs, in fact it would be a preview if the playoffs were to start today. So historically these teams do not like one another and even if the hatred has been simmered a little between the clubs in recent years, there could be added hatred tonight and in a playoff series should that be the case. I think this will be a low scoring game but hard hitting with the teams trying to intimidate one another, which would be interesting.
Canucks @ Wild 7:30 PM (SNET-P|FS-N)
Another great battle on the schedule tonight, Vancouver is looking to find its way while the Wild will try to put distance between themselves and the Canucks. These two teams traditionally have a bit of hatred for one another on top of that so if the Canucks fall behind big, don’t be surprised to see some cheap play from the Canucks.
Sabres @ Canadiens 7:30 PM ET (MSG-BUF|TSN-HABS|RDS)
This should be a good game between two division rivals. Do not let Buffalo’s laughable record fool you, this is the time of the season where teams come in and try to play spoiler to other teams who are fighting for a playoff spot, I would be shocked if Buffalo layed down and let Montreal trample them. Therefore I am calling for a 3-1 Montreal win and not a 7-0 game. But I think the game has a good chance of being entertaining throughout.
Blues @ Maple Leafs 7 PM ET (FS-MW|SNET-O)
Kings @ Capitals 7 PM ET (FS-W|CSN-MA)
Canadiens @ Bruins 7:30 PM ET (NBCSN|TSN|RDS)
The Bruins and Canadiens meet again, this is the fifth and final match up of the season. The Bruins host the Canadiens on a 12 game winning streak and they face their arch rival of 90 years, many memorable games played against each other, which is expected from two teams with such storied histories. The last couple of seasons have been sort of tame in terms of fireworks, and wildness, so don’t expect anything too crazy in terms of fights but I do expect an intense game because the Canadiens undoubtedly would love to snap the streak, whereas the Bruins would love to extend their streak to 13 in a row, which would be the longest winning streak since 1971 for the Bruins.
Kings @ Flyers 7 PM ET (FS-W|CSN-PHI)
The Flyers West (or as the old saying was back a couple years ago) come to Philadelphia and play the Flyers and it should be a good hard hitting game since both teams love to play a physical style.
Sharks @ Flames 9 PM ET (CSN-CA|SNET-W)
The Sharks can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Flames, but it won’t be easy as the Flames have been a more respectable team over the last couple of months, it is too bad their season started so rough.
Bruins @ Avalanche 9 PM ET|6 PM PT (NESN|ALT)
The Bruins go to the Rookie Mountains with an impressive ten game winning streak which includes beating Washington, Montreal, Phoenix and Minnesota. The Avalanche themselves are having a great season and are no stranger to success themselves as they started the season 12-1 with a pair of 6 game winning streaks. The Bruins have gotten contributions everywhere during the winning streak but most notable are Jarome Iginla and Carl Soderberg as of late. The Bruins are also getting great defense and solid goaltending from Tuukka Rask. With a win the Bruins would be the first team to clinch a playoff berth in either conference.