2013 NHL Playoffs: Conference Finals Predictions

sidney-crosbyWe’re now just one round away from the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals as the playoffs have been whittled down to four teams. In the Western Conference, the defending champion Los Angeles Kings face off against the Chicago Blackhawks. This is truly a battle of two worn-out clubs since the Kings and Blackhawks each survived grueling seven-game series. Interestingly enough, they both won their Game 7 matchups by a score of 2-1.

As for the Eastern Conference Finals, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins will do battle in yet another series against each other. Unlike Chicago and L.A., these teams coasted by their Conference Semi-Finals opponents. The Bruins took out the New York Rangers in just five games, while Pittsburgh won their series over the Ottawa Senators by the same margin.

With four talented teams remaining, it’s anybody’s guess as to who will be moving onto the Stanley Cup Finals. And we’d like to guess ourselves with the following Conference Finals previews.

L.A. Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks

corey-crawfordThis is a pretty tantalizing matchup that pits the ’10 NHL champion Blackhawks against the ’12 champion Kings. Chicago comes into this series via a dramatic comeback that saw them down 3-1 against the Wings. The Blackhawks were able to reestablish control of the puck later in the series to win and set up this matchup.

For the most part, Chicago goalie Corey Crawford has played pretty well in these playoffs. However, L.A. goalie Jonathan Quick appears to have regained his form from last season’s championship playoff run. He has a .948 save percentage, which is slightly better than his .946 mark from ’12. So when it comes to the net, we have to give the Kings an advantage.

However, even Quick hasn’t been able to help Los Angeles win on the road. The Kings are a disappointing 1-5 away from their home ice, which doesn’t bode well as they travel to Chicago. They were able to overcome a 2-0 deficit against the St. Louis Blues in the first round; don’t expect the same forgiveness from the Blackhawks.

jonathan-quickOn offense, Chicago really needs Jonathan Toews to regain form. The Chicago captain has scored just six points through the first 12 playoff games – a mark which only places him fifth on his own team. Patrick Kane is another Blackhawks player who needs to pick up his production. The winger has nine points thus far, which isn’t bad; however, it’s definitely off his regular season pace of 55 points in 47 games.

Los Angeles presents a pretty tough frontline of Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. These guys have been solid throughout the playoffs and will look to overwhelm Crawford in the net. And the Kings’ frontline vs. Crawford could be the deciding factor in this series.

Prediction: L.A. wins the series 4-3

Boston Bruins vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

This is definitely a case of offense vs. defense, with Pittsburgh easily playing the role of offensive juggernauts. Sidney Crosby has scored 15 points in 10 playoff games, but he isn’t the only one doing damage. As a team, the Penguins have averaged 4.27 goals in the postseason, which is easily a league-best.

sidney-crosbyBut Pittsburgh does have chinks in their armor, and they start with goaltending. The Penguins had to switch from Marc-Andre Fleury to Tomas Vokoun in the first round because of this issue. And while Vokoun has done a great job (1.85 GAA, .941 SV%) through six games, it’s never good when you need to switch out a starter mid-playoffs.

Moving to Boston, they feature an aggressive, defensive-minded approach. Veteran Zdeno Chara has logged 29 minutes per game and is critical to stopping the opposition. This defense can pack an offensive punch too, as rookie Torey Krug showed against the Rangers. He was incredible after scoring four goals and dishing out five assists in just five games.

Boston goalie Tuukka Rask has been solid with (2.22 GAA, .928 SV%) in the 2013 NHL Playoffs. However, solid won’t be enough to stop the Penguins’ extremely deep attack. Expect Pittsburgh to overcome their goalie and defensive issues while overwhelming Rask in the process.

Prediction: Pittsburgh wins the series 4-2

2013 NHL Playoffs heat up in Second Round

sidney-crosbyOne great thing about hockey is that it breeds exciting first round matchups and major upsets. Such was the case in the 2013 NHL Playoffs, as five out of the eight lower seeds won their series.

It was especially a good time to be a lower seed in the Western Conference, where the seventh-seeded Detroit Red Wings upended the Anaheim Ducks, the six-seeded San Jose Sharks swept the Vancouver Canucks, and the fifth-seeded L.A. Kings beat the St. Louis Blues.

The Eastern Conference saw its share of upsets too with the seventh-seeded Ottawa Senators taking down the Montreal Canadiens, and the New York Islanders edging out the Washington Capitals.

Will the upsets continue as we forge ahead into the second round of the 2013 NHL Playoffs? So far it looks like the favorites are on top, though we’re only one game into each series. Every matchup is still anybody’s game, so let’s discuss who has a good shot of prevailing in the Conference Semifinals.

#1 Seed Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #7 Seed Ottawa Senators (Pens lead 1-0) – The Penguins survived a closer than expected series against the New York Islanders. Seeing as how Ottawa can skate just as well as New York, this figures to be a pretty tough matchup too. The Senators feature the best scoring defender in Erik Karlsson and one of the league’s top goalies in Craig Anderson.

However, Pittsburgh boasts six of the top seven scorers in the playoffs and has a habit of overwhelming opposing goaltenders. If the Pens can continue getting production from multiple players outside of Sidney Crosby, they should be able to score on Anderson enough to win this matchup.

Prediction: Pittsburgh wins the series 4-2.

#4 Seed Boston Bruins vs. #6 Seed New York Rangers (Bruins lead 1-0) – It almost looked like Boston wouldn’t be in this position after nearly blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Toronto rick-nashMaples Leafs. Even on their home ice, they were down 4-1 in Game 7 and appeared destined to collapse. However, the Bruins stormed back thanks to a pair of goals by Patrice Bergeron.

As for the Rangers, their offense was pretty sporadic, but goalie Henrik Lundqvist was there to bail New York out. He’ll have to be even better against Boston because the Bruins should have little trouble shutting down New York’s struggling offensive leaders in Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan. Boston will need to win this series quick though to avoid the fatigue factor from their grueling Toronto series.

Prediction: Boston wins the series 4-2

#1 Seed Chicago Blackhawks vs. #7 Seed Detroit Red Wings (Hawks lead 1-0) – A few years ago, the seeding would’ve been reversed in this matchup as the Red Wings corey-crawfordwere dominant throughout the late 90’s and into the late 2000’s. However, times are far different today and Chicago was the regular season’s best club. But it’s also worth mentioning that Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk still have plenty left in the tank, as they proved in their upset of Anaheim.

This Original Six matchup could come down to who’s got the fresher legs, and Chicago definitely has the edge here. They dispatched Minnesota in just five games and goalie Corey Crawford looked magnificent. Detroit should give Crawford a little more trouble since they have guys who can score on every line. But the Blackhawks have even more depth and should cruise in this matchup, provided Patrick Kane can get going in this round.

Prediction: Chicago wins the series 4-1

#5 Seed Los Angeles Kings vs. #6 Seed San Jose Sharks (Kings lead 1-0) – There was no championship hangover for the Kings since they were able to beat St. Louis in six games. jonathan-quickSan Jose was even more impressive after they pulled out the brooms in a sweep of Vancouver. San Jose held the Sedin brothers scoreless in four games, while overwhelming Canucks’ goalie Cory Schneider on the other end.

As for Los Angeles, goalie Jonathan Quick struggled throughout most of the regular season, but has pulled things together in the playoffs. The key here will be if he can continue showing the same dominance that he showed in last year’s postseason. Look for frontliners Jeff Carter and Dwight King to have been games against San Jose in this series too.

Prediction: L.A. wins the series 4-2