Friday, May 31, 2013

NHL Playoffs Predictions: Round 3

And then there were 4… and they happened to be the last 4 Stanley Cup champions. So much for parity and chances for small-market teams…

Eastern Conference:
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Boston Bruins:
The Big Bad Bruins have gotten better as each series progressed, which is good – and impressive. Their goalie is among the best in the league; their captain Zdeno Chara is a past Norris trophy winner; Patrice Bergeron is a face-off king, adept at shutting down opponents and a Selke winner; David Krejci leads all playoff scorers, and Torey Krug is scoring points at a Conn Smythe-like pace.
But these are the Penguins, not the anemic New York Rangers or lowly Toronto Maple Leafs. They have Evgeni Malkin – my vote for best player in the world – and Sidney Crosby, the guy most people think is the best. Crosby’s advantage is he never gets hit, because no one wants to be the guy who’ll force him into an early retirement. Although if anyone could have the balls and stupidity to do so, he’d be a Bruin – I’m looking at you, Gregory Campbell, Andrew Ference, and Milan Lucic. But Pittsburgh has a better overall defense, led by this year’s Norris favourite Kristopher Letang and shut-down aces Brooks Orpik and Douglas Murray. They can also count on Tomas Vokoun, one of the most consistent goalies in the past decade.
One team can afford to have Jaromir Jagr on their third line, but the other one can do so with the best leader In hockey – Jarome Iginla.
The difference-maker will be offense. The Penguins have too much of it, they could even get away with losing a 40-goal man like James Neal without really feeling it; the Bruins won the Cup a couple of years ago by being the only team in history to reach the Finals without scoring a single powerplay goal, and they haven't improved in that aspect. They’re no match, unless they injure at least 3 Pens.
Pittsburgh in 6

Chicago Blackhawks vs Los Angeles Kings:

I hate having to choose between my favourite Canadian goalie (Corey Crawford) and my favourite American goalie (Jonathan Quick), who happens to be the best goaltender standing, on paper. If all goes according to plan, I won't have to.

As much as I'd love to see a Stanley Cup Final pitting the best two Canadian centermen against one another and see Jonathan Toews prevail over Crosby and messing everything up in Team Canada's plans for captaincy in the next Olympics, I don't see it happening. The Hawks got in a heap of trouble against the very physical Detroit Red Wings, and the Kings have ten times the size, the grit and the taste for mud the Wings had. Chicago - like Pittsburgh - has two lines of superstars and a third that could out-produce any second line in the league with more ice time, but come playoff time, in the Final Four, games won't finish 5-1, not even 5-4. And in a 1-0 or 2-1 double-overtime won by a bad bounce, my money's on Dustin Penner and Justin Williams a whole lot more than Michal Handzus and Andrew Shaw, not that I wouldn't want them on my team or anything.

In any event, even if the Hawks won, there's still a 50/50 chance they'd face the Bruins next - and that'd be even worse. Might as well lose to the reigning champs, with dignity. And while the Hawks may have the best offense in the league, the Kings' defense has improved tremedously with Jordan Leopold, like the Pens' with Murray.

Los Angeles in 6

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