…And that’s it! The Washington Capitals have advanced to the Conference Finals for the first time since….wait, what? They did it AGAIN!?
Yes it’s true, the Capitals are once again finding themselves on the couches instead of participating in the Conference Finals. Things looked promising after they rallied from down 3-1 in the series to force a game 7, in Washington, but the Capitals couldn’t Capitalize on what may have been their best chance at hoisting the Stanley Cup.
The other teams that couldn’t get past the half way point of the post season were the St. Louis Blues, New York Rangers, and Edmonton Oilers.
That means we are down to the final four teams left with a chance to hoist the Stanley Cup; we have reached the Conference Finals.
Ottawa Senators vs Pittsburgh Penguins
Senators – The team that no one thought would get to this point (part 1) is the Ottawa Senators. They were thought to be a tough opponent in round one against the Bruins, and prevailed in 6 games. Then they were thought to be no match for the Rangers in the 2nd round, only to surprise the whole hockey world by ousting the Blue Shirts in 6 games. They have been winning…in extremely weird ways. The Senators had 2 high scoring affairs in Games 2 and 5 that needed overtime (as well as a comeback in each game) to win, but in games 4 and 5 in New York they were blown out 4-1 in each game. They haven’t played with the lead in hardly any of their games, yet they find a way to comeback in the games and win, and now they are 4 wins away from a Stanley Cup Final appearance.
Ottawa will win if…Erik Karlsson continues to be a beast on the back end and Craig Anderson tightens up in his crease. The things that Karlsson has done in these playoffs are uncanny and fascinating to watch. As you know, he has also been doing so with deal with a heel injury and maybe other unknown injuries as well. The way the Senators play can be boring at times, they sit back in defense and wait to counter punch, but it has proven to be extremely effective in this postseason. In order for their system to work how they want it however, they may have to get some better goaltending from netminder Craig Anderson. In game 6 against the Rangers, Anderson looked like the goalie that the Senators rode into the postseason on. If he can stay sharp and come up with some timely saves, Erik Karlsson and company can counter quickly and score.
Penguins – The defending Stanley Cup champions are breathing a sigh of relief after their 2nd round scare against the Washington Capitals. It was a series the Penguins were primed to finish off quickly as they jumped out to a 3-1 series lead, then were outplayed by the Capitals who finally flexed their President Trophy muscles, but only for a bit. Pittsburgh went into Washington for game 7 and showed why they not only won the Cup last year, but why they should be the favorites the rest of the way with a smooth 2-0 shutout.
Pittsburgh will win if…they don’t get too far ahead of themselves, can continue to depend on Marc-Andre Fleury, and keep Crosby healthy. Lets face it, Crosby got absolutely rocked in this series, and only ended up missing game 4 with concussion like symptoms. For a player who is the face of not only the team but the NHL, the way the situation was handled was…interesting. Hopefully Crosby is not playing injured for the sake of his own health (he has an extensive history of bad concussions) and hopefully the league can learn from this and correct it in the future. But enough of that. Not overlooked for this team is the spectacular play of goalie Fleury. He wasn’t even supposed to be their goalie for the postseason, hell, he was supposed to be traded but here he is giving the Penguins some solid goaltending. About only thing that could derail the Penguins right now would be if they treat the Senators as a cakewalk after a highly intense series with their rival Capitals.
PREDICTION – On paper, on the internet, on a piece of cardboard, on a whiteboard, on whatever you want, this appears to be a mismatch that the Penguins should win with one eye closed. BUT, the Senators just have that feel of that team that is on a special kind of run. Anderson will out play Fleury as Anderson will find his stride while Fleury will start to decline. Karlsson will (continue) to show the world that he is not human and the weird, come from behind, shouldn’t be here Ottawa Senators will win this series. Senators in 7
Nashville Predators vs Anaheim Ducks
Predators – The team that no one thought would get to this point (part 2) is the Nashville Predators. Smashville as they are (and should be) referred to showed that they are beatable in these playoffs by losing 2 games to the St. Louis Blues, but took the series in 6 games in front of their blinding yellow crowd. Right now, the Predators are rolling and have it all; scoring from their top lines, scoring from the defensemen, scoring from their depth players, and a hot goalie behind all of that. They can hit you and score on you before you even know what happened.
Nashville will win if…they don’t look back and keep playing their game. The Predators have never made it this far, it is their franchises first Conference Finals appearance ever, and they can’t let that and all of the attention get to them. Nashville is rocking and everyone is rightfully talking about the Predators, but they have to stay humble and continue to play their game. Everything is clicking for them and they haven’t faced too much adversity in these playoffs, if they get down early in the series they better be able to respond. When the puck drops for game 1 of their series, they will have had 6 days without playing a game, that could factor in as well. If they can shake the rust and the noise, the party may just be beginning in Smashville.
Ducks – Unlike the Capitals, the Anaheim Ducks have conquered their playoff demon; winning a Game 7. In what was one of the most topsy turvy playoff series’ in recent memory, the Oilers pushed the Ducks to the edge of the cliff, a Game 7, where it was well known the Ducks couldn’t fly and would fall off. Instead, they went down early in game 7, but pushed the Oilers the rest of the way to earn a 2-1 win and kick the monkey off of their backs. Now the Pacific winning Ducks look to continue their push to a Stanley Cup Final birth.
Anaheim will win if…they put the pressure on the Predators, and don’t play a speed game. The pressure of winning a game 7 should be a weight off the shoulders of this team, and they can use that to put the pressure onto the Predators who have not trailed in either of their series’ so far. Since their 2nd round match up went as long as it did, the Ducks only got one night off, which could help them as that is the usual amount of time off in the playoffs. Their game is to wear you down, physically, and score. They can also play a fast speed game, but that is where the Predators thrive. Look for the Ryan’s (Getzlaf and Kesler) to lean on the top lines and defense of the Predators to wear them down and hopefully slow them enough to be able to play their own game.
PREDICTION – Believe it or not, before the season started I made my predictions for the season on a piece of cardboard at work, like a damned caveman. Some of those predictions have been bad (just like my official playoff bracket), but I had these two teams meeting in the Conference Finals. That aside, these two met in the first round of the playoffs last year in what was a terrific 7 game series that the Predators ended up winning, and they will do the same this time around in what will be a must watch, fast and physical series. Predators in 6