2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Finals Preview
No sweeps and two Game 7’s later, in the 2nd Round, we make it to the Conference Finals and a pretty good one at that. We have the last four Stanley Cup winners facing off against each other. I’d love to know if that’s ever happened before but I don’t have the time to research it. On an interesting note, Jonathan Quick is the only current starting goalie of the four teams that was also the starting goalie for the previous Stanley Cup win, of course that was also last year. Both number 1 seeds are alive and it’s very rare that we have both of them make the Stanley Cup Finals. The early favorite for Conn Smythe would have to be Jonathan Quick, again.
1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 4 Boston Bruins
Season Series: 3-0 Penguins
Playoff Series History: 2-2
What We Learned: The road wasn’t the same to get there, or what anyone expected, but in the end the two best teams in the East made it to the conference finals.
Stars to Watch: Jarome Iginla and Jaromir Jagr were the two big acquisitions by both teams to help get them to this point. Iginla was of course famously almost a Bruin. Let’s see how they’ve done. Jagr has 0 goals, 4 assists and a -2. Iginla has 4 goals, 8 assists and a 0. Advantage Iginla. Jagr is the one under more pressure to produce, even at his age. The big three for the Penguins (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang) and Bruins (David Krejci, Nathan Horton, Zdeno Chara) should still produce at their current paces.
X-Factor: Whose defense has the harder task? Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and the gang will have their hands full with the Penguins potent lines. However, the earlier injuries to their defense enabled them to play their younger defenseman, led by breakout star Torey Krug, and get deeper and more versatile. That combined with their ability to score from the blueline makes the Bruins defense a force to be reckoned with. Also expect Patrice Bergeron to be plenty busy against Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. The Penguins have had their defensive blunders from their defenseman to their forwards. Against the Islanders they gave up a lot of goals and the Bruins have a much deeper team, since their 4th line is sometimes their best line. I expect Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik to log a significant amount of ice time.
Goalie Problem: Tuukka Rask has the worst numbers of the remaining goalies not that it means that much. Rask was the backup to Tim Thomas when the Bruins won. Tomas Vokoun has settled in nicely as the new starting goalie. Vokoun seems to let in his softer goals in the 1st period (6 goals allowed in the 1st, 8 total allowed in 2nd, 3rd, and OT) and gets better as the game goes along. This could because he didn’t play much this season or some other reason.
Fun Fact: Both time the Penguins beat the Bruins was in the Conference Finals when they won back to back cups.
Prediction: Well everyone and their mom will be picking the Penguins to win but not me. I’m going with the Bruins. Why you ask? Because defense wins championships and the Penguins have no clue how to play defense. At times they have been atrocious and honestly since they’ve last won the cup, they haven’t played defense well at all. If the Islanders had a better goalie the Penguins probably would have lost in the 1st round, if the Senators had a few more scorers they would have lost in that round. The Bruins are a complete team, which makes them better and gives them the edge. Bruins in 6 or 7.
1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. 5 Los Angeles Kings
Season Series: 2-1 Blackhawks
Playoff Series History: 1-0 Blackhawks, way back in 1974
What We Learned: The Blackhawks won Game 7, twice, and finally proved they were better than the Ducks this season. The Kings are still riding their mojo from last season.
Stars to Watch: Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown are almost mirror images of each other. Both duos were instrumental when their respective teams last won the cup each finishing 1 and 2 in scoring. A little while later and both aren’t producing on the scoring sheet. Kane and Toews have 3 goals total and Kopitar and Brown are slightly better at 5 total. Granted they all produce in other ways but they aren’t exactly tearing it up and striking fear into opponents.
X-Factor: The Blackhawks and Kings both have deep teams and star laden top two lines but neither has really produced. Jeff Carter and Mike Richards lead the Kings and Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp pace the Blackhawks. Either the top stars continue to struggle (and when I say that I mostly mean the duos mentioned above in Stars to Watch although I do know Carter, Richards, Hossa and Sharp are stars none of them are producing over a point per game) and everyone chips in like they have been or the stars come alive. The latter is unlikely to happen against this goaltending but whoever can wake their duo up will have the advantage.
Goalie Problem: Jonathan Quick, 1st in SV%, and Corey Crawford, 3rd in SV%, have both played really well with hardly any bad goals let in. Crawford is coming off his first Game 7 win, Quick is of course last years Conn Smythe winner. Both should continue to excel and scoring should be comparable to the Sharks and King Series, expect a lot of 2-1 games.
Fun Fact: The Blackhawks don’t have any players above 10th in postseason scoring, the Kings don’t have anyone above 19th.
Prediction: Just like the Penguins are the popular pick in the East the Blackhawks are the popular pick out West, however I’m going to go against the grain again and pick the Kings. The Kings are just on a roll lately when it comes to the postseason. Even when they lose a game, it doesn’t feel like they actually lost the game. The Blackhawks on the other hand when they win it feels like they barely won, sans a couple of games. Plus as much as I like Corey Crawford, Jonathan Quick is the better goalie. Kings in 7.