2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Finals Preview
On to the Conference Finals of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. Which sets up a years in the making potential classic in the West. And in the East, well you have an interesting Rangers team against a very well rounded Lightning team. In the end, I believe, the four best teams made it to the final four. In the 2nd round we had a series end in 4, 5, 6 and 7 games. For those who care, I went 4 for 4 in the 2nd round. On to the breakdown and predictions.
M1 New York Rangers vs. A2 Tampa Lightning
Season Series: 3-0 Lightning
Playoff Series History: None
What We Learned: The Lightning have grown up a lot in their first two rounds. The Rangers like playing close game so much that they have all be one goal games.
Stars to Watch: Steven Stamkos started scoring after the line change. I think he’ll kick it up another notch in this series. Tyler Johnson will be his usual entertaining self and seemingly always at the right spot at the right time. Nikita Kucherov rounds out the big three in Tampa that all have at least 10 playoff points. Derek Stepan and Derick Brassard are the only two Rangers in the top 20 in playoff scoring. The Rangers don’t really score a lot and it’s more by committee. Conspicuous with his playoff absence, Martin St. Louis has only four points and no goals so far. And now he goes against his former team who he demanded a trade from. No pressure or anything. Ryan Callahan also goes against his former team fresh off an appendectomy.
X-Factor: Now is when the grind of long recent playoff runs should kick in as fatigue for the Rangers or so you would think. Tampa Bay is the second youngest team in the NHL and the Rangers are one of the oldest. Defensively, both teams have defenseman that don’t get as much credit as they deserve. It’ll be Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman for the Lightning and Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh for the Rangers as the top pairs trying to wear down the forwards.
Goalie Problem: Ben Bishop had a few what the hell was that moments in goal with two goals that went through his glove and one he batted in backwards into his own net with his stick. He also had a few interesting puck handling mishaps but, despite that, he’s played a good game and bested the best goalie this year, Carey Price. Henrik Lundqvist has been his usual rock solid self. But he hasn’t faced as good of an offensive challenge as he will against the Lightning.
Fun Fact: The Lightning were 11-1 in the regular season against the teams they are playing in the playoffs so far. The Rangers have played in 14 consecutive one goal games in the playoffs, going back to last years playoffs.
Prediction: These games could be many things. A blowout, a tight high scoring game or a tight low scoring. I’m thinking we will get a lot of 3-2 games. The Rangers are a team where the sum of the players is much greater than the players individually. I’m always impressed they make it as far as they do. The Lightning have grown up a lot in a short time and have a lot of talented offensive lines they can throw at you. Both coaches are top notch to boot. But at some point skill just wins out. The Lightning have more than the Rangers and more importantly they can score. Lightning in 7.
P1 Anaheim Ducks vs. C3 Chicago Blackhawks
Season Series: 2-1 Blackhawks
Playoff Series History: None
What We Learned: The Ducks are finally living up to their potential, the Blackhawks have made it to their 5th conference final in seven years.
Stars to Watch: Olympic teammates Ryan Getzlaf and Jonathan Toews will go head to head. This should be a real fun match-up. I think Getzlaf doesn’t get enough credit for his defensive work. High scoring wingers Corey Perry and Patrick Kane will also go against each other. Although they won’t actually guard each other, they will be on the ice at the same time for stretches, and they will both be the primary goal scorer for their team. Jakob Silfverberg has raised his game for the Ducks in the playoffs and he will key in this series, along with Ryan Kesler who will probably end up on Toews a lot. The Blackhawks counter with Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. Hossa still only has one goal, which is odd.
X-Factor: Defense, defense, defense. Did I mention defense? Both of these teams will score goals. So the question is, who will defend better? Not turning it over, keeping track of when penalties expire and defending after a face-off will all be key. What their defense provides offensively will also be key. Sami Vatanen, Hampus Lindholm and Francois Beauchemin have all contributed big goals from the blueline. The Ducks are a lot younger defensively bu they haven’t really shown it. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will log their major minutes for the Blackhawks. Keith has cooled a bit but he’s still vitally important. The Ducks have a lot of big bodies that like to grind and cycle so the Blackhawks will probably end up tired.
Goalie Problem: Frederik Andersen has played better than expected so far in the playoffs. He was money a lot against the Flames. More importantly he’s played well enough to keep Coach Boudreau from firing up the goalie carousel. Corey Crawford has had an interesting playoff run but he’s settled down and gotten into a groove since his bad games against the Predators. Expect a high scoring series but the goaltending won’t be bad. I expect a few saves that will dazzle.
Fun Fact: Both of these teams have three players in the top 10 in playoff scoring. The Ducks have the playoffs top powerplay and the Blackhawks are tied for the lead in playoff shorthanded goals.
Prediction: If you liked the Kings vs Blackhawks last playoffs, there’s no reason you won’t like this series. I think it will be just as close and the level of play just as good. Realistically, the Blackhawks have more experience and more skilled players than the Ducks. However, the skill level isn’t that far off and the Ducks have been so close the last few seasons. This season, the Ducks just seem different in a lot of respects. They’ve learned from their past playoff failures but, more importantly, they know how to play a complete game. Coaching is a concern as I don’t think Bruce Boudreau is that of a coach. Joel Quenneville is so the Blackhawks have that advantage. Still, you just get a sense it’s the Ducks’ year and they need to atone for previous Game 7 home losses. Ducks in 7, in a classic.