Stanley Cup Final Predictions
The conference finals in the NHL playoffs are finally set. The St. Louis Blues eliminated the Dallas Stars in seven games, and the San Jose Sharks also went the distance against the Nashville Predators, and so now the Blues and Sharks will face off for the Western Conference title — and the Clarence Campbell Bowl. If the Blues win, they will be in the first Stanley Cup Final in 46 years. The Sharks have never made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
In the East, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins will be battling for the Prince of Wales Trophy (Yes, the two conferences used to be called the Campbell Conference and the Prince of Wales Conference). The Lightning advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, and the Penguins were in the East finals in 2013. The Penguins are the only remaining team that has a championship in the last ten years. Find the latest NHL live odds here.
Stanley Cup Final Predictions
Blues or Sharks?
Because of the way the NHL runs its playoffs now, with seeding driven by division standings except for the wild cards, the Sharks had an easier conference semifinal than they would in a league where the seeding was driven by records. The Predators would have faced Dallas, and St. Louis would have had San Jose in the second round. The Blues have won seven-game series against the Stars and the Blackhawks, and those were probably the three best teams in the West. So now they get a San Jose team that does not have the same chops as the opponents that the Blues have already faced.
It’s true that the Sharks have a lot of foot speed. But so do Chicago and Dallas, and all the Blues had to do was wait for the Blackhawks and Stars to make crucial mistakes, and the Blackhawks and Stars made enough mistakes for the Blues to capitalize and score goals. It also helped that the Stars had a pair of goalies who can’t stand on their heads in back to back games. The Sharks will have Steve Mason in goal, and while he played outstanding hockey against the Kings in the first round, he was average in the second round against Nashville. The Blues have Brian Elliott, who has been great in the first two rounds (except in Game 6 against Dallas, when he got pulled after yielding three shots in the first seven Dallas shots).
So while I like what the Sharks have done, the Blues are playing on another level right now. I’m predicting St. Louis in five.
Lightning or Penguins?
The Lightning feature the best playoff goaltender in the NHL right now in Ben Bishop. However, the Penguins have knocked out one playoff legend in goal (Henrik Lundqvist) and another solid netminder (Braden Holtby). They use a mad rush on offense to push the opposition back and then spend all sorts of time in their attack zone. The Lightning rely on solid defense to move forward, but they will have a hard time working through the Pittsburgh pressure. The Lightning are a faster team than the Rangers or Capitals are, so the Penguins could get caught making some mistakes that New York and Washington lacked the speed to exploit. However, the Penguins have four solid scoring lines.
Defenseman Anton Stralman and/or captain Steven Stamkos could return for the Lightning in this series, but Victor Hedman has already been terrific with his scoring. The Lightning still have the playoff memory of getting just to the edge of Stanley Cup glory last year, so that hunger should also be a factor.
I like the Lightning pedigree, but I don’t think they can keep up with the Pittsburgh maelstrom. I’m predicting Pittsburgh in six.