San Jose versus Chicago
The Pick: Chicago in 7
Outcome: Chicago in 4
The Sharks reverted to form and bowed out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs without winning a game in the Conference finals. A team that had gotten balanced scoring from multiple players suddenly had only one player that could play consistently, and Patrick Marleau was not enough to overcome the potent Blackhawks. Evgeni Nabokov was not bad in net for the Sharks, but neither was he great. He had to be for the Sharks to have a chance to win this series. His counterpart, Hawk netminder Antti Niemi, was amazing. He made some stops that just caused you to say "Wow". The Hawks offense was the usual dangerous and explosive unit, but perhaps the story of this series- and the playoffs- was the emergence of Dustin Byfuglien as an offensive force. The Sharks just could not control the big man and he made them pay with two game winners and in general created havoc in the offensive zone. The Chicago defense did a great job of shutting down the big guns of the Sharks, with the exception of the aforementioned Marleau. Danny Heatley was held without a point in this series. The Hawks, however, were firing on all cylinders in this series.
Philadelphia versus Montreal
The Pick: Philadelphia in 7
Outcome: Philadelphia in 5
The size and physicality of the Flyers was just too much for the Smurfs in the bleu, blanc, and rougue. Philadelphia kept coming at the Habs in waves and and Jaroslav Halak finally cracked under the pressure. On the other end, Michael Leighton continued his storybook run in the playoffs since taking over for the injured
So there you have it, a perfect 2 for 2 in my finals predictions. Proof that even a blind hog occasionally will find an acorn.
So now we are down to two teams vying for the opportunity to hoist Lord Stanley's silver chalice. Without further ado, here is my analysis and prediction:
War. That is the best way to describe how this series will shape up. An all out war. Two teams that bring talent and a physical presence to this matchup. Questions abound about this series. Will Leighton continue his strong play in net and hold off the potent Blackhawk scorers? Can Antti Niemi continue his quality play and handle the pressure of the Cup finals? Can the Flyers contain Dustin Byfuglien? I expect to see the top pairing for the Flyers on the ice against Kane and Toews, but this means that the other D for the Flyers have to step up big time in this series. The challenges that the Hawks present with all their lines means that the Flyers D corp is going to have to play a near perfect series to keep the pressure off Leighton. The Hawks will face a gritty, physical team in the Flyers, and this will be an interesting challenge for their squad. Philly will not hesitate to mix it up, and both teams will have to work to keep their emotions in check.
Behind the benches are two seasoned coaches. The edge goes to Philadelphia with Peter Laviolette having won a cup with the Hurricanes. Don't count out Joel Quenneville, but the slight edge will go to the Flyers in this area.
Both teams are playing with confidence and swagger, and I don't think the Flyers will be affected by the bedlam that will be the United Center. Will the Philadelphia rowdies have an impact on the youngsters on the hawks roster? Probably not.
From a fan's perspective, this will be a fun series to watch. I expect it to go seven games.
My Pick: Chicago in 7
And there you have it, one more set of predictions. Remember, this prediction is for amusement purposes only.