Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Conference Finals Review and Stanley Cup Prediction

The View was a dismal 0-fer on his conference final predictions as both the Penguins and the Kings took it on the chin. Let's take a look at what I predicted and what actually happened.

Western Conference

Los Angeles vs. Chicago

Prediction: Kings in 7

Reality:       Blackhawks in 5

The Kings wanted to make this a physical series and wear down the Blackhawks. The problem for the Kings was the speed of the Blackhawks didn't allow them to play an effective physical game. The Hawks used their speed to open up the ice and have a decided advantage in puck possession time. The Kings were also missing Mike Richards for most of the series and it had a significant impact on their offensive production. While the Hawks stellar defensive tandem of Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith played their usual solid game, the play of Nik Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya logged big minutes and played superbly. Bryan Bickell continued his breakout playoff run and it appeared that Patrick Kane was finding his scoring touch again. All this meant that the Kings had to have superb goaltending from Jonathan Quick and balanced scoring throughout their line up. They got neither, as Quick looked pedestrian and the forwards for the Kings struggled to find consistency and get shots on net. There is no denying that the Hawks bring an explosive offense and great speed to the ice. After two very physical series with St. Louis and San Jose, the Kings could not adjust their game to match the Hawks.

Eastern Conference

Boston vs. Pittsburgh

Prediction: Penguins in 7

Reality:      Bruins in 4

Wow! I certainly didn't see this one coming. Much like the Hawks/Kings, this was a matchup of the speed and skill of the Penguins against the defensive prowess of the Bruins, and I figured this one would turn for the speed and skill of the Pens. Instead, the Bruins absolutely stymied the big guns of the Penguins, allowing only 2 goals in the 4 games. The first two contests were not really much of a contest as the Bruins ripped the heart out of the Penguins on their home ice with two convincing wins. The Bruins speed was not much different than the Penguins, and that allowed them to slow the Pens rush through the neutral zone. Once inside their defensive zone, the Bruins absolutely shut down the Penguins offense and Tuuka Rask was spectacular in net, making some great saves and cleaning up shot that got through. Rask seemed to be calm and very relaxed, with the defense in front of him, it was no wonder. The Penguins just could not get their offense going, and they were not helped in the defensive end as the Bruins exposed a suspect blue line and poured shots in on Tomas Vokoun in the Pens net. Vokoun was not bad, but if the Penguins were going to win this series, he had to be nearly perfect. he wasn't, the Pens defense offered little help, and the offense never got untracked. Not a formula to win a series against a veteran team like the Bruins.

So after that rather bleak round of predictions, it's on the to the Stanley Cup finals, and bleak predictions notwithstanding, the View is ready to offer his opinion on who will hoist Lord Stanley's hallowed chalice.

Here is the analysis and the fearless prediction:

There is no doubt that the Blackhawks will continue to stick to their game plan- speed opening up the ice and skill creating scoring opportunities. Why not? It has been very successful to this point and there is no reason to think that it will not work in the championship series. The Boston Bruins have relied on a total team effort on both ends of the ice, with the forwards heavily involved in the defensive effort and assisting the defenders in slowing down the other team through the neutral zone and limiting space in the defensive zone. The Bruins will be challenged by the speed of the Hawks, who can take a defensive miscue and exploit it for a score. If the Bruins cannot handle the Hawks speed, the series could be over quickly.

By contrast, the Hawks series with the Detroit Red Wings showed the Bruins how to win this series. Physical play that gets the Hawks off their game and frustrates them will be the goal of the Bruins. In so doing, the Bruins hope to goad the Hawks into penalties and take them off their game. If this happens, the Bruins have the offensive capabilities to put the puck in the net.

Both teams will have to have exceptional play from their netminders. Tuuka Rask is have a breakout run through the playoffs, and Corey Crawford has been consistently solid. It could come down to which goaltender blinks first in this series, and at the moment, neither has shown that the pressure bothers them.

So this series will be decided by which team can make life the most miserable for the other with physical play, pressure in the offensive zone, and capitalizing on their opportunities. Frankly, you can find little to point to as a glaring weakness for either squad.

The edge in this series, in my view, will be the depth and talent of the Bruins. Look for their third and fourth lines to contribute in a big way during these games, and they will be the deciding factor.

Prediction:  Boston in 7

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