Conference Finals : 2016 Stanley Cup Predictions
If you were excited to see two Game 7’s in Round 2, you were definitely left disappointed by the two blowout wins by the Blues and Sharks (Unless you’re a fan of one of those teams). Dallas and Nashville were sent packing and St. Louis and San Jose advanced to the Conference Finals in two of the least suspenseful Game 7’s in recent memory. The good news is that you can expect the intensity to ramp up even more, starting today. Each of the remaining teams are now one series away from competing for the Stanley Cup.
NHL Eastern Conference Finals
This series is going to be fast. Real fast. If we are lucky we will get seven of these games. If we are even luckier, Steven Stamkos will return and we will get to see two of the league’s top centerman go head-to-head. The last time the Lightning and Penguins met in the playoffs was in 2011 when Tampa Bay overcame a 3-1 series deficit to defeat Pittsburgh in seven games. One major key to that series? Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin didn’t play. This time around, Pittsburgh will have their two stars. Crosby has been playing at the level that we all expect from him, and at the right time. If Stamkos can’t suit up for this series, it could have a big impact. The Penguins have a handful of forwards that can cause nightmares for many defenseman and a strong, veteran center like Stamkos can help to relieve some of the pressure put on the defense. Victor Hedman may be the perfect guy for the job right now. He has been evolving into one of the most reliable and talented defenseman in the NHL. It was actually Hedman who knocked Crosby out of the 2010-2011 season with a concussion. Another question is, can Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray keep up the pace that he is on? And an even bigger question: If Murray has a down game, will the Penguins make the move back to Marc-Andre Fleury? There are so many question marks in this series that it almost impossible to make a confident pick, but here it is.
Prediction: Tampa proves to be a tougher test than Washington, but Pittsburgh wins in seven games.
NHL Western Conference Finals
We all thought that these two teams were in for knock-down, drag-out, typically-brutal Game 7s in Round 2 but they both waltzed into the Western Conference Finals in convincing fashion. St. Louis blew the doors off of Dallas, 6-1. Then last night, San Jose piled it on Nashville in a 5-0 shutout. One interesting thing to note here is that the visiting team won each of the three games that were played between these two teams this season, with San Jose winning two of those. In my opinion, this series is going to be decided in the first couple games. If St. Louis comes out of the gate and tries to feel San Jose out, the Sharks offense should capitalize. San Jose has scored four or more goals in five of twelve postseason games, so St. Louis needs to match their offensive pressure from the first puck-drop. San Jose was also lucky enough to win a five game series against Los Angeles in the Round 1, giving their veterans some downtime between series. St. Louis has battled through two seven-game series on their way to the Conference Finals. So which will be more beneficial? The Blues Game 7 experience, or the Sharks rest after the first round? It’s very tough to say.
Prediction: San Jose’s veterans take the final step to the Finals and beat St. Louis in six games.
If things turn out this way, we will have a Stanley Cup Finals matchup that that places the Pittsburgh Penguins back into the Stanley Cup Finals since 2009 when they beat the Detroit Red Wings. The Sharks would be playing for the Stanley Cup for the first time in their franchise’s history despite making the NHL Playoffs in ten of the last eleven seasons. Check back in after the Conference Finals for our predictions of the Stanley Cup Finals. Hopefully this round goes more like our Round 2 predictions than Round 1.