FINALLY we have a final four in the NHL. Chicago and Anaheim have been patiently waiting for the Rangers-Capitals series to end, and now it finally has. Quite a comeback by New York against a very good Washington team.
On to the predictions.
With the Rangers coming off a seven game series and Tampa Bay coming off a grueling six gamer, it’s safe to assume each team is probably dealing with some undisclosed injuries. And, it goes without saying each team could use some rest. All that aside, however, this should be a good series. New York is playing some excellent team defense this postseason while also receiving more great goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist. Against a fast team like Tampa, the Rangers are going to need that defense and goaltending to continue while also trying to clog the neutral zone.
As for the Lightning, it will be interesting to see if their overall inexperience in late playoff series will become a factor. Only two players (Stamkos and Hedman) remain from the 2011 team that lost in seven games to the Bruins in the ECF. One of the guys I just mentioned, a certain number 91, picked up a huge goal in Game 6 against Montreal. If he is beginning to heat up, that will be huge for the Lightning. I don’t see them beating New York without Stamkos being effective. The same goes for their goalie, Ben Bishop.
All in all, I’m expecting a lengthy series here. In the end, however, I think the Rangers are the deeper team with more big game experience.
-New York wins series, 4-2.
Unlike the two teams in the other Conference Final series, the Blackhawks and Ducks come into this one as the two most rested teams remaining. The Ducks have played just nine games this postseason, while the Hawks have played ten. The last time the Blackhawks played was May 7th, and there might not be a team who needed the time off more than them. Their top four defensemen have had to log big minutes through the first two rounds, and they will play even more now that Michal Rozsival is done for the year. They will need more solid defense and continued stellar goaltending in this matchup. Also, their stars need to continue being just that, while also getting production from all four lines like they did in the first two rounds.
The Ducks have two of the game’s best players in Perry and Getzlaf, and if they aren’t producing against Chicago, Anaheim will be in trouble. They have four good lines, but they haven’t gotten the production from them that they would have liked so far. The Ducks lucked out by getting the easiest schedule through the first two rounds, and I am anxious to see how they respond to an elite team like the Hawks. Their defense will be heavily tested, as will Frederik Andersen. Like Perry and Getzlaf, unless Andersen is very good, the Ducks could be in trouble.
Depth, team defense, and late playoff experience will decide this series. As I said in the series preview post regarding these two teams, Chicago has the edge in all three of those categories.
-Chicago wins series, 4-2.