May 142011
 

Eastern Conference Final

Boston (2) vs Tampa Bay (5)
Season Series: Boston (3-1)

What we learned in Round 2

Boston: There is offense to be found in the Bruin attack. It’s name is David Krejci. Also, that Boston remains an incredibly difficult opponent to generate offense against. Tim Thomas is lurking in the Conn Smyth Trophy weeds.

Tampa Bay: That the team’s 1-3-1 style has effectively neutralized their greatest weakness – a lack of defensive mobility. This Lightning team is playing as well as Montreal defensively right now, but they have the game-breakers the Habs lack to take advantage offensively. Tampa Bay was the most impressive team in the second round.

Pertinent Questions

Boston: Can this team get to the Cup final without their most important forward, Patrice Bergeron? A concussion has knocked him out of the lineup, meaning the Bruins head into the Conference Finals with little skill at centre beyond Krejci. Bergeron will be replaced by Tyler Seguin, and Boston will need him to make a powerplay impact. Success for the rookie is by no means guaranteed.

Tampa Bay: Has all momentum been lost after a 10-day layoff? This team hasn’t played since May 4th. At the time, the Lightning were firing on all cylinders. Dwayne Roloson had turned himself into Johnny Bower 2.0; the defense was holding together and offensively the team was getting contributions from three lines. It will be interesting to see if Tampa Bay can find their game again quickly.

Key Injuries

It’s unclear if Boston’s Bergeron will return at all from his concussion. Tampa expects Simon Gagne (concussion) to start Game 1.

Quick Decisions

Coaching: Tampa Bay. (Guy Boucher put on a clinic on and off-ice against the Capitals in round 2. His post-game comments (specifically portraying the Lightning as underdogs) were masterful, while his gameplay completely neutralized Washington’s attack.)

Goaltending: Boston. (Close thanks to Roloson’s terrific play this post-season. However, the Tampa goalie is a mess when he plays the puck.)

Defense: Boston. (Both teams rely a lot on their top-two pairings. Chara rebounded with an excellent second round against Philly. He’s the best defensemen in the series. However, Eric Brewer is playing the best hockey of his life right now. Again it’s close.)

Scoring: Tampa Bay. (Even if the clock strikes midnight on the scoring exploits of Sean Bergenheim, Steve Downie and Teddy Purcell, the likes of Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Steve Stamkos are better than anything Boston can counter with.)

Special Teams: Tampa Bay. (The Lightning have had excellent special teams all year. While Boston’s powerplay scored twice against the Flyers, it’s still painful to watch.)

Prediction

Boston in 6

*****

Western Conference Final

Vancouver (1) vs. San Jose (2)
Season Series: Vancouver (3-1)

What we learned in round 2

Vancouver: That the argument that Ryan Kesler should be a Hart Trophy candidate holds water and that pre-season talk of him being the team captain was also pretty astute. Two rounds into the post-season, he’s the most important skater on the team. While this was learned long ago, Roberto Luongo’s still prone to crippling mental lapses.

San Jose: That there remains a lot of misinformation about this group being chokers out there. This makes it back-to-back final four appearances for San Jose. Joe Thornton seems to have gone to the Steve Yzerman school of leadership, as his career and reputation mirrors that of the former Red Wings captain before Detroit’s 1997 Cup victory. Thornton was the best player on the ice for most of Game 7 against Detroit.

Pertinent Questions

Vancouver: It’s been the pertinent question the entire post-season – where will the secondary scoring come from? Kesler was in on 11 of the 14 goals Vancouver scored in the second round. If that happens again, the Canucks likely lose this series. The Sedins especially have to find their way on the scoresheet.

San Jose: How much longer can AnttiNiemi backstop his team’s to victory? The win versus Detroit makes it six straight playoff round victories for the unorthodox goalie. Incredibly out of position at times, he’s earning himself a Fuhr-esque reputation for letting in soft goals, but shutting the door when it counts. On paper though the Canucks are the most talented offensive team he has faced in this post-season.

Key Injuries

Vancouver’s Mikael Samuelsson hasn’t had a great post-season, and he’s questionable for Game 1 with a leg injury. Ryan Clowe got his bell rung in the Detroit series, and will play the Conference Final injured for the Sharks. That’s a break for the Canucks.

Quick Decisions

Coaching: San Jose. (That’s two straight playoff victories against Mike Babcock for the Sharks’ Todd Mclellan. Hard to credit Vigneault for winning the Nashville series, since Barry Trotz and the Predators dictated how the games were played.)

Goaltending: Even. (Both goalies are frustratingly inconsistent. Luongo has the higher ceiling of ability but Niemi has previous post-season success in his favour.)

Defense: Vancouver. (Dan Boyle is the best defenseman in the series but the Canucks blueline is a lot deeper. This might be the biggest advantage Vancouver has in the series.)

Scoring: San Jose. (This should be even, but the Canucks really struggled on the attack against Nashvile. San Jose’s three lines can really forecheck and create scoring chances.)

Special Teams: Vancouver. (San Jose’s penalty kill was good for most of the series against Detroit, great in Game 7. Their powerplay however has disappointed all spring. Vancouver’s been solid in both areas, however they’ve struggled with the man advantage at home, scoring just a single goal so far.)

Prediction

San Jose in 6 (Editor’s note: Anyone want to bet Tom on this? – J.J.)

*****

Now a word for the dearly departed:

Detroit Red Wings: Injuries to the team’s best players seemed to catch up to the Red Wings, especially when the team’s “young guns,” particularly Jiri Hudler and Valtteri Filppula, struggled with consistency. Most of the talk this off-season will revolve around Nick Lidstrom’s future, but after the season he had, it’s tough to see him walk away at this point. Injecting some youth into the defense will probably be the team’s priority. However, the team’s offensive stars aren’t getting any younger either. The heart was willing against San Jose, but the ability of the Red Wings franchise these days seems to be in slow decline.

Nashville Predators: It’s quite simple – if the Predators had had just one consistent, B-level offensive player in their lineup, the Canucks series would have gone seven games. In fact, the series result itself may have been different. That’s how well Nashville played against Vancouver. If the Music City team can find a scoring forward, this team could be top-4 in the Conference next year. Resigning Shea Weber is also a must.

Philadelphia Flyers: LIke the Red Wings, injuries, particularly the loss of Chris Pronger, handicapped the Flyers in round two. Yes, team goaltending is the hot-button issue, but without Pronger the Flyers defense was nothing but average. Expect the Flyers to tinker on the back-end, and roll into 2011-12 committed to Sergei Bobrovsky as their number one goalie.

Washington Capitals: Surprising to see how gleeful some folks were to see the Capitals knocked out of the second round. The Capitals are a team at the crossroads, and it’s clear their core group of players aren’t good enough to get the franchise to the next level. Nick Backstrom was awful this post-season, while Alex Semin has been bad two playoffs in a row. Alex Ovechkin has not made any adjustments to his game to
make himself more difficult to defend against. Mike Green has been the team’s worst defender in back-to-back playoffs. One of these players wont be back. Expect Green to be dealt, since there’s more demand for offensive defensemen than one-shot scoring wingers (Semin).

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