LIGHTNING STRIKES AGAIN

2011 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS PREVIEW

ROUND 3

 

It just doesn’t quit – the unpredictable becomes reality.  Who could have possibly predicted a double sweep in the Eastern Conference?  We almost had three of the four second round series end in a sweep, until Detroit woke up in Game 4.  We thought Vancouver would be one and done in five, but then Nashville decided they wanted one more home game.

Last season, Philadelphia became only the 3rd team in NHL history to win a series after being down 0-3.  This year, it almost happened a 4th time in the first round between Vancouver and Chicago, and again in the second round between San Jose and Detroit.  It was only the 8th time a team down 0-3 ever came back to even force a Game 7, never mind win the series.

It seems to me the only thing I can properly predict is my Eastern Conference Dark Horse.  Or can I?  We’re about to find out.

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL

Boston Bruins vs Tampa Bay Lightning

Tagline: You’ve heard of the Boston Tea Party?  That’s why they drink coffee!  (It doesn’t say “Boston Brewin’” along the boards at center ice for nothing!)

Headliner: You want a goaltender duel?  You got it.

How they got here: Both teams swept through their opponents in surprising, yet convincing fashion – Tampa Bay over Washington, and Boston over Philadelphia in 4 games

Impressed with: Boston – Nathan Horton; Tampa Bay – Sean Bergenheim

Need to see more from: Boston – Tomas Kaberle; Tampa Bay – Mike Lundin

Boston wins if: They can get Patrice Bergeron back in their lineup.  OK, so they have a pretty good guy between the pipes in Tim Thomas, but I don’t like their chances against this explosive Tampa offense if they can’t win any face offs.  The Bergeron line has been the one doing most of the damage throughout the playoffs.  Chris Kelly is supposed to move up and while he can more than likely fit the role nicely, he isn’t Bergeron.  I know Zdeno Chara was fighting off dehydration early on, but even by his own admission, he needs to step it up if the Bruins want to make it to the Finals for the first time since 1990.  I think Game 4 against Philadelphia was the first time I actually noticed he was on the ice.  And for crying out loud, Tomas Kaberle, will you shoot the puck already please!?

Tampa Bay wins if:  They keep the momentum going.  Aside from Detroit, there hasn’t been a team impress me more than the Lightning.  They are firing on all cylinders, and all of their lines and defensive pairings have bought in to Guy Boucher’s system.  I mean, seriously, who would have expected Sean Bergenheim would be the team’s top scorer?  Dwayne Roloson looks like a goaltender on a mission, and at 41, he probably won’t get too many more opportunities.  Since leaving St. Louis, Eric Brewer looks like a new player.   I guess getting a vote of confidence from Steve Yzerman helps.   Even the fourth line centered by Nate Thompson is chipping in, and at key times.  I just really like the Bolts to come out of the East.  Sorry Boston, right or wrong, I have to stick with my dark horse prediction here.

Prediction: Lightning in 7

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL

Vancouver Canucks vs San Jose Sharks

Tagline: If a Shark bites off an Orca’s tail, will it grow back?

Headliner: In their first Conference Final since 1994, the Vancouver Canucks, in their 40th year of existence, are looking for just their 3rd ever finals appearance, while San Jose, in their 20th year, are still looking for their 1st trip to the final round.

How we got here: Vancouver eliminated Nashville in 6 games; while San Jose-Detroit went the distance, with the Sharks finally prevailing in 7

Impressed with: Vancouver – Ryan Kesler; San Jose – Logan Couture

Need to see more from: Vancouver – The rest of the team, yes, even Roberto Luongo; San Jose – Scott Nichol

Vancouver wins if: They can bring their game to the level that won Games 1 and 7 against Chicago in the first round and sustain that throughout this best of 7 series.  Allowing Ryan Kesler to be “the guy” may have worked against Nashville, but it is not going to work if the Canucks want to win a Stanley Cup.

San Jose wins if: They can forget about the past and play for now.  The Canucks are not the Kings or the Red Wings.  Stick with the game plan, and the Sharks can finally enter unchartered waters.  Spread out the offense more, don’t expect Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi to do all the work.  As for Antti Niemi, no more subpar efforts, we need to see the Niemi from one year ago.  The effort put forth in Games 6 and 7 will suffice.

Prediction: Sharks in 6

 

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