After a couple of weeks of the twists and turns in this year's NHL playoffs, we have finally come to the Conference Title games. In the Eastern Conference, we have the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins looking for a repeat trip to the Stanley Cup final when they take on the Ottawa Senators. In the Western Conference, we have a surprise team in the Nashville Predators (I'll explain later) taking on the Anaheim Ducks. Let me begin with the Eastern Conference.
Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins.
This is Ottawa's first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 10 years and showcase a standout player/coach combo in Karlsson-Boucher. To get to the final, they had to overcome the New York Rangers, which was not an easy feat given the Rangers' experienced goalie Henrik Lundqvist. The Penguins are making a return trip to the Eastern Conference Finals after dispatching the Ovechkin-lead Capitals in a series which the Caps seemed to have locked up heading into a winner-takes-all game seven on Wednesday. Missing a couple of key players in Hagalin and Daley, and after blowing a lead in game 5 and a virtual no-show in a game 6 home game, the Penguins looked as though they would be taking an early exist from playoff contention. To everyone's surprise, including yours truly, the Penguins came out and played probably their best, most complete game of the whole playoffs so far and defeated the Caps by shutting them out 2-0. The Pens are a banged up team and are severely lacking in some key statistics such as being outshot almost 2-1 in every game, but they still find ways to win games and win a series. Mike Sullivan's "just play" approach seems to be working for this team. Ottawa will not be an easy obstacle to overcome, but I do like the Penguins to advance to the Stanley Cup final, and I see this going at least 6 or 7 games.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators
The Predators seem to be the surprise of the Western Conference, especially with the way they man-handled the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in a series sweep of epic proportions. The Ducks overcame a surging Edmonton Oilers team to advance to the Western Conference Final; many had picked the Oilers to represent the West in the Stanley Cup final. This could be an intriguing series to watch, but I look for the Predators to pull this one out in 6 games.
Those are my picks. Granted, I don't follow the West as much as I do the East; hence the lack of information surrounding each of those teams.
There you have it. Predict, discuss, and enjoy the Conference Finals!! That said, GO PENS!!
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