Eastern Conference: (3) Boston Bruins vs. (5) Tampa Bay Lightning
The battle of the old bearded men. Raise your hand if you thought two 35+ year old goalies were going to be starting in the Eastern Conference finals. Aaaaand keep those hands down! Both Dwayne Roloson and Tim Thomas have been spectacular in leading their teams thus far. Beating Roloson hasn’t been easy this postseason and Boston will certainly have to take advantage of their power plays in this series. Mired in a terrible slump which has lingered through multiple series’, special teams will be an even bigger factor in this series.
Meanwhile, Tampa’s offense is red hot and Tim Thomas will have to be on alert. Playoff experience can never be overlooked and it’s no surprise Tampa’s cup veterans, Lecavlier and St. Louis, have turned it up a notch and help carry the team forward. Boston does have home ice advantage in this series, but based on this year’s playoffs that might not mean so much after all. One topic that has seemed to go unnoticed so far is where in the world is Tomas Kaberle? The prized d-man acquired from Toronto has been a dud and has been invisible for most of the playoffs. Boston will need Kaberle to step up his game and finally play like the all star that he is if they have any hopes this round
Verdict: Tampa Bay in 5. Tampa is steam rolling anything and everything in its path right now and it’s hard to see Boston putting up too much of a fight. With the offense firing on all cylinders, Tim Thomas can only do so much.
Western Conference: (1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (2) San Jose Sharks
Finally, the series that everyone has been waiting for. The Western Conference has been home to the most exciting matchups thus far and this series just might top them all. Arguably two of the more maligned franchises in the NHL when it comes to postseason success, a chance to re-write a playoff choker label is on the line. The key matchup in the series will be Ryan Kesler (the “American Ryan Kesler” as Versus likes to shove down your throat vs. “Jumbo” Joe Thornton. Kesler has taken his game to another level this year and has continued his impressive play into the playoffs. Thornton has become a man possessed this postseason, finally living up to his nickname of “Jumbo Joe” and becoming the intimidating two way presence everyone has been waiting to see.
This series will ultimately come down to special teams, which can’t be good news for the Canucks. Being one of the more heavily penalized teams in the regular season, that trend has continued in the playoffs. The Sharks power play, though enigmatic, is not a unit that you want to give very many opportunities to. What might be more impressive is the Sharks penalty kill success in the last round against Detroit. If they can carry that forward against Vancouver’s dangerous power play, the Sharks will still be playing come June.
Verdict: San Jose in 7. With the mojo the Sharks have been running with in this year’s playoffs ( 5 OT wins, taking out the mighty Red Wings in arguably one of the best postseason series’ of all time), they’re a far cry from the playoff chokers we’ve come to love.