After going seven-for-eight (curse you, Avalanche!) in the divisional semifinals, let’s see how well I do predicting the divisional finals.
Boston Bruins-Montreal Canadiens. For a record-making 34th time these archrivals meet in the playoffs. The Habs won three of four from the Bruins this season, but as the Detroit Red Wings discovered in the division semifinal, holding the advantage in the regular season series means squat come playoff time. The Bruins won the last two postseason series between these two.
Based on how the Canadiens’ speed tends to frustrate the Bruins and how quickly they dispatched the Tampa Bay Lightning in their opening-round series, some Montreal fans and pundits believe “something special” is happening this spring with the Habs. It’s a fanciful dream. The Bruins are bigger, stronger and deeper in talent, and in recent years they seem to find an extra gear come playoff time. While Carey Price has had a solid season between the pipes for Montreal, Boston’s Tuukka Rask has better numbers and is a Vezina nominee. This could go the distance but the Bruins will prevail in seven.
Pittsburgh Penguins – New York Rangers. This should be an interesting matchup. The talent-laden Penguins struggled to eliminate the Columbus Blue Jackets in their opening-round series, while the Rangers were pushed to the limit to beat the Philadelphia Flyers in their divisional semifinal. These two split their regular season series 2-2.
On paper the Penguins seem to have the advantage here, but there’s still questions about the goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury. Their defensive issues against the Jackets were a troubling sign. The Rangers, meanwhile, got solid netminding from Henrik Lundqvist against the Flyers, and he could make the difference in this series. The Rangers also seem to have a better work ethic. Both teams also have top scorers (Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, the Rangers’ Rick Nash) who haven’t found the back of the net yet. Ultimately, it’s the goaltending which should make the difference, and that gives the Blueshirts the advantage. I’ll say Rangers in six.
Chicago Blackhawks – Minnesota Wild. It’s a rematch of their opening-round series from last season. The Wild needed seven games to eliminate the Colorado Avalanche in the opening round, while the Blackhawks rallied from a 2-0 deficit to bounce the St. Louis Blues in six games. The Wild took the regular season series 3-2.
The Wild are a year older, wiser and more talented than they were a year ago, and should give the Blackhawks a tough go. Still, there’s some questions about their goaltending, as rookie Darcy Kuemper battles injury while backup Ilya Bryzgalov has consistency issues. The Wild have more offense than they did a year ago, but the Blackhawks have the clear advantage in this department. Led by Jonathan Toew, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, the defending champs have the overall depth to overpower the Wild. Go with the Blackhawks in six games.
Anaheim Ducks – Los Angeles Kings. It’s the Battle of California version 2.0, as for the first time the Ducks and Kings will meet in the playoffs. The Ducks won four out of five games from the Kings during the regular season, and needed six games to eliminate the upstart Dallas Stars in the opening round. The Kings, meanwhile, come into this series on a huge high, becoming only the fourth team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit to win a best-of-seven series, upsetting the San Jose Sharks.
Given the geography this could be an intense series. The Kings appear to have an advantage given the psychological lift from their previous series plus the improved goaltending of Jonathan Quick. The Ducks, meanwhile, could have a bit of a goalie controversy on their hands with Frederik Andersen taking over the starter’s role from Jonas Hiller, though the latter had to twice spell off Andersen when he struggled against the Stars. That being said, I think the Ducks should have a depth advantage here when it comes to offense. While the Kings rally against the Sharks was impressive, it also displayed some weakness in their roster, especially on defense. That’s why I’m predicting the Ducks in five.