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Friday, 15 May 2015

NHL'S #FINAL4 Hit The Ice
The Conference Finals start this weekend...closing in on the Cup


Well, #TwineTime sure seemed dead on with second round predictions wouldn't you say?  Ok, yes the Rangers came back with the improbable Game 7 win but I did say that series would go the distance...just figured a different result.  The rest of Round 2 was mostly a bore, as I expected.  Two quick series out West and Tampa completely dominating Montreal out East.  In fact, if we want to get even more specific, #TwineTime accurately projected a Ducks win in 5 and a Bolts victory in 6.  How do you like that?  Maybe I should start putting money on this?

After two rounds of playoffs, I have a prediction record of 8 - 4 with the East and West sitting at 4 - 2.  So not the most impressive winning percentage out there but not embarrassing myself in front of my loyal readers either. 

Now we enter Championship Finals territory.  Teams battle all season and this is really the round you hate to be eliminated in the most.  Fighting through two round of playoffs only to have your dream of playing in a Stanley Cup final dashed right before the finish line.  Hockey fans will be in for a treat though with these two match ups.  And there won't be a shortage of all-star players to cheer for!

Bring on the Stanley Cup #Final4....

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(1) New York Rangers vs. (2) Tampa Bay Lightning

The Presidents Cup winning Rangers are on a roll right now.  Coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the Capitals will provide a ton of momentum in that dressing room.  In typical Caps playoff history fashion, Ovi and the boys couldn't put the nail in the Blue Shirts coffin.  The Rangers were impressive in those final 3 elimination games and looked to have finally found their groove.  They struggled against the Pens in the opening round but had enough to eliminate them even without playing their best hockey.  They looked prone to the upset (as I expected) in the opening 4 games vs. Washington and it appears a return trip to the Conference Finals were not to play out on this Broadway stage.  But like any good play, the story line reached an ultimate climatic finish and the Rangers are back looking to repeat last year's Eastern Conference Championship.  In fact, this is the Rangers' third appearance in the past four season in the Eastern finals.  A dynasty out East seems to be forming.

The Rangers have multiple talent sources to beat you.  Nash has come alive.  Stepan and Brassard are making the big plays at the big moments.  And of course King Henrik is King Henrik.  With the heroic Game 7 OT win, Lundqvist joined Marty Brodeur and Patty Roy as the only goalies to have 6 career Game 7 wins.  The longer this series goes, advantage NYC!  A big story line will be the return of Marty St. Louis in Tampa.  Being traded to the Rangers last year, St. Louis is looking to wrap his mitts around a cup.  He came close last season but he wants another shot...which is going to be harder to come by as he gets up there in age.  Knocking off his former team would be a nice added bonus as well.  Expect to hear some loud Boo's from the rafters in Tampa when he steps on the ice.

Lightning fans...and maybe players...have to be happy with this matchup.  The Bolts swept the Rangers this season, winning all 3 games.  Tampa was able to solve the King between the pipes, lighting the lamp 14 times in 3 games.  Tyler Johnson has been a beast the entire playoffs.  This guy is just a stud on the ice and will be a key factor in whether the Bolts advance to their first Stanley Cup final since 2004 (when they won it all).  Super Steve Stamkos was good for 7 points in 3 games vs. the Rangers this season as well.  Ben Bishop looked much better vs. Montreal last round than the opening round vs. Detroit.  Could his new found confidence be enough to withstand the Rangers offense and carry Tampa to the promise land?

I like Tampa, I have all year and I have throughout these playoffs.  They were my pick to win the East when the bracket was finalized and I cannot go against them now.  I think finishing off the Canadiens in 6 games will be a plus.  They controlled the entire series and never really seemed to be in a threatening position.  The Rangers had their backs up against the wall, fought off numerous elimination games and have the emotional rollercoaster to go along with winning a Game 7.  All that play, all that stress, all the pressure and emotion could either hurt or hinder them in this series.  These teams have never met in the playoffs but if Tampa can pull off the opening game win and deflate the fans at MSG early, this series could be over quick.

#TwineTime pick:  Tampa Bay over New York - 6 games

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (3) Chicago Blackhawks

Look who's back...back again....it's the Blackhawks!  I mentioned above the recent string of playoff successes for New York, well how about Chicago?  This marks their third straight conference finals appearance and fifth in the past seven years.  How crazy is that?  Only 2 years removed from their last Stanley Cup win, the boys from Chi-Town seems poised and ready for another cup run.  Don't write off the #QuackAttack quite yet though.  Interestingly enough, similar to the Eastern final, this will be the first playoff series between these clubs.

Anaheim enters their first conference finals since 2007.  And they enter looking very dominant.  They easily dispatched two Canadian teams in the previous rounds, losing only 1 game (a game I was at actually so there is that!).  The Ducks are going to rely on the leadership of Getzlaf and Perry once again and why not?  Both of these guys combine to bring the 3 S's to Success:  Speed, Size, Skill!  The wildcard may be the play of Frederik Anderson in goal.  This will be unchartered territory for the Danish goalie.  He will also be tested in ways he has not seen in these playoffs.  Nothing against Winnipeg or Calgary but the offensive talents of Chicago outrank both of those teams..combined!  If Anderson can keep cool and not put the Ducks in a position of playing catch up every game, the Ducks can win this series.  Watch out for big boy Patrick Maroon too.  If he continues to throw his large frame all around the boards, he could neutralize some of the talent on the other side of the ice.

Chicago is Chicago.  I honestly do not even know what I can say about this team that every other media outlet and blog in the world hasn't said already.  Toews is once again going to produce in this series.  We all know it...we all expect it.  He is a natural born leader on, and off, the ice and can captain this team right to a championship.  He is just so damn good!  27 years old, 2 cups...yup he knows how to win.  But look who he has around him too.  Patty Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook.  This team as a whole could probably head over to the World Championships and win a medal on their own.  But, even the best teams have a crack in their armor.  Chicago is no exception.  Similar to Anaheim, their success will be a result of the play in net.  Corey Crawford can look remarkable at times and look like the worst goalie in the league at others.  Do the 'Hawks ride the Crawford train all series and will that be enough?  Or, should they get in trouble early, can future Hollywood story Scott Darling become the Darling of the Playoffs?  You do have to like this kid and his back story.  Overcame a bout of alcoholism, never really found a stable hockey home and now here he is in the conference finals with a chance to play for the Stanley Cup.  You want to cheer him on and see him succeed.  He played outstanding when it counted against Nashville.  Can he do the same vs. Anaheim? 

Everyone seems to be behind Chicago and it is hard to argue against it.  I admit, I thought the Duck Hunting season would be over early, predicting them to lose vs. Winnipeg in the opening round.  But this team has stepped up their play every game.  The wild card of course being have they looked better or have they just been beating up overmatched teams?  I can respect that argument but, at this time of the playoffs, winning is winning and the confidence that comes from it can be an intangible outcome.  I like the upset here...and I would like to say the dark horse difference maker of the series will rest on the stick of the young Swede Jakob Silfverberg.  With Getzlaf, Perry and Maroon garnishing most of the attention, this young stud could become the difference maker.

#TwineTime pick:  Anaheim over Chicago - 7 games

There you have it my little puck heads.  The #TwineTime prediction for the 2015 Stanley Cup final: Tampa Bay vs. Anaheim.  The hockey hotbed states of California vs. Florida.  The Canadian hockey fan in me just died a bit inside thinking how probable this could be....