Ah, the NHL. Where Game 7s are filled with tension and excitement…unless you’re in the Western Conference. What duds those games were, that is, of course, you’re a fan of the San Jose Sharks or St. Louis Blues.
To be honest, setting aside the final scores of both Game 7s, I’m a little surprised that both Western Conference series even went 7 games and neither of the Easter Conference games went seven. I’m not totally shocked that the Western Conference series both went the distance—Four good teams and the West is always tight—but if before the 2nd Round Started, you asked me to pick a series to go seven, I would have picked Penguins-Capitals first, followed by Lightning-Islanders. Wrong guess, obviously, but if you compare the six games of the Pens-Caps game to the full sleight of the Western Conference series, I’d argue the Pens-Caps still delivered more drama and more tension, and I don’t think a single Hockey fan would disagree with me.
As far as the Western Conference goes, I have a real hard time believing anyone can beat San Jose four times out of seven games right now, but it seems like I’ve said that every year they’ve made the Playoffs, and every year someone ends up doing it. On the flip side, I pick St. Louis to win the Cup so many times in the past, ending up with egg on my face, that I don’t really want to do it again. So, who wins the Western Conference Final? I don’t know. Flip a coin?
San Jose probably has the three best players in that series—at least playing the best right now. Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, and Brent Burns. St. Louis, I’d argue, is more solid top to bottom, but they’re game breaker, Vlad Taresenko, sometimes can’t break the 15 minute mark of ice-time so San Jose should be able to suffocate the rest of the Blues’ talent. Goalie play is a tossup. St. Louis’ Elliot has had more stellar performances this year, but he’s also laid more eggs than Martin Jones. I guess, forced to make a pick, I’d pick San Jose, but it’s really a six-of-one-half-a-dozen-of-the-other situation.
In the East, I’m sticking with my Pittsburgh pick as the Eastern Conference Champs, but I’ll tell you this: It’s great the Penguins got by the Washington Capitals without much production from Crosby and Malkin, but if anyone in Pittsburgh thinks they’re getting to a Cup final without AT LEAST one of those two stepping up, they’re nuts.
Kessel is producing. Great.
Letang is a minutes-hog. Great.
Matt Murray is having a magical goaltending run. Great.
You’re still not getting to a Cup final without 87 or 71 picking up their play.
Because Tampa Bay has three guys producing—Kucherov, Johnson and Drouin—and their minutes hog, Victor Hedman, is just a flat-out beast. Ben Bishop is a monster in net AND it came out today that Stamkos is feeling pretty good on the ice. If Tampa Bay continues to play the way they have been, and Malkin and Crosby are still priding themselves on their possession numbers instead of their point numbers, Tampa Bay will be skating into their second straight Stanley Cup Appearance.