The NHL Playoffs started off with 16 very hopeful squads – all with the same dream – to drink from Lord Stanley’s Cup! As with any sport, there has to be the losing teams that make up the numbers along the way for those on the path of destiny. That’s where we sit right now NHL fans – four teams remaining on the ice, 12 others on the golf courses throughout North America. Those four teams now are so close they can taste it. Too close to let the chance of playing for the Cup slip through their collective hockey gloves…it’s Conference Finals time.
The Desert vs Hollywood – Western Conference Final
Say this out loud three times – the LA Kings versus the Phoenix Coyotes – and then ask yourself if anyone in their right mind had predicted this matchup?!
The Kings came into the playoffs as the #8 seed in the West. They had been fighting for their playoff lives for weeks, and in actuality had been in ‘playoff mode’ for a month before the playoffs officially started! They would be easy pickings for the #1 seed – the mighty Vancouver Canucks right? Wrong – so very wrong. The Kings walked over the defending Western Conference Champions in five games. Up next – a sweep of the heavily favoured St. Louis Blues – could this be happening! The eighth seed in the Western Final? Well believe it hockey folks. These Kings are for real, and find themselves as only the third #8 seed in history to get this far (2006 Oilers, 2010 Canadiens), and haven’t lost on the road through two rounds (6-0).
The Coyotes have never – read that again – never been this far in the playoffs. They came into the league in 1979-1980 as the original Winnipeg Jets. They had many tight series’ over the years as both Jets, and Coyotes, but never have they had such postseason glory as they currently are enjoying. Mike Smith has been a wall of power in the Phoenix net, and Captain Shane Doan – so long waiting for a playoff run – has been leading this team in work-man like fashion. Coach Dave Tippett has his side working truly as a team – and the whole club has bought in to what he’s selling, and are believers.
So who takes this one?! Both teams have solid goaltending, great leadership, and maybe some of the best coaching in the NHL. Tough one to call! One team goes to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in history (Coyotes), or the other goes back for the first time since 1993 (Kings).
Murph’s Pick – Kings in 6 hard fought games.
Why? Dustin Brown has been excellent in the playoffs – 6 goals, 13 points, 2 short-handed goals and three GWG. He also blocks shots, wins faceoffs and is a physical presence every night. If he continues this type of play, the Kings win.
The Swamp vs Manhattan – Eastern Conference Final
The battle of the East River – the New Jersey Devils versus the New York Rangers is our Eastern Final matchup! Many had predicted that the #1 seeded Rangers would be here, but not many had as much hope for the #6 seed from Jersey.
Martin Brodeur turned 40 just last week – and we had all heard the whispers that Marty’s career was on the downward slide over the past few years. Well, the future ‘Hall-of-Famer’ has been solid for the Devils this spring. He’s turned back the hands of time a bit, and looks like the Brodeur of playoff runs from the past. The biggest factor for the Devils has been Ilya Kovalchuk. He has been dominant on the ice when it counts for New Jersey, and his 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) leads the team, and puts him third in overall playoff scoring. New Jersey’s dogged forecheck, and their ability to play tough on the boards, and win loose pucks grinded down the heavily favoured Flyers in round two. This type of no nonsense trapping, grinding hockey has won the Devils championships in the past. Can they keep it up against the Rangers?
New York has had an incredible season. Henrik Lundqvist will win the Vezina as the NHL’s top goalie, and he is without a doubt the Rangers’ MVP. He has been brilliant in the playoffs (1.68 GAA, .937 Save %), and looks like he’s on a mission. Brad Richards is showing why New York made him the biggest free-agent signing of last summer, and his relationship with coach John Tortorella just works. The two have Stanley Cup rings as player and coach from 2004 with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The x-factor for the Rangers is how they can combat the Devil’s forechecking, and can they withstand the physical pounding which they are about to face. Time will tell if they can do what Philly could not, but Dan Girardi and Marc Staal will log serious minutes on the blueline, and will be charged with shutting down Kovalchuk – no pressure then!
Murph’s pick – Rangers in 6 grinding games.
Why? The Rangers seem to be able to grind out wins whenever they have appeared defeated in the postseason. And, Brad Richards is starting to look like the star that we all believe he can be in these playoffs. Lundqvist has a bit more left in the tank than Brodeur, and New York are just a little deeper than the Devils. If Tortorella can continue to squeeze results from Ruslan Fedotenko, and Chris Kreider etc…the Rangers will win.
Enjoy the Conference Finals wherever you are watching!
You can follow Murph on Twitter throughout the NHL playoffs @MurphOnIce