And we’re down to the final four in the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs. Here’s my take on the Eastern and Western Conference Finals.
New York Rangers vs Tampa Bay Lightning. The Rangers advanced to the Eastern Conference Final by defeating the Washington Capitals in seven games, while the Lightning bounced the Montreal Canadiens in six games.
Both clubs possess strong goaltending; the Rangers with Henrik Lundqvist and the Lightning in hulking Ben Bishop. The Bolts swift young offense, led by “The Triplets” of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, rank among the top-four in playoff scoring. The Rangers are among the lowest-scoring teams in this year’s playoffs, but their defensive game has been solid. There’s also an interesting sub-plot, as Rangers winger Martin St. Louis and Lightning forward Ryan Callahan – dealt for each other late last season – face their former teams for the first time in postseason competition.
I certainly wouldn’t sell the Lightning short, but their struggles to eliminate the Canadiens and the Detroit Red Wings in their previous playoff series suggest they have difficulty against a tight-checking defense. The Rangers certainly had no cakewalk getting to the Conference Finals, and I believe their experience and tenacity could give them the edge in this series.
Anaheim Ducks vs Chicago Blackhawks. The Ducks moved on to the Western Conference Final by dousing the Calgary Flames in five games, while the Blackhawks swept the Minnesota Wild.
This could be the best series to date in this year’s playoffs. Both teams are led by superstar forwards; the Ducks by Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, the Blackhawks by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Anaheim goaltender Frederik Andersen has handled the playoff pressure well this year, posting better numbers than Chicago starter Corey Crawford. The Ducks defensive numbers are better than the ‘Hawks.
After quickly dispatching the Flames and Winnipeg Jets, the Ducks are up against a team with considerable championship experience. The Blackhawks possess a star-studded roster facing their last opportunity to win a championship before cap constraints this summer leads to some of them moving on. While the Ducks have a swift young defense, the ‘Hawks are led by all-stars Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Chicago’s defensive game significantly improved during their elimination of the Wild, though Michal Roszival’s playoff-ending ankle injury will test their depth. This series could go either way, but I think the ‘Hawks experience will win out.