2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs – Conference Finals Predictions

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs – Conference Finals Predictions

We’re down to the Final Four in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In the Eastern Conference, it’s the Boston Bruins squaring off against the Carolina Hurricanes. Meanwhile, the San Jose Sharks tangle with the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference.

After going three-for-eight with my opening round predictions, I broke even with my second-round selections, correctly picking the Bruins and Sharks. So let’s see how I fare with my Conference Finals picks.

As always, these predictions are merely for fun. Like everyone else, I’m making my best guess and I don’t take them seriously. Don’t get upset if I don’t select your team to win. If you feel like taunting me if these picks fail to pan out, you’ll be wasting your time because I don’t care.

Boston Bruins vs Carolina Hurricanes. The Bruins needed seven games to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs and six games to despatch the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, upset the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals in seven games and swept the New York Islanders.

The plucky Hurricanes are once again the underdogs, facing a Bruins team that finished eight points ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. They don’t have any notable superstars. Heck, head coach Rod Brind’Amour is more recognizable to most hockey fans than many of his players.

Nevertheless, the Hurricanes are a hardworking team stocked with good young talent. Forwards Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Nino Niederreiter, and Warren Foegele provide the offensive punch. Veterans Jordan Staal and captain Justin Williams still have lots left in the tank.

Their blueline, anchored by Jaccob Slavin, Justin Faulk, Dougie Hamilton, and Brett Pesce, is among the league’s best. They’re also getting solid goaltending from veterans Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney.

The Hurricanes are a team on the rise. They’re an exciting bunch who should continue to improve in the coming years.

The Bruins, meanwhile, are loaded with plenty of recognizable talent. Forwards Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak power the offense. Ageless captain Zdeno Chara leads the defense corps. Goaltender Tuukka Rask is playing his way into contention for the Conn Smythe Trophy.

Roster depth is proving invaluable for the Bruins in this postseason.  David Krejci and Charlie Coyle are among those stepping up offensively when needed. Underrated Torey Krug and young rearguards Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo are logging big minutes on the blueline.

The Hurricanes have proven they cannot be taken lightly this spring. Nevertheless, I have my doubts they can match up well with the Bruins.

The Bruins are no longer haunted by the ghosts of playoff failures past. Rask is a reliable starter who’s no longer rattled in postseason play. The Bruins can withstand physical punishment and dish out plenty of their own. Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak can be neutralized for a game or two, but they’ve proven difficult to contain for an entire series. Boston’s special teams are among this spring’s best while the Hurricanes are among the worst.  I believe they’ve got the depth and experience to take this series.

It’s been a terrific run for the Cinderella Hurricanes, but midnight is about to strike. PREDICTION: BRUINS IN SIX.

San Jose Sharks vs St. Louis Blues. The Sharks eliminated the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche with each series going the full seven games. The Blues bounced the Winnipeg Jets in six games but needed seven to vanquish the Dallas Stars.

Three years after reaching the Stanley Cup Final, the Sharks are one series away from another shot at hockey’s ultimate prize. They’re a star-studded team, featuring Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns on defense with Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, and the ageless Joe Thornton at forward.

The Sharks also overcame some adversity along the way. They rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat Vegas. Goaltender Martin Jones was shaky through the first half of that series but has regained his steady form. Pavelski missed all but one game of the Avs series with a concussion.

If you want to talk about beating the odds, look no further than the Blues. Dead last in the league on Jan. 3 and given up for dead, they surged into a playoff berth, upset the favored Jets, and ground out a hard-fought victory over the Stars. Under-estimate this team at your peril.

Under interim coach Craig Berube, the Blues improved their forechecking and puck possession. Mid-season call-up Jordan Binnington is playing like a Vezina Trophy contender between the pipes. Jaden Schwartz has become a postseason scoring machine while captain Alex Pietrangelo is among the postseason’s best defensemen.

While the Blues are this season’s comeback story, they could struggle to overcome San Jose’s depth of talent, leadership, and postseason experience. The Sharks aren’t dysfunctional like the Jets and carry a lot more firepower than the Stars.

The Sharks are hungry for another shot at the Stanley Cup. They’re poised to take a big bite out of the Blues. PREDICTION: SHARKS IN SIX.

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – May 9, 2019

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – May 9, 2019

Sharks eliminate the Avalanche and advance to the Western Conference Final, the Conference Finals schedules are released, plus updates on Brad Marchand, Antti Niemi, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines. 

NHL.COM: San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski made a surprise return from injury to lead his club to a series-clinching 3-2 Game 7 victory over the Colorado Avalanche. Pavelski scored the game-opening goal and set up his club’s second goal.  The Sharks will face the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Final. This was Pavelski’s first game since suffering a concussion during Game 7 of his club’s previous series against the Vegas Golden Knights. 

San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski returned from injury to lead his club to a series-clinching Game 7 victory over the Colorado Avalanche (Photo via NHL Images)

The game wasn’t without controversy as a game-tying goal by the Avalanche in the second period was overturned as team captain Gabriel Landeskog was deemed offside during a line change. Colorado star Nathan MacKinnon sprained his right shoulder after colliding with the boards in the first period but returned to action later in the frame. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Sharks got a big lift from Pavelski’s return in this game, but it was their depth that proved the deciding factor in this series. It could give them an advantage over the Blues in the conference final.

The Avs have nothing to hang their heads over. They upset the heavily-favored Calgary Flames and pushed the Sharks to the limit. Led by MacKinnon, Landeskog and Miko Rantanen, they’re a talented young team with a bright future. 

The NHL released its schedule for the Conference Finals. Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final between the Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes starts tonight in Boston. The puck drops on the opening game of the Western Conference Final on Saturday night in San Jose. Both stats are 8 pm ET.

The top-27 spots for the 2019 NHL Draft are now set, with the final four still to be determined. 

NBC SPORTS: Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said the club will address Brad Marchand’s curt answers to the media in recent days. Marchand raised eyebrows with his taciturn attitude following his club’s elimination of the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Some in the media are rather upset with Marchand, with a few calling for him to be fined. Perhaps a better response would be to just ignore Marchand and instead speak with his teammates. Besides, most player interviews are boring. They merely spout cliches about giving 110 percent, getting pucks deep, everybody playing their role, blah blah blah. They rarely offer anything insightful or interesting. 

CBS SPORTS: Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Markus Nutivarra suffered a muscle tear in his rib area. The injury occurred following an illegal hit by Tampa Bay Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

LE JOURNAL DE MONTREAL: Canadiens backup goaltender Antti Niemi is expected to join Helsinki Jokerit in the KHL next season. Niemi is an unrestricted free agent this summer and won’t be re-signed by the Canadiens. 

SPECTOR’S NOTE: This likely signals the end of Niemi’s 11-season NHL career. He backstopped the Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup in 2010 and spent five seasons as the Sharks’ starting goaltender. His performance declined in recent years, relegating him to backup status as he bounced from the Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Canadiens since 2016-17. If his NHL playing days are over, the 35-year-old finishes with 242 wins in 464 games, with a career 2.57 goals-against average, a .912 save percentage and 36 shutouts. 

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs – Opening Round Predictions

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs – Opening Round Predictions

The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin on Wednesday, April 10. Here are my predictions for each of the eight opening-round series. As always, bear in mind that I don’t take predictions seriously and these are merely for fun. Feel free to offer up your predictions in the comments section below.

Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Columbus Blue Jackets. The Lightning dominated the standings this season, winning their first Presidents’ Trophy and tying the league record for most wins (62) in a season. They have a very deep roster featuring the league’s leading scorer (Nikita Kucherov), the reigning Norris Trophy winner (Victor Hedman) and a potential Vezina Trophy candidate (Andrei Vasilevsky).

The Blues Jackets needed the second-last game of the season to clinch a playoff spot. They acquired Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Adam McQuaid before the trade deadline but the moves didn’t significantly improve them. They were swept by the Lightning in the season series and outscored 17-3. The Jackets will be gamers but they lack the depth to upset the Bolts. Prediction: Lightning in four.

Boston Bruins vs Toronto Maple Leafs The Lightning’s dominance in the East overshadowed a strong performance by the Bruins. They possess one of the league’s top scoring lines in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak. The Bruins can also rely on a solid defense corps and two dependable goaltenders in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak.

The Leafs also have considerable firepower, led by John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and Auston Matthews. Defensive depth, especially on the right side, is a concern. Starting goalie Frederik Andersen’s heavy workload and a lack of a reliable backup is another worrying issue. Prediction: Bruins in six

Washington Capitals vs Carolina Hurricanes. For the first time in 10 years, the Hurricanes reached the playoffs. They have talented young forwards such as Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov and a deep blueline corps, the Hurricanes are an entertaining bunch that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

The Capitals could find it difficult to repeat as Stanley Cup champions but they have the talent to pull it off. Led by captain Alex Ovechkin, centers Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom, defenseman John Carlson and goalie Braden Holtby, their championship roster from last season remains largely intact. Their depth in experienced talent should see them through. Prediction: Capitals in five.

New York Islanders vs Pittsburgh Penguins. The Islanders defied the odds this season by clinching a playoff berth and home-ice advantage in the opening round. Under coach Barry Trotz, they’ve significantly improved on the blueline and between the pipes, with Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss having the league’s lowest goals-against average.

It’s been an up-and-down season for the Penguins, who weren’t assured of a playoff spot until the final week of the season. They still possess plenty of postseason experience and offensive skill, led by superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Goaltender Matt Murray played well down the stretch, which should provide them with a much-needed edge. Prediction: Penguins in seven.

Western Conference

Calgary Flames vs Colorado Avalanche. For the first time in 30 years, the Flames topped the Western Conference. Led by Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk, the Flames are a dangerous offensive club. They also have a strong blueline corps anchored by captain Mark Giordano. Goaltenders Mike Smith and David Rittich, however, have been inconsistent.

The Avs squeaked into the playoffs in the final week of the season. Of late, they’ve received stellar goaltending from Philipp Grubauer. They also have potent first-line scoring punch with Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, and Mikko Rantanen, though the latter’s been sidelined since mid-March. The Avs could make a series of it but they won’t be a match for the Flames’ depth. Prediction: Flames in five.

Nashville Predators vs Dallas Stars. The Predators finished atop the Central Division for the second straight season, but they’re not the dominating club that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season. Injuries to Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, and P.K.Subban contributed to a decline in scoring, especially on the power-play.

While the Stars have their own offensive depth issues, they could pull off an upset. Ben Bishop posted the league’s best save percentage (.934) and second-best goals-against (1.98) plus he has plenty of postseason experience. If he can stay healthy and if captain Jamie Benn rediscovers his playoff beast mode from three years ago, the Stars could surprise in the opening round. Prediction: Stars in six.

Winnipeg Jets vs St. Louis Blues. Following last season’s march to the Western Conference Finals, the Jets looked like Canada’s best hope to end its 26-year Cup drought. However, they stumbled down the stretch and fell out of first in the Central. Injuries to Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey hampered their blueline while goaltender Connor Hellebuyck faced a league-high 2,051 shots.

The Blues, meanwhile, soared from dead last in the West on New Year’s Day into third in the Central. Interim head coach Craig Berube instilled a more aggressive puck-possession system while mid-season call-up Jordan Binnington provided them with much-needed clutch goaltending. The Blues are rolling while the Jets seem to be fading. Prediction: Blues in six.

San Jose Sharks vs Vegas Golden Knights. The Golden Knights aren’t surprising anyone as they did in their debut a year ago, but they’re still a very good team. Marc-Andre Fleury is among this season’s top goaltenders. The addition of two-way winger Mark Stone at the trade deadline provided a welcome boost to the forward lines.

While a potent offense and a solid blueline carried the Sharks to second overall in the Conference, goaltending is their Achilles’ heel. Martin Jones and Aaron Dell have not performed well this season. If Jones cannot regain the form that carried the Sharks to the 2016 Cup Final, they will make an early exit. Prediction: Golden Knights in seven