Eastern Conference Final
(7) Philadelphia v. (8) Montréal
This is a historic series for three reasons. It’s the first Conference Final to pit the bottom two seeds against each other. The Flyers are the third team in NHL history to win a best-of-seven series after trailing three games to none. The Canadiens are the first team in NHL history to eliminate the Presidents’ Trophy winner and the reigning Stanley Cup champion in consecutive rounds. This will be the Canadiens’ toughest opponent, which is counterintuitive given they knocked out Washington and Pittsburgh, who are not pushovers by any stretch of the imagination. But Philadelphia brings toughness and grit that neither the Capitals nor Penguins brought. The Flyers will crash the net more than the Penguins did. The Capitals seemed to regard the crease as kryptonite. On the other hand, the Flyers played two teams that were not quite offensive powerhouses in New Jersey and Boston. This is not to say the Canadiens are an offensive powerhouse. But the Habs have managed to be efficient with their chances. This should be a good series.
Montréal in 6
Western Conference Final
(1) San José v. (2) Chicago
The Sharks are in the Conference Final after years of stellar regular season results and subsequent playoff faceplants. The Blackhawks are returning to the Conference Final a year after falling in five to the eventual Stanley Cup runners-up, Detroit Red Wings. Both teams have something to prove. Chicago wants to prove it belongs and is ready to take the next step, a young team hungry for a Stanley Cup. San José wants to show its playoff success this year is not a fluke, and that it is ready to finally break through and compete in a Stanley Cup Final. Thus, neither of these teams will be willing to back down. This is a tough series to predict. The Sharks are hungry to shed their underachiever label. The Blackhawks are eager to escape the shadow of their Central Division and Original Six rivals, again the Red Wings. The Sharks have a goalie in Evgeni Nabokov who was absolutely shelled by Canada in the Olympics, leaving doubts about his mettle in big games. The Blackhawks have a goalie in Antti Niemi who is a rookie who saved Chicago’s season with better stats than the erstwhile starter, Christobal Huet, showing what he can do under pressure. In the offensive end, both teams are roughly equal. The same can be said for the defence. Again, it’s too difficult to call definitely, but I think the Blackhawks are still one year away.
San José in 7