With the third round of the playoffs about to begin, the HabsWorld experts offer up their predictions for the conference finals.
Carolina Hurricanes vs Boston Bruins
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Bruins in 5 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Hurricanes in 6 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Bruins in 6 games
Jonathan Rebelo predicts: Bruins in 6 games
Craig Scharien predicts: Hurricanes in 7 games
(Norm) Those lovable jerks from Raleigh North Carolina have surprised so many in the first two rounds. Their goaltending tandem has been stellar, their defence very solid, and their overall team tenacity mimics that of their head coach Rod Brind’Amour when he played in the NHL. The team has been exceptional in 5-on-5 situations, and that has been one of their biggest strengths.
The Bruins have several factors in the favour. Of course, their core has much more playoff experience, especially from their Stanley Cup win in 2011 and their finals appearance in 2013. Their top line has not been as productive as they were in the regular season, but not slumping either. Their secondary scoring has helped pick up the slack, especially forwards Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson who were both obtained during trades this season. Tuukka Rask has been outstanding, leading all NHL starting goalies in goals against average (2.02) and save percentage (.938).
During the regular season, Boston had a slight edge winning two out of three games, with the goals for and against at ten. I feel the Bruins power play success, along with the Hurricanes struggles at penalty killing, will represent the advantage they will need to advance to the finals.
(Kevin) The well-rounded Bruins have handled the speedy and skillful Maple Leafs before picking apart the powerful Columbus Blue Jackets. They return to an opponent that will test the speed of the team, so missing McAvoy in game 1 will be meaningful. The Hurricanes dispatched the defending Stanley Cup champions before annihilating the Islanders in four games. Both teams represent a good balance of youthful exuberance and wily veteran leadership. While I prefer the Carolina blueline, they will be matched against the deepest scoring threat they’ve faced thus far. Where the Bruins likely hold a distinct advantage is in the crease as Rask is superior to both McElhinney and Mrazek. Making a prediction is hard here because my head says Boston, but my heart says Carolina, and sometimes it’s hard to overcome a team playing with nothing to lose. I’ve bombed every other series prediction, what’s one more? Bunch of jerks in 6!
(Brian) Carolina continues to surprise me but at some point, they’re going to slow down. There’s potential for more scoring in this series than their last one but that plays more in the favour of Boston who has the better attack, even with their front line not taking over yet. At some point, the Bergeron line will become more of a consistent threat and when that happens, the Hurricanes will be in trouble. Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney have done a terrific job between the pipes for Carolina but I suspect they will struggle a bit more in this series. I think they can get a game or two but right now, the Bruins have to be the favourite to win.
(Craig) The Hurricanes made short work of the Islanders in round two and continue to look dangerous even with number one goalie Petr Mrazek injured. Meanwhile, the Bruins got it together, with the big guns taking care of business against Columbus. Marchand, Pastrnak and Bergeron are intimidating, but I like the depth and relentless style of the Hurricanes forwards. Throw in a tremendous defensive unit led by Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin and Carolina marches on.
San Jose Sharks vs St. Louis Blues
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Sharks in 5 games
Kevin Leveille predicts: Sharks in 7 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Sharks in 7 games
Jonathan Rebelo predicts: Blues in 6 games
Craig Scharien predicts: Sharks in 6 games
(Norm) This series represents a chance for redemption for the Blues given the two teams met in the Conference Final in 2016, with the Sharks advancing. St. Louis’ defence and goaltending have been very good in the first two rounds, and while the offence has not been at the same level, they have delivered timely goals when they needed them.
The Sharks have often been a playoff contending team that just has not taken the final step although they were relatively close to that goal in 2016. Captain Joe Pavelski returned from an injury to score the opening goal in Game 7 of the second round, providing a huge inspiration for his team. Long-time Shark leader Joe Thornton, in his 21st season in the league, is hoping this playoff push will be his chance at returning to the finals to complete his mission for a Cup win.
These are a pair of unlikely teams to meet in the Conference Final, and this time it will go the distance with a narrow victory going to San Jose.
(Kevin) Much like the Eastern Conference series, my head is saying one thing while my heart says another. The St. Louis Blues have taken on two physically imposing teams and come out on top. They face an all-new challenge in San Jose as the Sharks are deeper and rely more on transition. The Sharks have struggled with both the Golden Knights and the Avalanche, and now face a much tougher foe in the Blues. Both teams have elite scoring, the Sharks have a better blueline, but I’ll take Binnington over Jones, though the latter has rebounded nicely after a tough start to the postseason. Both teams have played a ton of games, but the Blues might hold the edge as the series goes longer since they are younger and should hold up to playing more hockey. Still, the Sharks were my pick to win it all before the playoffs began and I can’t ignore that. Sharks in another hard-fought 7 game battle.
(Brian) There have been some really close series in these playoffs but this one could wind up being the closest. Both teams are well-rounded up front, have good defences, and have goaltenders that are capable of stealing a game on their own but are also prone to a weak outing as well. For me, that more or less makes it a coin flip series and in that case, I’ll take the home team to win a Game 7 for the third straight round.
(Craig) Both of these teams are still looking for their first Stanley Cup, and with the way these playoffs have gone, they may not get a better shot. Martin Jones has turned his game around and should be able to match the play of Jordan Binnington. The Blues boast tremendous depth up front, headlined by a great performance from Ryan O’Reilly, however, the Sharks are even deeper, with an unmatched top nine. The Sharks’ defence gives them an even bigger edge – Burns, Karlsson and Vlasic is hard to beat.