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The Conference Finals begin tonight, and the HabsWorld writers share their thoughts about the final 4 teams & their predictions.

Eastern Conference

Boston vs Pittsburgh

Brian La Rose predicts: Pittsburgh in 6
Matt Gauthier predicts: Boston in 6
Jason Brisebois predicts: Pittsburgh in 6
Moshé Weizman predicts: Pittsburgh in 5
Alex Létourneau predicts: Pittsburgh in 5
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Pittsburgh in 6

(Brian) Both of their second round series were somewhat surprising. I didn’t expect Boston to fare too well against the Rangers after their struggles vs Toronto but instead, they dominated. I thought Pittsburgh would beat the Sens but certainly not as easily as they did. In terms of who has another level to hit, I’d say Boston does. Tyler Seguin and Jaromir Jagr, two pretty good scorers, have combined for as many postseason goals as Ryan White. If those two get going while the David Krejci line continues to dominate, they will provide some fits for Pittsburgh’s defence corps. I’d also give the Bruins a clear edge in goal, particularly since we don’t know how long Tomas Vokoun’s resurgence will last.

Despite how deep the Bruins are up front, the Penguins are even deeper. Zdeno Chara is quite the shutdown defenceman but he can’t cover both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s lines. That and the fact that several of their regular blueliners aren’t 100% means that there will be scoring chances aplenty. As Pittsburgh showed last round, if they’re given enough chances, they’ll score regularly on anyone. Even though Boston has the goaltending and physical edges, I keep coming back to Pittsburgh’s attack. I just don’t see them slowing down any time soon.

(Matt) The Penguins have an incredible lineup, but a major question mark in goals. Will they start Fleury or Vokoun? Boston is the only team that can stop the Penguins, and they will. Boston has a great combination of skill and size, speed and grit, clutch performers and steady contributors. In the end, the Bruins will destroy the team that destroyed the Habs’ destroyers.

(Jason) In the second round, I predicted that the Rangers would take advantage of a tired, inexperienced and beat-up Boston blueline, and boy was I wrong. Players like Krug have rose to the occasion, showing that they could hold they own on the biggest stage. To puts things in perspective, however, it is worth noting the quality of offense they were tasked with shutting down. In five games against the Bruins, the Rangers notched only ten goals (for a pitiful average of 2 goals of game). Against Washington in the previous round, the Rangers mustered only 16 goals in seven games for a slightly higher average of 2.28 goals per game.

My point is that while Boston managed to win the second round with its green and unheralded defense core, the third round against Pittsburgh will be an entirely different beast. Against the Rangers, the Bruin’s defense stepped up, providing quality minutes and more offensive than one could have predicted. But this was a Rangers team that lacked serious scoring punch all season. I cannot fathom a scenario where a core including the likes of Krug or an inexperienced Hamilton can be relied upon to shut down so many quality offensive players. This isn’t a knock on Boston’s young defensemen – they’ve been more than anyone could have hoped – but Pittsburgh is simply too strong to suppress for an entire seven game series. Despite my doubts regarding the Penguins’ goaltending situation, I would be surprised to see Boston return to the Finals.

(Moshé) Coming off a dramatic game 7 win vs. Toronto and a rather easy win over the Rangers, I still feel that at this Final 4 stage, Boston is a bottom seed and is simply overrated. Too much talent (Crosby&Malkin), depth (Pascal Dupuis has been incredible) and most importantly – hunger for first cups (for Iginla and Murrow), will take Pittsburgh quite easily through, leading to a much needed Boston rebuilding process.

(Alex) Can’t say I felt bad seeing Pittsburgh chase Ottawa’s Craig Anderson out of two games in this series. Pittsburgh’s high-powered offense was limited to fewer than four goals only once in the five game set with the Senators. These numbers are against one of the hottest goalies in the league. Barring a slew of injuries, Pittsburgh has the offense to overpower Boston. To my horror, the Bruins had a pushover with the New York Rangers, which is good in the rest department. Tyler Seguin broke the duck, they’re getting back some important pieces in their defensive core and they have best fourth line in the NHL. Is that enough? No. A team’s defense needs to be in overdrive all the time to contain Pittsburgh, and I don’t see an aging Zdeno Chara and his banged up colleagues doing much about it. Boston gets the nod in the goaltender category as Tuuka Rask is the better keeper compared to Tomas Vokoun. Does that matter? No. Rask will have to be lights out night-in and night-out while Vokoun will simply have to not be Marc-André Fleury.

(Norm) The Bruins outperformed the Rangers in the last round by a significant margin. However, the stars in Pittsburgh have been shining since the playoffs began. Since 1990, the Penguins have had the highest goals per game rate at 4.27 so far in these playoffs. The trade deadline deal for Jerome Iginla and how he nearly became a Bruin may be a factor in this series. In a similar vein, Jaromir Jagr’s play for Boston after a deadline day trade may be a factor given his return to Pittsburgh, the city he started in the NHL and where he’s played his best hockey. It seems the city of Pittsburgh is getting into this series. A Pittsburgh bar has banned the sale of Samuel Adams beer [Boston made] for this round of the playoffs.

Western Conference

Chicago vs Los Angeles

Brian La Rose predicts: Chicago in 7
Matt Gauthier predicts: Chicago in 5
Jason Brisebois predicts: Chicago in 7
Moshé Weizman predicts: Chicago in 7
Alex Létourneau predicts: Los Angeles in 6
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Lost Angeles in 6

(Brian) Both teams dealt with a lot of adversity in Round 2 which will serve them well here. We all know that the Kings’ biggest strength is in goal and as we saw last round, Jimmy Howard almost shut down Chicago. With all due respect to Howard, Jonathan Quick is a much better goalie which suggests that there should be moments where the ‘Hawks continue to struggle at the offensive end.

I do have some concern about Los Angeles’ offence too. There were too many occasions in the San Jose series where they just couldn’t get anything going. Against a better puck possession team like Chicago, that’s bound to happen again which somewhat offsets the advantage that Quick has over Corey Crawford.

I find this series to be very evenly matched, each clubs’ strengths and weaknesses even out. As a result, I see this one going the distance which will play to Chicago’s advantage. LA’s highly physical style should start to catch up to them as the series goes on, how much will they have left in the tank in a Game 7 situation? I don’t think they’ll have enough which is why I’m going with the Blackhawks.

(Matt) The Blackhawks had an amazing season, and after a scary 3 straight loss against the Red Wings, got things back together just in time. I believe they will continue on that streak and stride over the Kings more easily than expected.

(Jason) I’ve been thinking about this series for the past few days, and to be honest, I still can’t decisively pick a winner. Despite their lower seeding, it’s hard to call Los Angeles an overly large underdog in this series. Last year we saw what this team is capable of, and its core from that Stanley Cup win remains intact. Following the St. Louis – Los Angeles series I was almost prepared to declare LA a favourite to win another Stanley cup, yet their play in the San Jose series was certainly lacking. It could just have easily have been the Sharks facing the Hawks at the Madhouse of Saturday. This Los Angeles team has been good, but it has not regained its form from last year’s run.

This series brings together two teams with a lot of party. Both teams have a stingy defense core that has yielded little to their opponents. Both teams have strong goaltending, though it’s hard to not declare Quick the better goalie in the series. Perhaps a central storyline, though, is the drought that stars on both teams find themselves in. Toews, while playing decently throughout the post-season has struggled to find the net. Likewise, both Kopitar and Brown for LA have been quiet. Unlike the other series, neither team winning would be an overly large surprise to me. But despite LA’s superior goaltending, I worry about the Kings’ road woes (1-5 in the post-season) and the fact that sooner or later, Chicago’s offense will start living up to its reputation. Look for a physical series that will go seven.

(Moshé) LA has showed great character in their 2 playoffs rounds – coming back from 2-0 vs. St. Louis winning 4 straight, and holding off a tough challenge from San Jose team in a close game 7. They are reigning champs and have a Conn Smyth winner at his best in Jonathan Quick but I believe this is where it ends for LA. Chicago has been the best team in the league this year, with depth and crucial experience. Although I think they won’t have the upper hand in goal, I think their 3rd and 4th line are simply better than the Kings’ and most time, that where it counts in the playoffs. It gonna be long and painful but Chicago will be the last one standing in 7.

(Alex) Well, this should be a lot of fun. Both teams squeaked out of their respective series, one victory more dramatic than the other’s but both one-goal game-seven victories nonetheless. Do Los Angeles have anything left in the tank? They had two high intensity series and now they walk into Chicago, who tore the league to pieces this season. Why I like the Kings here is I think they’re playing better hockey than Chicago, plain and simple. While Chicago did dispatch Minny in five games, many of those games could’ve gone either way. Detroit surprised me with their performance, and I legitimately thought they had it after that disallowed goal. Naturally, this series will come down to goaltending and, as I promised myself at the beginning of the playoffs, I’m not voting against Jonathan Quick (until he meets Pittsburgh). Corey Crawford does not have the pedigree, experience or talent that Quick has. Crawford would have to turn in a career defining performance to outmatch his LA counterpart. I don’t expect much offense, pretty tight scoring games from these two. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are the game breakers for me. They need to show up for Chicago.

(Norm) The Blackhawks very narrowly got into this round, and most of their stars have underperformed to this point. Los Angeles also narrowly advanced, but their best players are performing better overall. To this point, I’ll give the Kings the edge to make it to the finals.

Playoff Prediction Points – Round 2

Here are the tallys from the first two rounds. The point system awards one point for predicting a winner of a series and one extra point for picking the correct number of games.

Matt Gauthier [6 of 16]

Brian La Rose [9 of 24]

Jason Brisebois [9 of 24]

Alex Létourneau [7 of 24]
Norm Szcyrek [11 of 24]