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Round three of the NHL playoffs begins on Friday night and the HabsWorld experts share their predictions on which teams will advance to the final round.

Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Tampa Bay Lightning

Brian La Rose predicts: Penguins in 6
Alexander Létourneau predicts: Penguins in 6
Craig Scharien predicts: Penguins in 6
Gordon Black predicts: Lightning in 6
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Penguins in 6

(Brian) It’s not often that a team gets a weaker third round opponent than they faced in the previous series but I think that’s the case for the Penguins. That’s not to take away from what the Lightning have accomplished – particularly without Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman – but they don’t have the talent that Washington has.

Pittsburgh got by the Caps despite minimal contributions offensively from their top players. I can’t see that happening again this round which should at the very least offset any drop off from their role players. Will Matt Murray keep it going? Maybe, maybe not. If he does, they’ll be fine and if he doesn’t, Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t a bad option to turn to as a backup; they’ll be in good shape either way.

Ben Bishop is a good enough goalie to steal a couple of games and Tampa Bay has a pretty good offensive attack of their own. They also have had more playoff success in recent years which is always a nice little bonus to have. The Lightning will give the Penguins a tough series but I suspect their run will end here.

(Alex) Very surprised to see how good and resilient this Tampa bay team is. An incredibly entertaining series with the Islanders will give them the confidence they need rattle the Penguins. That said, Pittsburgh finally has a goaltender in goal and while nothing has been won yet, lots of players and fans must be quietly wondering what could have been if they hadn’t backed Fleury all these years. Very balanced attacks on bothe ends. Lots of talk about Crosby and Malkin not showing up in the Washington series. I thought they contributed, just not on the scoresheet, but wouldn’t bet on it lasting. Ben Bishop is going to have steal a game or two for Tampa to stand a chance, and he definitely can. Plenty of danger in the Lightning lineup but ultimately, I’m tilting a few close ones in Pittsburgh’s direction.

(Craig) Both of these teams have been dominant this off-season, with the Lightning making it look pretty easy against the Red Wings and Islanders despite a bevy of injuries. Meanwhile the Penguins continued to be the hottest club the in the NHL and ran right over the Capitals – without a goal from Crosby. Pittsburgh has been getting production all throughout their line up and Murray has been rock solid in net. Despite Tampa Bay’s stellar, especially that of Victor Hedman, the Penguins get the job done and Crosby gets going this round. That said, if Stralman and Stamkos are able to rejoin the club the Bolts could make me eat my words for the third straight series.

(Gordon) Are the Bolts for real or the beneficiaries of easier opponents? I must confess that I have only seen a couple of their games while spending most of my time on Caps – Pens series’. The Pens have looked good but I still don’t think they deserved to win last round, too many lucky bounces too count. Ill go bold here (and probably pay for it).

(Norm) Pittsburgh has been a strong team so far in the post season. Despite losing their #1 goalie in Marc Fleury, rookie Matt Murray has stepped up to outplay his opponents most games. Their coaching move to shuffle their star forwards [Crosby, Malkin and Kessel] across their top 3 lines has worked out splendidly to balance out their attack. Tampa has also succeeded in the first two rounds despite losing their best forward [Stamkos] and second best defenceman [Stralman]. I like Pittsburgh’s offence a little more than Tampa’s at this moment, and their defence is a little better overall than the Lightning, with the two team’s goaltending basically a wash. With those advantages, I predict the Penguins will advance to the finals.

Western Conference

San Jose Sharks vs St. Louis Blues

Brian La Rose predicts: Blues in 7
Alexander Létourneau predicts: Blues in 7
Craig Scharien predicts: Sharks in 7
Gordon Black predicts: Sharks in 7
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Blues in 7

(Brian) Similar to Pittsburgh, I think the Blues wind up with a slightly easier opponent than they faced last round. (This seems to be a flaw with the new playoff system as some of the top teams wind up going out earlier than they would have under the old setup.)

There are a lot of similarities between the teams. Both squads have a deep attack, lingering questions in goal (despite Martin Jones’ performance thus far, he’s still a first year starter so there will always be a question there), and have struggled historically in the playoffs so you can’t even rely on certain players to step it up like they always have.

I give the Blues a slight edge for a couple of reasons. First is their physicality which I can see wearing the Sharks down late in the series. The other is their defence. They have a deep and versatile group which should cause San Jose some concerns. Yes, the Sharks did just have to deal with Nashville who have some great defenders but also a top-heavy setup. I think San Jose has the better forwards but the Blues’ edge on defence should largely negate that.

This is more or less a coin flip series for me and I wouldn’t be the slightest bit shocked if the Sharks move on to the finals. But for me, the coin landed on St. Louis in a third straight Game 7 victory.

(Alex) I still can’t believe it. The perennial choke artists and no shows are fighting each other for a Stanley Cup berth. Incredible. Wasn’t overly impressed with either team in the second round until their respective game 7s. That’s the type of mettle and display that winners have, and they both look like winners right now. Logan Couture, Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski are on fire. Their big guns are firing. Vladimir Tarasenko is leading a very balanced scoring charge. Brian Elliott and Marti Jones have both been up to the challenge so far, it feels like a tight one. Neither team could beat the other on home ice during the regular season, I think the Blues reverse that in game 7.

(Craig) In a battle of teams that have shaken off years of disappointment, this series has all the makings of an absolute beauty. These teams have plenty in common: they have great depth and elite players at both forward and defense and they are big, heavy teams that make life miserable for their opponents and wear them down. This really showed in Game 7 of the Sharks/Predators series as Weber and Josi looked out of gas. This series feels like it could come down to a lucky bounce or the sheer will of a player that will get his team to the next level. In the end the Shark’s pure dominance at home is the difference.

(Gordon) I can’t wait for this series. The conference semis went longer than many may have thought – myself included, but, when game 7 arrived both teams proved they know how to step on a neck and straight out dominate. Should be a close and entertaining matchup all around. The Blues faced a weak D and suspect goaltender (and didn’t have to deal with Seguin) while the Sharks made one of the deeper D-corps in the league look like Milbury on trade deadline day. Advantage Sharks.

(Norm) I expect another hard fought, close playoff series in the western side of the league. San Jose appears to finally be living up to their destiny based on their victories from the first two rounds. Their offence has been explosive when needed and their defence and goaltending solid. The Blues offence has also been excellent, with the backend support equally excellent. Due to these equalities between the two teams I’m predicting the series will go all the way, with the Blues having a slight edge due to their depth.