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The Stanley Cup conference finals are about to begin, marking the start of the second half of the NHL playoffs. The HabsWorld writers provide their predictions on who they believe will advance to the Final.

Eastern Conference

Florida Panthers vs Carolina Hurricanes

Kevin Leveille predicts: Panthers in 6 games
Terry Costaris predicts: Hurricanes in 7 games
Allan Katz predicts: Hurricanes in 6 games
Norm Szcyrek predicts: Hurricanes in 7 games
Brian La Rose predicts: Hurricanes in 7 games

(Kevin) Two teams that like to play with tempo to cause the other team to make mistakes. The easy choice remains the Hurricanes, but it is worth mentioning (again) that the Panthers are a year away from being Presidents’ Trophy winners, and were one of the best teams down the stretch to even get to the playoffs. If Sergei Bobrovsky continues this play, the crease becomes an important advantage for the Panthers whereas I would suggest the Hurricanes are no-doubt favourites on the blue line. The forward comparison is interesting too. I prefer the depth of the Hurricanes, but Tkachuk and Barkov are a better 1-2 punch than Aho-Necas for me. News that Teravainen is on skates is a big boost for the Hurricanes, but I still think the Panthers make it through.

(Terry) I keep betting against Florida and losing but oh well, here I go again. My gut has told me from day one that Carolina would reach the Final and I have to go with this feeling. The Canes are a complete team from top to bottom and have the edge on defence. Of course, Florida seems like one of those “destiny” clubs along the lines of LA in 2010 and St. Louis in 2019. One thing for certain is that each game will literally be trench warfare. I expect a lot of overtimes in this series.

(Allan) As we march on through the playoffs the former Habs still playing are flourishing. You can feel the electricity when the likes of Joel (Why is his number not retired?) Hanley and Nick (Was he in a boy band?) Cousins are sitting on the bench cheering their teams. Let’s look to the East where two hockey teams, from areas of the country that would not be called a hockey hotbed, get ready for a titanic showdown. Someone is going to hit an iceberg and now I’m going to reveal who that is.

Florida (they’re hitting the iceberg) has gotten this far in the playoffs by following their two Hab Titans; Eric Staal with one goal and one assist and Nick Cousins with two goals and four assists. The two former Habs (And future Hall of Famers/or not) do NOT strike fear in the Panthers because those wild cats have the two greatest ex-Habs playing in the league; Jesperi (We kind of miss your smile) Kotkaniemi and Sebastian (He signed an offer sheet from the Habs and was theirs for a day or two) Aho. The Big K has three goals, three assists, and is a minus-one so far in the playoffs. Sebastian has scored five times with an equal number of assists and coincidentally plus-5. That’s 19 points versus eight points. (For those using my insights for gambling purposes; Don’t.) (For those who think the inclusion of Aho is unfair… your opinion is noted.)

(Norm) Florida has been the Cinderella story of this year’s playoffs. To date, their success includes knocking out Boston and Toronto with their high-powered offences. Bobrovsky did not start the first series in net, but after getting his first start in game four against Boston, he has won seven of the next nine games. The Hurricanes continue to win by employing a smothering offence and a very solid defence. Defenceman Jaccob Slavin and Brett Burns have been superb at shutting down the opposition while also contributing on offence. Former Hab Jesperi Kotkaniemi began to contribute offensively with three goals and two assists in the five-game series against New Jersey. This will be another close series, and I expect it to go the full seven games, with Carolina coming out on top.

(Brian) While the television ratings for this series are likely to be awful, it’s actually a pretty compelling matchup with both teams playing somewhat similarly in terms of their aggression.  I think Florida got a bit lucky at times against Toronto, especially with them getting ‘good’ Bobrovsky.  History has shown he doesn’t play at that level for too long but they might get a few more good games out of him to start the series.  That will help keep it close but Carolina’s defence is strong enough to shut down Florida’s top-scoring threats, or at least to hold them back.  The Hurricanes, meanwhile, have impressive depth as they’ve shown in the playoffs and the supporting cast should once again lead them to victory.