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NHL Conference Championship Previews

By: John Galletley

The second round started out disappointing but gained some redemption on the Eastern Conference side. We are down to the final four teams in the league now and it looks dead even for them to win the Cup. Last round I did a little better predicting series, getting three of four right in the Rangers, Lightning, and Ducks while getting the exact number of games in the Lightning series correct. With a record of 7-5 so far, let’s see if I can get more predictions in the win column.

New York Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning vs. Capitals

The Rangers could consider themselves lucky to even be in this spot. They were 90 seconds away from elimination in Game 5 against the Capitals until Chris Kreider got the game-tying goal. The Rangers were then able to prove their resilience by overcoming a 3-1 deficit and winning Game 7 against the Capitals in overtime. There is no doubt this Rangers team is going to be a tough out even when they’re down.

Two big players that stepped up for them were Kreider and Derek Stepan. Kreider had four goals against the Capitals and Stepan had two big assists to win Game 5 and the series-winning goal in Game 7. For the second year in a row, the Rangers have young players stepping up for them when they need them most. It also helps when Henrik Lundqvist has shined brightest in the biggest moments. He has been the best goalie in the playoffs so far with a 1.65 goals-against average with experience on his side as well.

The main concern for the Rangers is going to be keeping up with this Lightning offense. The Rangers have only won two games so far where they scored more than two goals. They are only averaging two goals a game in the playoffs which is next to last of the 16 teams that started whereas the Lightning average 2.62 goals per game which ranks fourth in the league. Lundqvist will have his work cut out for him as well as the Rangers’ defense to stop this fearsome offense.

The Lightning have been led so far by an emerging star in Tyler Johnson. He has eight goals in the playoffs so far which leads the entire league. They also had a few more scorers emerge in their last series against the Canadiens. Steven Stamkos got involved in the scoring after not having one goal against the Red Wings. He has 10 points in the playoffs so far which makes him one of the league leaders. There’s also Nikita Kucherov who went wild against the Canadiens scoring six goals in the series.

There is no doubt the Lightning have the weapons and speed to beat the Rangers. The only concern for them is if Ben Bishop can keep up with Henrik Lundqvist. His stats aren’t too bad but he has let in a couple of soft goals that have been preventable. He can’t afford those kind of mistakes when his opposition is one of the best goalies in the world. But, if he can at least have a little above average performance against the Rangers, he should be able to put the Lightning in a good position to win with their offensive skills.

Prediction: The Rangers have the one of the best goalies in the world with depth on their side but they simply don’t have the offensive firepower to keep up with the Lightning. Lightning in 6.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Chicago Blackhawks

ducks vs. hawks

This is the chance the Ducks have been waiting for years to have. A shot at getting back to the Stanley Cup Finals with a perennial dynasty in their way. They’re the team that’s had high expectations for the past few years with their best chance to finally get over the hump once again with this core.

The Ducks have arguably had the easiest road in the playoffs so far of the teams left but that doesn’t mean they haven’t looked impressive. Their top-liner forwards Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler are all playing like the leaders and scorers they are to help get the Ducks to this point. They have helped make the Ducks one of the more threatening goal-scoring teams in the playoffs as the Ducks lead the league with 3.89 goals scored per game. The Ducks also have the top three leaders in assists which are Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Jakob Silfverberg. It’s safe to say this is not going to be an easy team to slow down.

The main concern for the Ducks has to be production from the lower lines. They’re a top-heavy team that relies on their stars and a couple of other second-tier players for all of their production. Teams that succeed in the playoffs have to get something out of every line. This can work against teams with no world-class players like the Jets and Flames but not against a team like the Blackhawks who have a similar core and depth.

The Blackhawks on the other hand, have history is on their side. They have won two Stanley Cups in the past five years and only lost to the Los Angeles Kings last year in Game 7 in overtime of Game 7 in the Western Conference Finals. This team is a dynasty with playoff experience and have been looked at as the team that can win no matter what seed they’re in or who they’re playing.

The Blackhawks have everything going for them. They have as threatening, if not more threatening of a core with Jonathon Toews, Duncan Keith, Marion Hossa, and of course the return of Patrick Kane. Kane was sensational against the Wild as he helped lead the Blackhawks to make quick work of the Wild in a sweep. Kane had five goals and an assist proving he’s here to say when he was listed as questionable to start the playoffs.

It helps that Corey Crawford re-emerged last round and solidified himself as the starting goalie as well as someone the Blackhawks can rely on. That was something that made me and some others doubt them last round going against the Wild but he performed like it never happened.

The only concern I would have for the Blackhawks is the amount of time they have had off. As we know, they made quick work of the Wild. They were able to take their foot off the gas last round and there are 10 days in between Game 4 against the Wild and Game 1 of this series. This delay might cause them to be a little rusty with possibly a slow start to the series.

Prediction: These teams are both very talented led by a solid cores of stars. It should be a high-scoring series but I believe the Blackhawks will prevail with their ability to play well in the big moments and depth is on their side. Blackhawks in 7.

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Want to talk sports? John Galletley is the man to go to. He has been following sports of all kinds since he was a child but had a first love for baseball being in a family of Yankees fans. He also loves to travel and has used sports in order to do this including taking several road trips to MLB stadiums and other sports venues. John has always dreamed of working in the sports world and wants to make his way there as a writer in order to follow the philosophy of never working a day in your life if you love what you do.

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