NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs - Conference Finals Preview

By Tomi Rantanen

Four teams remain in the hunt for Stanley Cup

And then there were four. Only the two best teams of each conference remain in contest for the Stanly Cup and the games pick off already on Friday. Both regular season conference winners were eliminated on the second round and we will have if not a surprise champion, at least a major underdog lifting the Stanley Cup in June..

Here is Accuscore’s prediction for the Western Conference Final:

St. Louis Blues – San Jose Sharks
Sharks will progress with 52.2% probability. The most likely result of the series is 2-4 (18.9%)

The Sharks see to have finally beaten their post season demons and are playing with great confidence in both ends of the rink. No single individual has jumped out of the quality roster, albeit Brent Burns has been on top of his game as have many others. There seems to be no weak point in their game at this point and it seems impossible to beat them for four times.

Same arguments go for the Blues as well. They’ve surprised many by scoring a truckload of goals against the Starts, in addition to defending with grit as they always do. It has to be said though, that in the series vs Stars the opponent’s defense and goaltending were major letdowns and Blues got away with murder, if you consider the scores such as 1-6 in game seven. It was not all that easy, but Blues duly deserved their place in conference finals.

In simulations Sharks are on top, but just by a very small margin. Any game could turn towards either team and the score will likely remain low. Simulations have maybe undervalued Blues a little bit in the previous rounds, but Sharks have a small edge here despite being the away team. But it will be close, as always.

Here is Accuscore’s prediction for the Eastern Conference Final:

Pittsburgh Penguins – Tampa Bay Lightning
Penguins will progress with 55.3% probability. The most likely result of the series is 4-3 (17%)

The Penguins have been red hot for a couple of months now and steamrolled over the President’s Trophy winners Capitals in six games, despite being outplayed in a couple. Their secondary scoring proved their worth as Crosby and Malkin were kept well in check. The likes of Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin manning the bottom six makes Penguins attack their best weapon. At goal rookie Matt Murray has been in the zone for all his post-season games, making game savers when needed. The unproven defense is still a question mark, but effectively shutting down Capitals’ attack is a major scalp under their belt.

Lightning have repeated their conference final spot from last season, when they went on to the Stanley Cup final to lose against Chicago. The team might be even better this year, with young core players more experienced. They certainly showed confidence in series against the Red Wings and Islanders, ending their opponents’ seasons 4-1. Accomplishing this without Steven Stamkos and Victor Strålman speaks of great depth in the Lightning roster and with the playing style matching Penguins it will be an extremely entertaining, fast paced and goal rich series. In simulations Penguins prevail after game seven, but as expected it will be a game of small margins all around.