By Tomi Rantanen
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Semifinals
The Western Conference is now ready to move on to semifinals as well, as Nashville Predators overcame the Ducks on the road in game seven. If the east was quite predictable, in the west it was a different story altogether. Both Stanley Cup champions from the past four years succumbed to an early exit, as St. Louis Blues finally got the better of their demons and dumped the Blackhawks out in game seven and San Jose Sharks were able to upkeep their regular season form to beat the Los Angeles Kings. Predator’s besting of Ducks was the latest addition to a somewhat surprising start to western conference playoff run..
Here are the Accuscore predictions for the Western Conference Semi Finals:
Dallas Stars (1.) – St. Louis Blues (2.)
Stars will progress with 68% probability. The most likely result of the series is 4-1 (19.8%)
The Stars were able to continue their excellent attacking play from the regular season and outscored the Wild in the first round. Their defense and net-minding was not exactly top-notch, but who cares if you score more than three goals on average. Star’s free flowing play is entertaining to watch and so far it’s been extremely efficient as well, but on the second round the opposition gets bigger, tougher and meaner in front of the net. Blues is infamous for their defensive mentality and physical presence, which was felt throughout the first round series vs the skillful but maybe a tad soft Blackhawks. In addition to solid defending, Brian Elliott was an absolute monster minding the net, turning down Patrick Kane and co. time and time again. Lack of scoring was deemed Blues’ Achilles heel, but rather surprisingly their depth in scoring matched that of Blackhawks and even surpassed it when it comes to the top units.
The simulations predict a high-scoring series, with Dallas slightly more efficient in that department. Blues defense got out perhaps a bit easy in the previous round and now Elliott will also face a barrage he’s yet to experience. Stars defense and goaltenders will face a stern test when physical and robust Blues attackers drive the net, but if they step up to the challenge it’s likely that Stars attack will beat Blues defense.
San Jose Sharks (3.) – Nashville Predators (WC 1.)
Sharks will progress with 66.7% probability. The most likely result of the series is 4-1 (19.5%)
Sharks surprised many by ousting Kings in the first round, but Accuscore had that in the cards from early on. San Jose has been a major let down in the postseason for some time, but now seem to have found a balanced system for the available roster of players. Defenseman by trade, Brent Burns is leading the pack in scoring, which tells a story of depth up front in all four lines. The series vs Kings was a grinding success for the Sharks, who managed to beat Kings in their own game. All but the last encounter finished with a one goal difference and scoring was scarce in both ends. Sharks do finally look like a playoff team, with necessary toughness and depth outside of Joe Thornton-Patrick Marleu duo.
Nashville’s progress was almost as big a surprise as Sharks, but they definitely deserved their seat in the semifinals by playing physical, straightforward playoff-hockey. The talented defense led by Shea Weber and magnificent goalkeeping by Pekka Rinne provided Predators with such a solid base to build on, they only needed a couple of surgical strikes to send Ducks packing. No Predator players are in top-30 of scoring in the playoffs, with only Shea Weber (31.) and Colin Wilson (35.) in top-50.
The simulations predict extremely close series, with Sharks able to thwart most of Predator’s counter-attacks successfully. It will likely be a low-scoring set of games, with both defenses and goalkeepers performing to highest standard. It just might be up to Sharks’ individual skill in the top units, which will eventually turn the series for the Californians.