©MMXI Tank Productions. Predictions Made by Frank Fleming on May 14, 2011 at 12:05 am ET
Bruins in 6
Both the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning arrive at the Eastern Conference after sweeps with a long layoff. Long layoffs can be a blessing or a curse, and for two teams that before their sweeps needed seven games in the first round it is a little of both.
For the Lightning the layoff is more of a curse than a blessing as they were truly rolling, after rallying from down 3-1 to beat the Penguins before sweeping the number one seeded Washington Capitals. There is almost no way they can expect to pick off where they left off.
For the Bruins it may be more of a blessing, as Patrice Bergeron suffered a mild concussion in their series clincher against the Flyers. With a week off Bergeron may be able to return sooner than later in the Eastern Conference Finals, which could be a key factor as he is one of Boston's top penalty killers.
One key to overcoming the rust of a long layoff is experience. While the Lightning have several players that were members of their 2004 Stanley Cup team, players such as Steven Stamkos are playoff neophytes. If the Lightning are to strike down the Bruins they will need a big series from Stamkos who is of the bright emerging young stars in the NHL.
Ultimately, Defense will decide this series and no team in the NHL's final four has a better defense than the Boston Bruins, with the bruising Zdeno Chara and the Goaltending of Tim Thomas. Thomas has led the NHL in most goaltending categories and is a favorite to win his second Vezina Trophy. This should be a long tight series with a few overtime games. The Bruins have excelled in overtime in the postseason and will win this series in six games.
Canucks in 7
The San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks were the top two teams in the Western Conference at the start of the playoffs and as the playoffs enter the Final Four they are still the top two teams in the West. However, neither journey to the Conference Finals was easy as they both nearly blew 3-0 series leads.
The Canucks scare came in the first round as they needed overtime to beat the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks. Beating the Blackhawks was an even bigger mental victory as Chicago knocked the Canucks out of the playoffs in the last two seasons before this year. In the second round they would six games to skate past the Predators, but it was not easy as Nashville had their chances in overtime during Game 3 to take control of the series.
The Sharks meanwhile, are coming off a classic seven game battle with the Red Wings, even as they built their 3-0 lead with three one goal wins, two of which were in overtime. As the Wings came back to force Game 7, they scored the game winner of all three games in the 3rd Period, with just an empty net goal in Game 6, being the only game where they won by two. Naturally of course the Sharks won by one goal in Game 7.
The Sharks and Canucks one could argue may be meeting for the Stanley Cup Championship as no matter who wins will be the favorite going forward. The edge in goaltending has to be with Roberto Luongo of the Canucks, though Antti Niemi who won a cup last year in Chicago has played well with the Sharks.
Ultimately, the skaters will decide this series. The Canucks have reached this point without a big effort from either of the Sedin Twins, if they get going it will be over. The Sharks meanwhile will need Ryan Clowe to be healthy and effective in every game. Right now for the Canucks the best player on the ice is Ryan Kesler, while Devin Setoguchi has been on fire for San Jose. Because of Kesler's ability to be a better two way player the Canucks will win this series, but they will need the full seven games in what promises to be a great series.