2016 Stanley Cup Conference Finals- Predictions
The Stanley Cup Playoffs have now moved into the Conference Finals. The Western Conference has been very physical as usual, and the Eastern Conference has been fast paced and a little surprising. The Western Conference Finals feature two teams that have never won the Stanley Cup, the San Jose Sharks and the St. Louis Blues. The Eastern Conference Finals feature two teams that have won the cup, but it has been since 2004 for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and 2009 for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Pittsburgh Penguins (2) versus Tampa Bay Lightning (3)
Pittsburgh has been on a roll. They knocked off the President Trophy winning Washington Capitals last round, and now look to keep that momentum running. Phil Kessel has been very good, and the play of 21-year-old goaltender Matt Murray has been amazing. He has maintained the crease, even with veteran Marc-Andre Fleury back and healthy. Another bright spot is the fact that the Penguins have been very good without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin playing to their capabilities.
The Tampa Bay Lightning keep on staying calm, and using their veteran leadership to fight through difficulties. With Steven Stamkos, and Antone Stralman out with injuries it is hard to believe that the Lightning have made it this far. The Lightning made quick business of the New York Islanders in Round 2 defeating them in 5 games. The Lightning have been scoring goals, and have also had great goaltending from veteran Ben Bishop. Victor Hedman has been a force on defense and Nikita Kucherov has become a scoring machine.
The Lightning will have to continue its timely scoring and strong goaltending to win. The Pittsburgh Penguins must continue to have rookie goaltender Matt Murray at the top of his game, and more importantly Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin must produce more offense. Pick: Pittsburgh Penguins in 6.
St. Louis Blues (2) versus San Jose Sharks (3)
The San Jose Sharks have turned into one of the most complete teams in the playoffs. They are strong defensively with Marc-Edouard Vlasic. He has proven to be one of the most underrated players in the league, and the offense input of Brent Burns has also proven very important. The biggest story in San Jose is the offensive production of Logan Couture. He had 9 points in the second round, seven game series win over the Nashville Predators. Martin Jones has been solid in net, and veteran leadership of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau has proven to be critical to the team’s success.
The St. Louis Blues have shaken the playoff monkey off their back. Although it took seven games for the Blues to knock off the #1 ranked Dallas Stars, their Game 7 performance was impressive to say the least. The Blues have silenced the critics by knocking off the Chicago Blackhawks in Round 1 and now the Stars. The gritty, physical style of the Blues has proven too much for their opponents. Brian Elliott has been solid in net. Quietly getting the job done. David Backes has proven his worth this year, and Vladimir Tarasenko has proven he can score every time he touches the puck. More importantly the defensive play of Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo has been impressive. They have logged tons of minutes, and have shut down their opponent’s top players.
The Blues will have to have strong goaltending to get past the high-powered Sharks. Special teams will be very important. The San Jose Sharks must keep the scoring train on its track. Depth has been the big surprise and key for the Sharks. They must keep this going, and there is no doubt that the defense will remain strong. Pick: San Jose Sharks in 6.
* Photo Credit - USAToday Sports Images
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