Western conference: Chicago (1) vs. Los Angeles (5)
It’s the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings against the 2010 cup-winning Hawks for the western spot in the cup Final.
Both teams were pushed to the limit in the conference semis, where the Kings used home-ice advantage to get past the Sharks and the Presidents’ Trophy winning Hawks reeled off three straight wins to bounce the Wings.
How did Mitch do on his previous predictions?
After going a modest 5-for-8 in the first round, Mitch caught a break or two and went 4/4 in round two (thanks to Chicago and Los Angeles). That adds up to guessing right three-quarters of the time.
While Chicago looks to carry momentum from their comeback series win against Detroit, LA has to feel like they’re playing the way they want to at this time of year.
That said, the Kings are only averaging two goals per game and only have two players with eight points or more in these playoffs (Kenora’s Mike Richards leads with 10 points in 13 games). Chicago has four with nine points or better and that’s without Jonathan Toews finding his offensive game to this point.
Both teams have solid "D" corps with standouts like Keith and Doughty to log big minutes. Much like the forwards, Chicago has speed and skill while LA can skate, has size and an edge.
In goal, Corey Crawford’s .948 in the last four games against the Wings is worthy of respect, but Jonathan Quick is playing so well his .948 in these playoffs carries an heir of invincibility.
Coaching and special teams are pretty even between these teams, and picking a winner isn’t easy.
Best guess: Los Angeles in six
Quick’s goaltending combines with the Kings’ mix of skill and physicality (forwards average 211 lbs) to find four wins, but it’ll take them six games.
Eastern conference: Pittsburgh (1) vs. Boston (4)
In the East, it’s the 2011 cup champion Bruins up against the 2009 champs from Pittsburgh. Like the western conference final, this is a physical team (Boston) against more of a finesse bunch (Pittsburgh).
But, unlike the west, it seems the offense offered by the Penguins may very well be too much for the size and grit of the Bruins.
Crosby, Malkin and company have scored a whopping 4.27 goals-per-game in these playoffs. Making matters worse for opponents, they’ve struck for 13 power-play goals.
Defensively, Pittsburgh can ice Kris Letang and the muscle of Brooks Orpik as part of a group that supports an attacking team nicely. Plus, Tomas Vokoun has been a steadying influence at the back for Dan Bylsma’s boys with a .941 saves percentage since taking over for M.A. Fleury in the first round. But Vokoun can expect more traffic and less margin-for-error on rebounds against Boston than his previous opponents.
All that said, Boston is a tough team to play against and should be much more of a test for the Pens than the Islanders or Senators in that sense.
Claude Julien can roll four lines and has Krejci and Bergeron to lead the top two lines and quality in the bottom six to challenge any team. Tyler Seguin has been very quiet and could prove a difference if he gets going. Of course, the Jagr-Iginla sub-plot is also interesting.
On the back-end, Torey Krug’s four goals against the Rangers and regular duty from Matt Bartkowski showed Boston has the depth to compete at this time of year.
Of course, Zdeno Chara is the cornerstone and will need to be at his finest.
Not sure if Boston’s defence will impress as much under the threat the Pens offer, but if they can slow Pittsburgh and get the puck going the other direction quickly they’ve got a real shot.
In goal, Tuukka Rask has put up some tidy numbers (.928, 2.22) and could out-play whoever Pittsburgh uses.
As in the west, the coaching is experienced and impressive – no edge there.
Best guess: Boston in seven
If Boston can slow down, and wear down Pittsburgh, they’ve got the personnel to make the final. If they can’t, Pittsburgh just scores too easily to be stopped. Going with my gut, Bruins in 7.