THE USB NHL Postseason Preview: Conference Final Edition

We’re down to the Final Four!

Aw crap, that’s the wrong sport.

OK, it’s Conference Finals time!

Wait a minute. Final? It’s not plural?

Hi everybody! Welcome to THE USB NHL Postseason Preview! Jeremy Lambert & I have been working our way through these playoffs making picks, and I have to admit that he’s been cleaning my clock all the way. Last round I struggled to a 1-3 record while he checked in at a stout 3-1 and continued his perfect record in the Western Conference. Will these trends continue? Let’s find out together…

Western Conference Final

Anaheim Ducks (P1) vs Nashville Predators (WC2)

duckspreds

Steve Cook: It’s a little bit weird for me to have a professional team I support winning multiple playoff games & series. The Reds haven’t won a playoff series since 1995. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1990. Naturally, I’ve become accustomed to my teams losing early in the playoffs, if they make it there at all. Deep playoff runs are not something I’m used to.

(Sure, there’s Louisville basketball, but I don’t consider college sports part of this conversation. And Louisville teams have a pretty checkered playoff past too, even if they’ve won a title or three.)

The Predators franchise history doesn’t have a ton of deep playoff runs either. This is Nashville’s first conference final appearance. The bright side here, as a fan prone to pessimism, is that there isn’t a lot of history to draw from here. The Bengals have a tradition of losing first round playoff games, so I’m already planning on a loss before it happens. We have no idea what to expect from the Preds in the Western Conference Finals. Could be good. Could be bad.

We do know what to expect from Preds vs Ducks series though. Lots of physicality and bad feelings. Nashville got the better of Anaheim in seven bitterly contested games during last year’s First Round. The Ducks responded by firing Bruce Boudreau, which resulted in finally being able to win a Game 7 for the first time in ages last round against Edmonton. The Ducks are just as good now as they were last year. The Preds are better. I do think the Ducks have more respect for Nashville now and will be looking for revenge, which are two factors that weren’t in play last year.

The Preds will win if Pekka Rinne and the defensemen play the way they have so far. Anaheim’s goaltending has been shaky in the playoffs. If Nashville can take advantage of that and get more contributions from the front line, there is no reason they can’t go to the ship.

Except there is more motivation on Anaheim’s side. The Preds’ Cup window is opening. The Ducks’ is closing. Most of their key talent are leaving their prime years. Its now or never for them. They’ve been here before and know what it takes to raise the Cup.

The Preds proved last round that they can play the tough physical style. The problem: Anaheim is a lot better at it than St. Louis.

Jeremy Lambert: I’ve been on the Nashville bandwagon all season. I loved the P.K. Subban trade and I don’t care how much he dances prior to the game. The Press have been a well-balanced machine throughout the playoffs. They’ve gotten contributions from everyone and don’t seem to have a glaring weakness outside of inexperience. The Ducks have the experience, but they’ve been shaky at times during the postseason. Ryan Getzlaf has been an absolute monster, but he’ll be facing the best defense he’s seen in the playoffs. John Gibson will need to be better for Anaheim if they hope to advance.

I’m really looking forward to the defensive match-up in this one. Subban, Ryan Ellis, and Roman Josi are all top-flight defenseman. But Anaheim is one of the few teams that can match Nashville’s three headed monster in the form of Cam Fowler, Sami Vatanen, and Hampus Lindholm. The Predators offense is driven by their defense, which will put extra pressure on the Anaheim forwards.

I see no reason in going away from Nashville at this point. They’ve lost twice in the postseason, and both of those games were one goal games. They are comfortable playing tight-checking low-scoring games. They’re well rested and confident. Anaheim will push them, but there’s something special about this Preds team.

Cook’s Prediction: Ducks in seven
Lambert’s Prediction: Predators in six

Eastern Conference Final

Ottawa Senators (A2) vs Pittsburgh Penguins (M2)

penssens

Steve Cook: The hopes of Canada ride with Ottawa, who are still alive in this somehow. Mostly due to defenseman Erik Karlsson, who leads the team with 13 points including 11 assists, a plus-minus of eight and two game winning goals, including in Game 6 against the Rangers. Goalie Craig Anderson has done a good job and the Sens will be the loveable underdog in this series that will gain the support of all hockey fans outside of Pittsburgh.

Their problem is they have to play the Penguins, who are annoyingly indestructible this time of year. I consider the Penguins to be the hockey version of the NFL’s Steelers, which makes sense on way too many levels.

-From Pittsburgh
-Same color scheme
-Same annoying fans
-Same level of success in the postseason

I’ll give the Pens a little credit, their first title win wasn’t until the 90s, so it’s not like their fans go on about things that happened fifty years ago. They didn’t know the team existed in the 70s, and then they forgot it existed from roughly 1993 until whenever they drafted Sidney Crosby. That all being said, I want to leave a little Pittsburgh hate on the table for the next round, as the Penguins will surely represent the East in the Cup Final.

Jeremy Lambert: I don’t know how the Senators are here. I’ve been so good with my playoff predictions this year (I’ve correctly predicted every single Western series), but I’ve gone against Ottawa in both series, and yet here they are. Erik Karlsson is an absolute stud and the best offensive-defenseman in the league. Craig Anderson has been surprisingly good. But I still don’t know how they are here.

But, they’re here. And they’re facing the defending Cup champions, the best player in the league, and the best player in this year’s playoffs. Despite winning in six games, the Sens had trouble with the speed and depth of the Rangers. The Pens have more speed, more talent, and more depth than the Rangers. Ottawa is based on slowing down the opposition. I don’t know if you can slow down this Pens squad.

Marc-Andre Fleury was an absolute stud in Game 7 against Washington, and Matt Murray is healthy again should he falter. The Pens have two Cup winning goalies at their disposal. Plus those Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin guys. Their defense is banged up, but a high-powered Washington offense couldn’t exploit that advantage. I’m going with Pittsburgh, and if my track record holds true, we’ll get a Nashville vs. Ottawa final, which is sure to set ratings records.

Cook’s Prediction: Penguins in six
Lambert’s Prediction: Penguins in five

All right, we’ll be back next time with our Stanley Cup Final predictions! Is it just me or is this playoff season flying by?

pk

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