Monday, May 29, 2017
(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (4) Nashville Predators
The Penguins have the offense to spare, with Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, and Evgeni Malkin, but they've needed some unsung heroes to get through a tough Eastern Conference, with players such as Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel, and Carter Rowney getting ice time. The wild card here is in goal, where Matt Murray currently is the guy in goal after taking over due to a bad game four by Marc-Andre Fleury last series.
The Predators beat some of the best in the Western Conference in Chicago and Anaheim to get here, but now, their depth will be tested, as Ryan Johansen is out. The good news is that they've had two games to figure it out, and thus far, they are comfortable trotting out the likes of Fredrick Gaudreau and PA Parenteau to fill the void. Colton Sissons has filled in well as the number one center, and the reshuffling of the lines up front hasn't changed the way the Predators have done business. Defensively, the group is solid, and it's all backed by stellar goaltending from Pekka Rinne.
Prediction: Predators in 6
Wednesday, May 17, 2017
The host team, the Spitfires had a crash landing during the OHL playoffs, losing in the first round to London, thus having to wait a while before they can play again. Injuries to the likes of Logan Brown and Logan Stanley were seen as culprits, and with the extended rest, the Spitfires boast considerable talent with Mikhail Sergachev, Jeremy Bracco, and assuming they're healthy, the Logans.
SAINT JOHN SEA DOGS
They were the most dominant of the three champions in the tournament, as they lost just twice en route to the QMJHL championship. Their best players are Thomas Chabot, Matthieu Joseph, and overager Callum Booth, though they also have NHL prospects in Julien Gauthier and Nathan Noel.
The OHL champions, the Otters had their share of adversity, needing seven games to dispatch last year's champion London Knights in the Conference semi-finals, but a team that boasts prolific scorers such as Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome always have a chance to do something special. Getting key role players in trade deadline deals such as Anthony Cirelli and OHL playoffs MVP Warren Foegele pushed them over the hump.
League champions for the first time in their 40 year history, the Thunderbirds rode Matt Barzal's play into a fairly dominant start to the playoff run, sweeping top ranked Everett in the Conference semi-finals. That momentum manifested itself into a six game win against the top team in the Canadian Hockey League in the Regina Pats to win the championship. Ethan Bear, Ryan Gropp, and rookie Carl Staniowski have played key roles in addition to Barzal.
Monday, May 15, 2017
This Thunderbirds team was likely the last chance at a championship, as they are going to be losing playoff MVP Matt Barzal, defenseman of the year Ethan Bear, and Ryan Gropp to the pros. Goaltending looks secure with Carl Staniowski still in the fold, as he is not draft-eligible for another year. The big question, as it is with any successful team, is what coach Steve Konowalchuk will do, as he has overseen the transformation from an also-ran when he took over as head coach in 2011 to a championship team now. With many pro teams that could be looking to fill vacancies, as well as a Buffalo Sabres team that still needs a head coach, it may not be long before Konowalchuk moves up in the coaching world.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
(1)Anaheim Ducks vs. (4) Nashville Predators
The Ducks had to hold off the Oilers to get here. None have been more important to the team's push than Ryan Getzlaf, who had often been maligned when it came to recent playoff history. Certainly, Randy Carlyle behind the bench has helped, as he was instrumental in settling the team down when they were in numerous holes, but it's been the likes of Shea Theodore and Nick Ritchie who have been stepping up when the team has needed them the most. If there is a concern, it is in goal, where things continue to be on rocky ground at times.
The Predators' path may be unprecedented, given their ranking, but having key players at full strength has been a major key to their success. It has helped that Pekka Rinne has played like the world-beater that he's capable of being while the team continues to get contributions up and down the lineup. Playing disciplined has also helped, and it figures to be key again against a physical Ducks team that can capitalize on mistakes at any time.
Prediction: Predators in 6
(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (2) Ottawa Senators
The Penguins showed their playoff prowess by shaking off a 3-1 series lead loss to eventually close out the Washington Capitals in seven games. As has been the case in every series, it's been the unheralded players that have come up big, with Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust playing hero in game seven. That doesn't mean the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby haven't done their part, though, as Malkin leads the team in playoff scoring while Crosby continues to be the engine of the team. Marc-Andre Fleury gives the Penguins a good problem in goal if and when Matt Murray comes back from injury.
The Senators continue to show resiliency, as they played part of the Rangers series without Erik Karlsson. He will be needed, as the Senators didn't fare so well without him. Craig Anderson has been the man in goal while Kyle Turris has become the clutch player that the Sens needed. All hands will be needed if the Sens hope to pull an upset.
Prediction: Penguins in 7