One thing that is safe to assume about the NHL Conference Finals, you will see two very different series. The Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning both think defense first most of the time. While the San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks are both deep with scoring depth.
It is also probably safe to assume both series will go at least six games. The rusty vs. run-down debate will probably run rampant. However, both teams out East have had long lay-offs while only San Jose has really no chance to settle down.
#3 Boston Bruins vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning
Boston has the ability to push the Lightning around. The Bruins are deep on defense and are long on big, angry forwards. Tim Thomas has also been spectacular throughout the playoffs. Tampa has gotten great goaltending from Dwayne Roloson and their grinders have been extremely effective. If it comes down to goaltending I would lean towards the Bruins. Thomas has been too good to bet against. In addition he has played bigger as the situation has become more tense. The Bruins forwards are good. Their top two lines are great scorers and their grinders have been excellent. Chris Kelly has been an x-factor of sorts as he has found ways to score big goals in both rounds. Zdeno Chara is the easy guy to point out on defense but Dennis Seidenberg has been stellar all playoffs. He may be the best defenseman the Bruins have right now.
Tampa’s big scorers have been good. Lecavalier and St. Louis show obvious playoff experience. However, Steven Stamkos hasn’t been the 50-goal scorer that he can be. He has shown flashes but not enough just yet. Sean Bergenheim has been the diamond in the rough for Tampa. He has the look of a guy who makes $8 million, not $800,000. I feel the difference in the series will come down to who defends better. Tampa has been great at this but Boston has depth on their side. Bruins in six.
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #2 San Jose Sharks
This might just be the best series of the playoffs thus far. I’m sure this will be one of those “it should be the Finals” series. Both teams have two – maybe three – lines capable of producing consistent offense. The Canucks have a deep defensive corps while the Sharks d-men are anchored by Dan Boyle and Douglas Murray. Goaltending is another wash. Roberto Luongo has yet to prove his is a big-time goalie, Antti Neimi has.
Vancouver needs the Sedin twins to show up. They haven’t done much so far and have left the Canucks’ other forwards to carry the load. Luckily Ryan Kesler has been the top Conn Smythe candidate so far and guys like Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen and co. have been able to play big without a top-pair watching them. In addition, the depth on the blueline is unmatched. Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, Christian Erhoff and Keith Ballard have all been outstanding. They have provided offense and have the ability to match more than one scoring line.
The Sharks will need Antti Niemi to play big yet again. They have an incredible amount of scoring depth between Thornton, Marleau, Setoguchi, Couture, Pavelski….the list goes on. The amount of talent up front makes them difficult to match between forwards and defensemen. What I think will hurt them is their ability to defend. They have strong checking line forwards, however their defense is better on offense than they are on defense. A team with as much talent as Vancouver will take advantage of that. Not to mention, the Canucks have had just the right amount of time off after the second round to lick their wounds. Canucks in seven.