Puck Daddy - NHL

Seriously, look at the brain on Leahy.

According to 5-Hole.com's tabulation of "expert picks" from NHL punditry, Puck Daddy's jovial associate editor has gone 11-1 in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, including five series in which he's picked the winner and number of games correctly.

Our own Justin Bourne has also picked five series perfectly, and is No. 3 in the "expert" standings behind Leahy and Ross McKeon of Yahoo! Sports. In fact, 9 of the top 11 prognosticators are from Yahoo! Sports. We are teh Interwebz smart!!1!

Coming up, staff prognostications for the Eastern Conference Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins, and the Western Conference Finals between the Vancouver Canucks and the San Jose Sharks.

Which two teams are headed to the Stanley Cup Finals?

Greg Wyshynski, Editor, Puck Daddy

Bruins in 6

For the Tampa Bay Lightning, the gap between eliminating the Pittsburgh Penguins and Game 1 of their series against the Washington Capitals was 48 hours. Between the end of that semifinal sweep and Game 1 against the Boston Bruins, it's 10 days. Which is to say that the palpable confidence and momentum that an underdog like Tampa needs to maintain in a postseason run may have been left on the couch with a couple a cold ones and a DVD box set of "The Wire."

But at least the Bolts are getting healthier while the Bruins are missing a critical player: Center Patrice Bergeron(notes), concussed against the Flyers, who has been their best forward offensively (12 points) and a vital defensive player as well.

Bergeron's injury gave me pause here. I make this pick hoping, perhaps against logic, that he'll be back. He's arguably the third most "oh-[expletive] he's injured!" player on the team behind Zdeno Chara(notes) and Tim Thomas(notes).

But I'm sticking with Boston, and not just because I picked them to play through at the start of the playoffs. I'm picking them because I believe Tim Thomas will outplay Dwayne Roloson(notes) in the series, cementing his Conn Smythe credentials. I'm picking them because at some point their 2-for-37 power play has to turn the corner, and doing it against a team killing at a 94.4-percent clip is just the type of hockey illogic you find in the playoffs.

Most of all, the Bruins showed an impressive killer instinct and clarity of mission against the Flyers in Round 2 that I feel will continue through the conference finals.

Canucks in 7

Ryan Kesler(notes) had 11 points on the Vancouver Canucks' 14 goals during their semifinals win against the Nashville Predators. It was one of the single greatest individual efforts in the franchise's playoff history, and there's no reason not to expect he'll bring it again in the conference finals.

But he's going to need help to beat the San Jose Sharks.

Which means it falls on Henrik Sedin(notes), with 5 points and a minus-11 since Game 4 against the Blackhawks, and Daniel Sedin(notes), with 5 points and a minus-12 in the same stretch, to elevate their games in this series for the Canucks to have a chance against a Sharks team that has shown impressive depth this postseason.

It's going to be a long, physical, unpredictable series between two well-matched teams. Special teams will play a significant role. In the end, we'll take the Canucks because of home ice and because Luongo will play a little bit better than Niemi.

Sean Leahy, Associate Editor, Puck Daddy

Bruins in 6

The Bruins are halfway to finishing the mission they put in front of themselves after last year's playoff disappointment. Dispatching a banged up Philadelphia team in a sweep gave them some time off to heal up and prepare for a Tampa team that will be just as hungry and rested.

Patrice Bergeron is out for now and in comes Tyler Seguin(notes). Considering the Bruins' depth, Seguin doesn't need to step in and match the qualities they'll lack without Bergeron. David Krejci(notes) and Nathan Horton(notes) will have to continue to step and help provide the offense, while on the blueine, the Bruins will be fine with the likes of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg(notes) anchoring things from the back.

Tampa has the best power play and penalty kill of the teams remaining, while Boston is the worst with the man advantage. Even if the Bruins' power play continues to struggle, just getting one or two goals with the extra man could pay off big in this series, let alone if it finally comes around. Five on five play will be something Boston needs to focus on considering their success so far.

In goal, Timmy Thomas and Dwayne Roloson are playing lights out, but in the end I'll stick with my preseason pick and say that the Vezina nominee will outplay the journeyman with that being the difference.

Canucks in 7

Both teams came close to blowing 3-0 series leads and both won hard fought, emotional Game 7's to move on. Vancouver recovered from their series with Chicago and played well early against Nashville. Can San Jose do the same against the Canucks?

Ryan Kesler is carrying Vancouver at the moment; Kesler against Joe Thornton(notes) will be tons of fun to watch. Antti Niemi(notes) versus Roberto Luongo(notes) has the promise of a great goaltending duel. And despite a combined 19 points through two rounds, will Daniel or Henrik Sedin return to their MVP-calibre play that we're so used to seeing?

Each has shown the ability to slip up when they have the chance to close things out, so we're probably in for seven games of fun here, with each team coughing up the opportunity to win the West, but in the end the Canucks will get the all-important final victory.

Ryan Lambert, columnist, Puck Daddy

Bruins in 7

Tampa, obviously, will be Boston's toughest test. They're a fairly complete team in the way that the Habs and Flyers are not, and they have higher-end talent at all positions than either of those teams. And yet, I feel like the Bruins can beat them if they stick to their systems and get Patrice Bergeron back in a timely manner. If he misses any more than two games, that's probably not something the Bruins can overcome.

Canucks in 6

Vancouver really only ran into any trouble against Nashville because putting Rinne behind a Suter-Weber pairing is like building a brick wall in front of the net for two-thirds of a game. The Sharks played fairly well in their own zone against Detroit but Niemi's no Rinne, and McLellan clearly doesn't trust many of his defensemen as far as he can throw them if Patrick Marleau's(notes) averaging more TOI than every one but Danny Boyle. Still a tough series, but one Vancouver can win.

Justin Bourne, columnist, Puck Daddy

Bruins in 7

My favourite fun fact that I've insisted on reciting eleventy-five times over the past couple days explains Boston's team perfectly: There are at least three players (and probably four when Gagne's healthy) on Tampa's team that would immediately be Boston's best offensive threat, yet Boston, as a team, outscored Tampa this year.

The goals can come from anywhere.

The Lightning have a legit chance to win this series, but I think in the end, it'll be that depth that gets Boston through to the next round.  Also, Tomas Kaberle(notes) can't play like a donkey forever, so if he wakes up, so should Boston's PP.

Canucks in 6

I wasn't torn on the team I'd pick to win, just the number of games.  Vancouver is better in net, better on D, and has some fairly decent offensive forwards (speaking of "waking up," don't be shocked if the Sedins get blazing hot, which I'm predicting).

It also doesn't help San Jose's odds that Ryan Kesler is going to make Joe Thornton want to cry.

Dmitry Chesnokov, Puck Daddy Senior Writer

Bruins in 6

Tim Thomas should come out on top in this duel of veteran goaltenders. I also think the Bruins and their system and style are better suited to counter Tampa's 1-3-1 formation than Washington's in the last round. Both clubs had time to recover from the first two rounds of the playoffs, and both should be ready for what I think will be quite a physical series.

Canucks in 6

The Sharks were able to withstand the Red Wings' surge in the last round. The Red Wings offense came primarily from three players.  The Canucks have a lot more options. And while the Sharks' best will try to keep Kesler and his line in check, Vancouver has a lot of other weapons. Considering that the Sedin Brothers are yet to show up in these playoffs, this will be a great chance for them to finally arrive, while most of the attention will be focused on Kesler.

Rob Pizzo, Co-Host, Puck Daddy Radio on Sirius 158

Bruins in 6

Let's start in the East. The Bruins have had a lot of time off since sweeping the Flyers, and I hope they used that time to work on their power play! You can not score 1 PP goal through two rounds and expect it to be good enough. The Bruins had the 9th best power play in the regular season and if they can fix their problems, and Thomas continues to play the way he has, I think the Bruins win this.

Canucks in 6

Thanks in large part to a guy named Ryan Kesler, the Canucks are still alive, and with it so is my Cup pick. Kesler has been an absolute beast and if the playoffs ended right now, I think he takes home the Conn Smythe. The key to the Canucks continuing to the finals...the twins. I THINK Daniel and Henrik have been in the Canucks lineup, but I'm not 100 percent sure. They did score a combined 11 points in 4 regular season games against the Sharks. If they wake up, I think Vancouver takes this series.

Darryl "Dobber" Dobbs, Fantasy Hockey Columnist

Lightning in 6

Everything is coming up Milhouse for Stevie Y!

Canucks in 7

While I don't trust Luongo anymore, Kesler won't be denied.

Short and sweet because my second daughter was born this morning! (Ed. Note: Mazel Tov!)

Matt Barr, Stat Nerd

Bruins in 6

Canucks in 6

Tampa Bay opens its third consecutive series on the road, and not coincidentally, as the nominal underdog, at least according to the current playoff seeding system.  Since Conference seeding began in 1994, 12 teams have opened their first three series on the road; though only three were, like the Bolts, five-seeds — the highest seed you can be and have a chance to play a higher seed in the first three rounds.

The chart below shows that winning that third consecutive road series is a coin toss; the 12 teams are 6-6 in the Conference Final.  But rough playoff justice seems to prevail in the end, when you see that only one out of 12 won the Stanley Cup, and that in a shortened season (meaning, seeds might have been a lot different over a full campaign).

So, it's the Bruins, who can exploit a soft Lightning defense corps ...

It's (2) at (1) in the West. How hard could that have been to call?! Well, it's only happened six times in 32 Conference Finals since 1994:

How best to contextualize the San Jose Sharks?  They've got this reputation you may be aware of as screechers to a halt when the heat is on, despite a fairly ordinary playoff history: They've won 13 and lost 13 series since Conference seeding debuted; they've lost to a lower seed five times and a higher seed eight times; they've beaten inferior opponents eight times and upset a higher seed five times.

I looked at the Semifinals or Conference Finals since the WHA merger, looking for Shark-like situations.  I ran with teams that lost two semi- or Conference Finals and then had a third crack at them, all within a 10 year period.  (The Sharks lost the West finals in 2004 and 2010.)  Here they are:


Another coin-toss, historically.  The Blackhawks did go on to the Stanley Cup Final in 1992, the 11th year after their 1982 ouster.

I have been impressed enough with the Canucks to pick them to win (for the first time this year, yeah, I know). But I think it will be a terrific series.

For grins, here's every team's record in semi- or Conference Finals since 1980, sorted by WPct. Excelsior!


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