If you've been with us since the first round of picks, we'll quickly acknowledge that our prediction record might not be the best but we're going to continue with another round of selections.
We're officially at the halfway point in the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs and only four teams remain for the chance to lift Lord Stanley. In the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Kings will take on the Phoenix Coyotes while the New Jersey Devils will face the New York Rangers in the East.
Without further delay, let the Conference Finals begin!
Western Conference Final: Kings in 7
Several series in this year's NHL playoffs have appeared to be certain goaltending duels. Several times we've been incorrect. This is the series that, one would think, changes that. It's a battle between Jonathan Quick and Mike Smith. Whichever goaltender is able to make the fewest mistakes should carry his club into the Stanley Cup Final.
My record for picks this year has been dreadful. I won't deny it. However, here I side with the Los Angeles Kings and Jonathan Quick. I saw first-hand just how tough of an opponent the Kings are when they dismantled my St. Louis Blues with ease. Phoenix should play with more heart than the Blues but ultimately I think LA's relentless pressure, physical game, and penalty kill are deciding factors in pushing the Kings forward in their quest for a Cup.
Eastern Conference Final: Rangers in 6
Even though the Rangers are playing in the Conference Final, I'm still not convinced we have seen them at their best. They needed seven games to finish their series against Washington, yet I'm not sure I've seen them click like they did all season long in order to attain the number one ranking in the NHL.
To be blunt, this is one series I'm excited for. There are numerous stories to follow and numerous players to watch. I expect the Devils to challenge the Rangers in different ways than they have seen in the playoffs thus far. However, I've been unable to decide which goaltender will perform at a higher level - Martin Brodeur or Henrik Lundqvist. It's tough to say Brodeur won't shine in a moment he typically thrives in, but my gut is telling me Lundqvist comes out on top.
Western Conference Final: Kings in 7
I don't say that to take away from the Coyotes at all. I've been more than impressed with their resilience this post-season, and I think that's what's going to push the Kings to the brink. I hate to say this as a Blues fan, but the Kings haven't been challenged yet in the playoffs. They've lost exactly one game, and they haven't had to fight -- they're going to have to fight this round.
Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if the Yotes won this one either. This series can go either way.
Eastern Conference Final: Devils in 6
I know, I'm betting against the top seed here, but they've had to work *too* hard to get to the conference finals. Seven games against the 8th and 7th seeds each to eliminate them? Either the Rangers were in full-on coast mode or their best is barely better than other teams'. Either way, it's an issue. If they were in coast mode, that's a tough thing to just flip off. Henrik Lundqvist bailed their butt out Saturday night, and he might have to do that a few times in this series too.
Western Conference Final: Kings in 5
To say this postseason has been upset riddled is to understate them greatly. Backstopped by tremendous goaltending, the 8th seeded LA Kings, written off as underachievers are four wins away from playing in the Stanley Cup Finals, squaring off against a Coyotes squad that was long thought destined to return to Winnipeg.
Los Angeles has had arguably the easier path, dispatching the best two teams in the Western Conference without much drama or consequence. Phoenix has been bloodied a bit, but they too remain largely unbowed. The series revolves around goaltending. Jonathan Quick is easily the front runner for the Conn Smythe at this point in the post-season. Mike Smith is in the conversation to be sure. The winner of this series cements his status as the guy to beat for the highest individual postseason honor the NHL bestows.
Final Outcome: I have given little respect to Smith and the 'yotes. They've proven me stupendously wrong. But quick makes it easy to triple down on my call for Phoenix's ouster. He's been too good and the Kings are playing with purpose. That makes them my pick to represent the West. LA in 5
Eastern Conference: Rangers in 6
Our all-American Conference finals continue with a metro-NYC matchup. These two last faced off in the Conference Finals 18 summers ago when Mike Richter bested Martin Brodeur in seven glorious games and the Rangers went on to defeat the Canucks to win the Cup for the first time since the 1939-1940 season. Brodeur remains, having bottled a particularly fine beverage from the fountain of youth.
The Rangers endure. They survived the Senators and Capitals in grueling, draining series. The Devils after toppling the Panthers in a marathon of a series had an easier go against the Flyers. Like their Western Conference counterparts, goaltending is the key to this series. Henrik Lundqvist has been excellent for the Rangers and Brodeur has proven ageless.
Final outcome: The Rangers have the talent to win. They have the goaltending to win. They have the defensive chops to suffocate the Devils. But the Rangers have not made it easy this postseason, getting stretched to seven by the worst two teams in the East en route to the conference finals. I still like them to win, but if they can't knock out the Devils early, I have no confidence in them facing Brodeur in a Game 7. NY in 6
Western Conference: Kings in 6
The Coyotes might be the golden story of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Facing off ice issues, the team continues to win on the ice. Led by their stellar goaltender Mike Smith, they eliminated both the Blackhawks and Predators. But like all golden stories, it must come to an end at some point.
The deeper the Kings go into the playoffs, the more recognition Jonathan Quick receives. The early MVP candidate has been everything the Kings needed and helped the team make quick work of both the Canucks and the Blues. Without the net minder, who knows if the Kings would still be around. As long as Quick is healthy and ready to go, the Kings playoff train will continue to move forward. He supplies the confidence for the rest of the team.
Would it surprise anyone if this series was a high-scoring series?
Eastern Conference: Rangers in 7
After the first two series, the New York Rangers have proved to the hockey world that they don't take the easy road when it comes to getting things done. Both of the their first two series have taken seven games to complete and I honestly believe that they'll be heading into their third seven game series as they look to take out the Devils.
On paper, the Rangers have the talent to get the job done. It baffles me as to why the first seed in the East likes to drag things out but if they do, look for the Devils to capitalize on any mistakes. If the Devils can bring the same intensity they threw at the Flyers, this series could be over sooner than later.
In the end, however, I still have the Rangers playing for Lord Stanley. Besides, if we're following the Winter Classic curse, the winner will go to the finals and lose. All arrows point to the Rangers joining in that class (Pens in '08, Red Wings in '09, Flyers in '10).
After being even more blatantly wrong in round two than I was in round one, let's go around again!
Devils in seven. It's been the rule for pretty much two decades now: You don't bet against Brodeur in the playoffs. Even if you want to (which I have no particular reason to do), you just don't do it. Additional prediction: We'll see some regular season carry-over in the form of at least one game time start fight. In case folks have forgotten, these two teams do NOT like each other. Since it's for a trip to the Cup Final on top of it, I'm expecting a whole lot of fun here.
Kings in five. I keep waiting for the Coyotes to wake up from their second month-long run of the campaign and remember all those times this year that they weren't absurdly good. And if it's going to happen before the season ends, I expect Quick and the Kings to do it to them.
@miendiem As a fan of the Blues, which angle do you take - 1) want LA to win for the STL loss seems "justified" or 2) want LA to lose so you can enjoy watching them suffer.
@David Rogers My boys aren't in it, so what I really want is to see interesting hockey. One of the last 67 expansion teams left to win a Cup, or the upstarts backed by the league for the moment, it's an interesting story either way. I just want the games to stand up to it.
I can't really find it in myself to hate LA for beating the Blues this year. It's not like the Blues really bothered to show up until the second half of game four, by which point it was long since too late. That's the kind of series I don't want to see out of any of the playoff rounds, because teams not showing up makes for uninteresting hockey.
@David Rogers Well, two for two on winners, one for two on series length. That's a whole lot better than I've done in past rounds, though it can't help my overall record much at this point.
Wednesday cannot get here quick enough.