The hockey world was punched in the gut last night when we learned that New York Ranger Derek Boogard was found dead, and that seems all anyone can or should think about on a morning like this one, but nevertheless, the Conference Finals begin tonight and we'll carry on with our tradition of weighing in on the festivities.
NHL.com says EA-Sports simulations picked Bruins and Canucks for the Cup Final. Not to be outdone by a piece of software, the Defending Big D crew would like to take a far less scientific (and biased?) approach in picking our survivors of round number three...
(3) Boston Bruins vs (5) Tampa Bay Lightning
Brandon Bibb: Boy did I get the East horribly wrong in the second round. I underestimated Dwayne Roloson...and the fact Philly had rolled out just about everyone in the Delaware Valley who had played goal at any level of hockey.
At any rate, this will be a battle of the immovable force against the immovable object, or somesuch. Tampa's won 7 in a row after falling behind to Pittsburgh, 3-1, in the first round while Boston's won 8 of their last 9 since dropping the first two games of their first round series with Montreal at home.
Like the Sharks and Canucks, the Bruins stared down their emotional baggage and passed the test.
But there's something about this Lightning club. They're getting timely scoring from unheralded players like Sean Bergenheim, and they're showing that intangible of belief. Yes, I said intangibles. Though if I had time, I'm sure I could back up this pick with some good ol' fashioned hockeymetrics. Anyway, Lightning in 6
The rest after the jump...
Brandon Worley: The fact that the Tampa Bay Lighting have turned their franchise around; found a new owner, new G.M., sprited young coach...and made it to the Conference Finals is incredible. And as a Stars fan I'm insanely jealous yet I still have hope.
The Lightning are getting lights out goaltending from 75-year Roloson and they can score better than any other team in the tournament. They're going to be pushed around by a feisty -- and dirty -- Bruins team, but I think they'll be able to fight back. Tampa Bay in 6.
Taylor Baird: Tampa Bay is the "feel good" story in these four teams - coming back from an ownership mess and rebuilding mode to take the East by a bit of surprise so far this season. Boston is the bully looking to spoil the fun - and they play with a big chip on their shoulders.
I like Tampa Bay's depth scoring and momentum, and it'll be tough to get past Boston's physicality and Vezina-esque goaltending. But I think they can do it. Tampa Bay in 6
Art Middleton: My heart really wants to go with Tampa Bay on this one because Roloson is looking like the Roloson of 2006's playoffs (before he suffered a very untimely injury) and because Martin St. Louis is a beast. My brain says to go with Boston because they are a bigger club, Thomas is playing just as lights out as Roloson is and overall the Bruins are the deeper of the two clubs talent wise I feel.
My gut though says there is no way the hockey gods would allow Tomas Kaberle to go from playing with perennial bottom feeding Maple Leafs to playing in the Stanley Cup final in the same season, and if I've learned anything from my years of watching Stephen Colbert it's that you always have to go with what the gut says: Tampa Bay in 5.
Brad Gardner: My preconceived notions and prejudices get in the way when discussing the Tampa Bay Lightning (or maybe it's just flat out ignorance when discussing the weaker, often ignored Eastern Conference) and I expect to see them win every game that they manage by a score of 6-5 because their goaltending is sub par and they're stacked with a lineup that can score but not defend.
A cursory glance at their playoff stats tells me this is obviously wrong, and that I should not dismiss mastery over the perennial playoff choker Capitals so easily.
Nevertheless I expect Tim Thomas to be the best player in the series and I think much of that Tampa Bay team is a little inexperienced. I am sure I am wrong, but.... I'll take Bruins in 6.
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs (2) San Jose Sharks
Brandon Bibb: Without looking this up (because that would take a very long time), I'm just going to assume this is the first conference finals matchup in NHL history between two teams that coughed up 3-0 leads before salvaging the series in a Game 7.
Which goes to show that even though the Sharks and Canucks were the two best teams in the West, they've still had to deal with quite a bit of emotional baggage just to get this far. And by end of the series, one will still be dealing with it at the end.
Logic tells me it will be San Jose because Roberto Luongo's a better netminder than Antti Niemi, right? But Niemi's got a ring, and got it partially by beating the Canucks in the second round last year with Chicago. And he has yet to lose within the confines of what is now called Rogers Arena.
And San Jose, for all their failures, has made the WCF on two separate occasions. Third time's the charm in what should be an excellent series. Sharks in 7
Brandon Worley: It's not possible for both teams to possible choke, is it? I'm going to pretend that this series doesn't exist, live in blissful ignorance and continue to root on the Coyotes. Vancouver in 6.
Taylor Baird: The team who swept the Stars this season versus the team that we own in their building and is a PAC rival. "Lesser of two evils" really in my mind.
Since I'm 0-2 in the West predictions, I guess I'm going to use a little "reverse psychology" to predict my winner (that way the one I REALLY want will win, right?) I feel so dirty for what I'm about to say... San Jose in 7
Art Middleton: I know everyone was focused on the fact that San Jose nearly didn't make this series by choking away a 3-0 lead, but that series was a tight battle right from the start and the Sharks showed plenty of grit with a come-from-behind win in game 1 and a come-from-behind OT win in game 3. That the Red Wings also had some nice comeback wins in the series speaks more to me on how good Detroit is rather than how 'chokey' San Jose is.
Vancouver meanwhile didn't impress me or anyone else in the previous series against Nashville.
*sigh* Alright San Jose, here I go again thinking that this is your year and that all the pieces are in place from locker room leadership, to timely scoring, solid playoff goaltending and finally a display of heart and grit. I await your response of choking it all away yet again... San Jose in 6
Brad Gardner: As a group, Stars fans have made their preference known here, and it says a lot that we could pull for the effeminate twins and the greasy haired overrated guy, but that's what we'll do.
This series, if the second round was any indication, will not be about the disappearing acts of their collective super stars (where was Marleau? Heatley? The Sedins? Where?) but more about The Logan Couture's of the world and the Kessler's and Burrows'.
Vancouver did not impress in beating the flaccid Predator offense and San Jose found the banana peel once again only to be saved by poor health for old Detroit. These teams are both backing into this series to some extent.
I can't seem to find a conclusion. I hate them all. Canucks in 7, if only because that would provide maximum entertainment and the desired result.