Four teams remain. In the West the San Jose Sharks were the last team to advance after going to the wire against the Colorado Avalanche in a series that was tighter than a four man knife fight in a commuter flight bathroom. The east saw the first team advance with a first year coach behind the bench of the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Saint Louis Blues advanced on the back of their rookie goaltender and their across the board depth. Jordan Binnington won’t get a chance to struggle early in the Western Conference Finals like he did at times against the Dallas Stars. The Boston Bruins had a barn fight with the Columbus Blue Jackets who like the Avalanche are on the rise. In that round, the Boston Bruins smothered Cam Atkinson, and managed to score enough when Seth Jones was on the ice to possibly get in the head of Bobrovsky and exhaust the BlueJackets.
We’ll have to wait unil Thursday evening for the Western Conference Finals to open, but waiting is nothing new for these teams and their fanbases. Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks have never won a Stanley Cup. Jumbo has skated in the 1566 regular season and 173 playoff games. We might have seen the best of 1st overall pick in 1997 just this year. His playoff assault this year has been his most complete, and his most controlled and the whole team has rise with him. Martin Jones who was looking way up at mediocre in the regular season for individual statistics improved from a deplorable .896 sv% over the year, to a still subpar but at least reliable .908 through two rounds. Hertl, LaBanc, and more contributed to a greatly entertaining series.
Facing them on Thursday night will be a team with a more than five decade existence that has yet to win the only thing that matters. The Saint Louis Blues will return to the conference finals against the team that eliminated them the last time they were there. Jordan Binnington will get the easy headlines, and deserves them. But the roster is a stud stable. Alex Pietrangelo is one of the best blueliners in the league, and no one ever talks about him. Ryan O’Reilly is a Selke award finalist, but defense is far from the only component of his game. ROR can dish the puck, throw the body, and score as well. He’s a complete player. Taresenko is arguably the best know player on the roster, fantasy hockey players, and highlight reel afficianodos know this gifted goal scorer well.
Jordan Staal and Justin Williams are well known to long time NHL observers. Both have won the Stanley Cup before, and each would like to take it home one more time. The rest of the Bunch of Jerks, occasionally known as the Carolina Hurricanes, are not yet fully into the limelight. Dougie Hamilton was embattled in the first round after footage of him leaping out of the path of Alex Ovechkin propped up sports shows for a week, and has had stops in Calgary and Boston in his career. Sebastian Aho is a slick, superbly skilled forward who can dish, deke, or stash with equal adroitness. Justin Faulk though is the hidden gem of this roster. He’s the centerpiece of the team’s blueline and it is a defense that within another year or two will likely be on equal footing with defenses like Minnesota, Winnipeg, and Columbus.
For the Boston Bruins, they have most recently won the Stanley Cup, but only four players to take part in that series remain. Zdeno Chara, Brad Marchand, the resurgent two time playoff scoring leader David Krejci, and of course Patrice Bergeron, again a Selke finalist, and again performing when most needed. The most interesting part of this team isn’t the top of the roster, it’s the bottom. Sean “Second Season” Kuraly has been a special terror to the Toronto Maple Leafs two years in a row. Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo have both enjoyed very successful playoff runs in the quiet way defensive defensemen do.
Who is winning these series?
Out west the San Jose Sharks seem to have all the statistical advantages; the better powerplay, penalty kill, and goals for. But they are also more reliant on the powerplay for offense, and dead even in 5 on 5 goals for with the Saint Louis Blues who have had the better goaltending, and I think have a bit more speed at center.
The Carolina Hurricanes will enter round three better at 5 on 5, and with a slightly hotter goaltender, assuming McElhinney stays in the crease. The Boston Bruins have better special teams, are better at center and faceoffs, and have overall better goaltending. If the Bruins play physically, and on the line taking Aho, Hamilton, and some of the first time in the post season players out of their game it could be a short season.
Picks: Blues in the West, Boston in the East.
The team with the better goaltending overall generally wins in the post season and that’s who I picked as much as for the intangibles.