The final four is set: Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, St. Louis and San Jose are the last teams left vying for the Stanley Cup. It’s an interesting and exciting group, but it’s also not an unexpected one if you paid attention to the numbers.
Before every round, we here at THN previewed three different sets of predictions: one based on stats, one based on the eye test, and a combination of the two. So far, the stats have come out on top and those four teams were pretty much exactly the predicted final four.
Pittsburgh was the top team in the league. St. Louis was tops in the Central and fourth overall. Tampa Bay was tops in the Atlantic and seventh overall. And San Jose was second in the Pacific behind LA, but third overall in the league.
Not bad for a bunch of numbers, let’s see how they do in the conference final. But first a quick recap of where the stats and eyes differed in opinion for round two, and some adjustments to the method.
SERIES STARTS: Friday, 8 p.m. ET in Pittsburgh.
THE LIGHTNING WIN IF…
Whereas Pittsburgh got one goal from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combined in the second round, Tampa’s best players continue to be its best players. The NHL may have to cut the Conn Smythe Trophy into pieces and hand them out to several Bolts if they win the Stanley Cup. Nikita Kucherov has been a monster, ripping off nine goals in 10 games, and Tyler Johnson, last year’s league-leading playoff scorer, has recaptured the magic with 13 points in 10 games.
As far as international hockey tournaments go, the world championships isn’t very high on the excitement meter. It’s a big deal to many European players, but in North America, holding a tournament in the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs is not a good way to generate hype.
We know that it’s not truly a best-on-best event, that will happen in September during the World Cup. But there are some interesting aspects to the tournament. One of which is that it’s a 16-team event. It makes for a long tournament, but it also means you get to see hockey minnows such as Hungary and France take on Canada and the United States. Blowouts can be fun.
The event, being held in Moscow and St. Petersburgh, starts with a bang on Friday with the U.S. facing Canada (9:15 a.m. ET, TSN). Here are some fun facts and reasons to keep an eye on the tournament.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Auston Matthews, U.S.: Have you heard of this kid? Probably going to go No. 1 overall in the draft to the Maple Leafs. Kind of a big deal.
Hockey is the ultimate team sport, or so we are lead to believe.
And yet we also know that the further a team goes in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the more it can benefit the individuals that make up the teams. Let’s be honest, there are a number of players on the eight teams still standing who are playing for contracts next season.
A player like center Matt Cullen of the Pittsburgh Penguins, for example, is in his 19th season in the NHL, on a one-year contract for $800,000 — quite a comedown for a guy who used to earn $4 million a year with the Nashville Predators. Still the 39-year-old native of Virginia, MN, is playing for the love of the game. Playing pretty well, too. In six games, Cullen has two goals – both game-winners – and three points while averaging 15:22 of dependable two-way play.
SERIES STARTS: Friday, 8 p.m. ET, in Dallas.
THE BLUES WIN IF…
St. Louis conquered its white whale. Now what? It was a monumental accomplishment for the franchise to finally oust the Joel Quenneville-era Chicago Blackhawks after three straight seasons of first-round exits, all after the Blues had dominant regular seasons. The key now is to use the victory as a springboard into newfound glory instead of an emotional triumph that drains all their energy. The Blues must be wary of a letdown in Game 1 on the road. If they can shrug off the potential adrenaline dump, they’re in good shape.
SERIES STARTS: Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET, in San Jose.
THE SHARKS WIN IF…
The Sharks weren’t the popular pick in their first round series against the Kings, but Los Angeles was dismantled in five games by San Jose. The Sharks were considered the third-most likely of the three Pacific Division entries into the post-season to win the Stanley Cup, and now they’re the last team from the division standing. They’ve put the rest of the Western Conference on notice as they head to Round Two for a date with the Nashville Predators.
With round one in the books (and round two already begun thanks to very odd scheduling by the NHL) it’s time to check back in on the advanced stats vs. eye test debate.
Before the playoffs started we showed you three sets of predictions: one based on numbers, one based on eyes, and one based on both. They mostly agreed on each series to varying levels, but there were some differences. Here’s the first round scorecard.
On this edition of the podcast, we break down every second-round playoff series and make our predictions.
Also, we discuss if and when the Ducks will fire coach Bruce Boudreau. And if there’s been a changing of the guard among Western Conference powers.
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[Music: Metz-Headache; Quicksand-Omission]