Well, I remain perfect in my playoff predictions thus far, and I hope to carry my streak through the conference finals. Here's my breakdown:
Eastern Conference Finals: Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs Carolina Hurricanes (6)
I think people dissapointed in this series are going to be in for a surprise. The last time these two teams played in the regular season, it was a thoroughly entertaining game. There were two leads erased, a failed penalty shot, and a thrilling overtime finish by Anton Babchuk. It should be an exciting series. But I think the series comes down to the goaltending matchup. I've got to give the edge to Cam Ward here. Not only does he have the best save percentage of all goalies remaining in the playoffs, but also the second best GAA, after Osgood. It should be noted that Crosby has 17 points in 14 career matchups against Carolina (Malkin has 11 in 11). But Cam Ward is a fundamentally different goalie in the playoffs. If Cam Ward put up these numbers in the regular season, he would have had the 2nd highest GAA and save percentage in the league. People say the Hurricanes and Penguins split the season series. This is true, but actually misleading. Cam Ward only played in 2 of the 4 games, but he was undefeated in the 2 games he played. He had a stunning 1.49 GAA and .956 save percentage. He held Crosby goalless (and with only 1 assist in those 2 games). He also shut down Malkin on a penalty shot. Last series, Ward was able to get the better of Boston's 4 scoring lines. The Penguins have a lot less depth. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes have had solid production from 3 lines, and their blue line also has much more offensive capability. I know Crosby has more points than Staal, but then again, he didn't just have to match up against Zdeno Chara. Fleury has been an OK goaltender throughout the playoffs, but he has worse numbers now than he did in the regular season. A good goalie steps up during the playoffs. I think it's ultimately too much for the Pens to handle.
Hurricanes in 6
Western Conference Finals: Detroit Red Wings (2) vs Chicago Blackhawks (4)
This original 6 matchup should be exciting to the finish. But once again, I think the goaltending is everything. Chris Osgood has the best GAA of remaining goalies, and 2nd best save percentage. Meanwhile, Khabibulin has the worst in both - a 2.76 GAA and a frightful .896 save percentage. I shudder to think how he will fare against the likes of Franzen and Zetterberg. But I'm not going to count out Chicago completely. Prolific scorers like Havlat, Sharp, Kane, Toews, and Versteeg could keep them in the game. Chicago has the highest goals per game ratio of the 4 remaining teams, at 3.67. It all comes down to Osgood. If he can stay on top of his game, then the Red Wings should be able to cruise into the finals. But if he can't handle Chicago's offense, Detroit could find themselves in trouble. In the end, I think Detroit is too much for Chicago to handle. The Red Wings won 4 of the 6 games the teams played this season, and I expect them to get another 4 here.
Red Wings in 7