NHL Playoffs Conference Finals Preview

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Ray Burton
Ray writes mostly in-depth analytical pieces covering a range of sports from a more statistical perspective drawing his inspiration from the fanalytics movement. Ray writes on the NFL, Premier League, MLB, NHL, NBA, and NRL.

The NHL playoffs always turn up surprises, grudge matches and amazing hockey. Never has that been truer than this year. Now that the lineup is set for the finals we take a look at the two matchups and tell you who’s going to win (maybe).

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Washington Capitals

Tampa Bay dismantled the Boston Bruins in the last round, putting the sword to one of the best teams in hockey. The Washington Capitals on the other had put paid the Pittsburgh Penguins, finally putting to bed a 20-year wait for the conference finals. Both teams have a genuine superstar leading their first lines, with Nikita Kucherov leading the Lightning and Alex Ovechkin leading the Capitals.

Nikita Kucherov Scores ©NHL
Nikita Kucherov Scores ©NHL

The Lightning top line of Stamkos, Kucherov and Miller put the fear into every defence, and have been practically unstoppable during the NHL playoffs. Kucherov was third in the league in points during the regular season. He has been curtailed better in the playoffs, but you can’t keep him down for long.

The Caps meanwhile boast an equally impressive top line of Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Wilson. Wilson is the wildcard in this line with his penchant for penalties and coming back off a 3 game ban. If he can keep his head, Ovechkin is a full Hall of Famer and led the league in scoring during the regular season.  The edge is with the Caps here for me, Kuznetsov and Ovechkin score more heavily consistently and they are desperate to get to the finals for the first time.

Ovechkin Leads The League (Again)

Part of the reason the Capitals have the edge on scoring is goal-tending. After a stellar start to the regular-season Vasilevskiy tailed off dramatically at the end of the season. He has rebounded well in the post-season but I’m not convinced he hasn’t hit a wall mentally and physically. Conversely, Braden Holtby of the Capitals has excelled in the playoffs with just a 2.04 gaa.

Alex Ovechkin in action
He shoots, he usually scores. Alex Ovechkin in action

Kucherov is one of my favourite players in the league, and he deserves the spotlight of the finals. But I think Ovechkin finally gets his finals berth and gets a chance to win his first Stanley Cup.

Prediction: Capitals in 7 games

Winnipeg Jets vs. Vegas Golden Knights

This is the most intriguing conference finals from the West that we’ve had in a number of years. Neither team was fancied coming into the season. The Jets were young and unproven and ranked just 19th by pundits. Vegas was the expansion team made up of players that other teams didn’t want. Ranked dead last by the experts they have proved people wrong from the very first game.

The Golden Knights have handled their playoff matches with reasonable ease, dispatching the Kings in four games, and the sharks in 6. Playing two divisional foes may have helped them settle into the playoffs but the games were tight and hard. The Jets, on the other hand, dismantled the Minnesota Wild in four games, and then had their epic 7 game series win over the Predators.

Mark Scheifele Leads a Talneted Top Line in Winnipeg
Mark Scheifele Leads a Talneted Top Line in Winnipeg. © The Hockey News

The Jets produced one of the biggest shocks in NHL Playoffs history when they took out the Presidents’ Trophy winners. Mark Scheifele is possibly the most talented forward in this series, and Paul Stastny excelled in that series with 10 points and leads a strong Jets attacking lineup. The rest of the second and third line struggled somewhat, but the Preds have the most dynamic defence in the league.

NHL Playoffs Leading Goalie

The Knights on the hand are much less talented on offence but have a knack for grinding out games and getting the big goals. Jonathan Marchessault leads the line for the Golden Knights with 11 points in the NHL playoffs. However, it should be noted the Knights have only played 10 games so points totals may be underplaying their performances.

Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury deflects the puck
Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury deflects the puck © (AP Photo/David Becker)

Conner Hellebuyck has been solid and played two stellar games against the Predators in game 1 and game 7. However, there is no doubt that Vegas has the edge in goal-tending with Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury has been nothing short of spectacular all season. He leads goalies in the playoffs with a 1.53 gaa and .951 save percentage. Fleury will keep the games close, and the Knights will look to grind out the wins.

Overall I think the Jets have the edge because of their depth across all four lines. That said the Knights won the regular season series between these two 2-1.

Prediction: Jets in 6 games

All of which leaves us with an intriguing finals matchup.

Stanley Cup Finals Prediction: Washington Capitals vs. Winnipeg Jets

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