With two rounds of the playoffs complete we're left with the top two seeds in the Western Conference and the bottom two seeds in the Eastern Conference battling for a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. Many folks, myself included, look at that and think that the Western Conference final may as well be for the Stanley Cup. Since the NHL expanded to 21 teams, no team has won the Stanley Cup ranked lower than 9th overall in the league standings or lower than 5th overall in their Conference. And these two clubs aren't particularly strong low seeds. In most years, they wouldn't have had enough points to make the playoffs and they both have some pretty significant injuries which make already poor teams that much worse. But they've each made it this far and one of them is going on to the finals. And once they're there, who knows? Until this year, no 8th seed had come back from down 3-1 to a 1st seed and no team had come back from down 3-0 since the 70s. So you never know. I'll be getting a closer look at the Flyers and Canadiens over the next couple of weeks as I'll be tracking scoring chances for that series, while Derek will be tracking the chances for the (very likely more exciting) Sharks and Blackhawks. After the jump, I'll take a closer look at each series.Before I begin I'll explain what you'll see below (but before that, I'll give a big thanks to Vic Ferrari for scraping the data and making it publicly available). For each series I've created three tables with some statistics that I like to use when measuring team play. The first table is a breakdown of the out-shooting results for each team in the regular season, both in terms of Shots (on goal) percentage and Corsi (all shots directed at net) percentage, both overall and with the score tied (the "score tied" results limit the effect of "playing to the score"). A percentage of 50% would mean the team took 50% of all shots taken by both teams 5-on-5 (so that's league average). Since we're now in the third round of the playoffs, anything lower than 50% is pretty much terrible while anything approaching 60% is very good. The second table is the percentages on the season, both shooting percentage and save percentage, both overall and with the score tied. I'm open to both of these things involving some skill but any really good numbers are probably good luck more than anything else. The final table will have EV save percentage numbers for the starting goalies, both this season's number and the number that goalie posted over the last four seasons (which is probably a better indication of his true skill level). It will also include the special teams goal differential of each team from this season and... my favourite ex-Oiler on each team. The team with the advantage in each category will be highlighted in green, the team with the disadvantage in red. After the data, I'll talk a bit about each series and give my prediction.
I thought that the Red Wings were a very good team and picked them to beat the San Jose Sharks. It didn't happen. Although the games were close at even strength, Detroit took too many penalties and the Sharks capitalized on enough chances to beat the Red Wings in five. I thought that, Game Four excepted, it was an impressive performance. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, were less impressive than I was expecting against the Vancouver Canucks. I really thought that the depth of the Hawks would run through the bottom lines of the Canucks and make the difference. The difference instead was an average-at-best performance from Roberto Luongo and superior play on special teams. I have long tabbed the Hawks superior depth as a big advantage over any team they're going to meet. Very few teams are able to ice Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp against the third best guys on the other team without giving up something big higher up. The Hawks can do it. But in order for that to pay off they'll need Hossa and Sharp to be better than they were against Vancouver. Having said that, I thought Chicago was the best team in the NHL over the regular season and I haven't soured on them enough to pick the Sharks here. I'll take the Blackhawks in six.
Three of the regular defenders from that beauty 2005-06 Oiler team are represented in this series and as the distance increases from his departure I grow to appreciate what Chris Pronger gave Oiler fans more and more. It's still fun to make fun of him, but I think it's also necessary to say thanks. So thanks, Chris, the memories were great... well, until they weren't, but a lot of that is on Kevin Lowe. As for the series itself, it's a tough one to call. Montreal has been dealing with injuries all year and you might pump their tires a bit if it weren't for Andrei Markov's injury now. Philly is banged up too, but losing your number one defender can really hurt. Just ask the 2006-07 Oilers. On top of that, Montreal has been getting shelled all year in terms of possession. Philadelphia isn't any great shakes in that area either, but they're better than the Habs. So it seems like Philadelphia is the pick. Except then you see the goaltending. Michael Leighton is a marginal-at-best NHL goalie and Jaroslav Halak is both very good and playing well. In the end, I'll give the nod to old friend Chris Pronger who could well become the second player since the lockout to play on three different teams that made it to the Stanley Cup Finals (I believe the only one so far is Ty Conklin). Philadelphia in seven.