NHL Playoff Preview - Conference Finals

My last set of predictions were pretty good although my lack of faith in the Tampa Bay Lightning came back to bite me for the third time this season. Despite my lack of love for the Lightning, I'm up to 8-4 in the playoff season, which is a pretty typical score at this point in the post-season. After the jump, I'll take a quick look at the Conference Finals and make some predictions.

Before going on to the individual series, I'll give a brief explanation of the data (which has been gleaned from Vic Ferrari's Time on Ice and Gabriel Dejardins' Behind the Net). Each series will get three tables. In the first table, we'll see how the two teams compare in terms of controlling possession at even strength, both overall and with the score tied. In the second table, we'll see how these teams have benefited from the percentages at even strength a the team level. In the third table, we'll look at the longer term goaltending trends for each team's starter (data from 2007-08 to the present, both regular season and playoffs), and look at each team's shot differential on the power play and on the penalty kill. All of this data is based on the full 82-game schedule, not just the games against other playoff teams. After the data, I'll talk a bit about each series and make a prediction.

(1) Vancouver Canucks v. (2) San Jose Sharks

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By the numbers, this is a very close series. Both teams were very good at even strength all year long, and both teams also had excellent results on special teams. The Sharks, however, did a much better job of generating shots on the power play than the Canucks, and Roberto Luongo isn't exactly gangbusters when it comes to stopping shots while his team is down a man. That said, I do think he's a much better puckstopper at evens. On the injury front, both teams are definitely banged up, but most of the injured bodies remain likely to get up and play (Ryane Clowe is probably the most significant one for the Sharks, and Henrik Sedin has been sitting out practice for the Canucks). In the end, I think Vancouver will struggle with a San Jose team that can play three strong forward lines. Ryan Kesler looked fantastic against Nashville, but really struggled when he was up against Jonathan Toews, and the Sharks' quality up front is much closer to Toews than it is Mike Fisher. I'll take the Sharks in six hard games.

 

(3) Boston Bruins v. (5) Tampa Bay Lightning

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Well, I didn't believe in the Lightning before and I still don't really believe in them. They've been a better possession team than Boston this season, but as I've said each time Boston has played, I think they're a better possession team than the numbers indicate. Of course, that changes significantly with Patrice Bergeron out of the lineup for at least Game One and possibly the entire series. But even taking that into account, the Bruins seem like the better team. The Lightning have been rolling sevens on special teams in these playoffs - particularly on the PK - and I don't think that's going to continue. But the big item is goaltending. As much as I love Dwayne Roloson (and 2006 has be loving him quite a bit), he just hasn't been close to as good as Tim Thomas over the last few years. I think the Lightning would need to generate 54% to 55% of the shots in this series at evens to make up for the difference in goaltending if the two tenders stop pucks at a rate similar to their long-term performance (which they won't, but we don't have a better estimate). As such, I'll take the Bruins in seven games.

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