NHL Playoff Predictions - Conference Finals

If he can't beat you, he'll eat you.

Well, that second round was fun to watch - the Capitals killing a penalty in triple overtime was probably my favorite moment, which I guess makes me a bit sadistic - but my predictions were basically a total bust with only the Rangers coming through. That brings my overall record in these playoffs to a rather pathetic 5-7, which is a bit worse than my control system of just picking the team with home-ice advantage (though even that is a rather poor 6-6). It brings my overall record to 34-23, which is just slightly better than the control system's 33-24. But I'm not worried! With the three series left to go and the best team holding down an eighth seed, there's still time for this year's record to improve! My picks (which are apparently the kiss of death) along with some rationale after the jump.

The first thing we'll check on is how each of the remaining teams did against other good teams. This is the regulation record and goal differential of each team left in the playoffs (all games that went into overtime are counted as ties, and for the calculation of Pt%, I gave two points for a win and one for a tie). For what it's worth, trusting just in these numbers would have netted me a record of 6-6 so far in these playoffs. Here's the chart:

Conference_finals_medium

According to this chart, there are two pretty obvious picks. That those picks are the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings probably has NBC seeing dollar signs. Is the story similar if we take a look at some of the other significant statistical categories?

I'll be using Fenwick percentage during five-on-five with the score tied during the 2011-12 regular season, even strength save percentage of the starting goaltender over the last four years (Lundqvist, Quick, Smith, and Brodeur), five-on-four shot differential during the 2011-12 regular season, and four-on-five shot differential during the 2011-12 regular season:

Conference_finals_again_medium

The Picks:

Los Angeles in Six: With this particular match-up, the individual categories do seem to confirm what we saw in the first chart (which doesn't include L.A.'s 8-1 record against two very good teams through two rounds of the playoffs). It also probably undersells some of L.A.'s strengths. Since acquiring Jeff Carter, the Kings earned a Fenwick percentage of 57.6% in the regular season with the score tied during five-on-five play. Jonathan Quick has also been much better this season than in the past. So has Mike Smith, of course, but I'm convinced that the goaltending is no better for Phoenix than a wash. Given that everything else (except home-ice advantage) is favoring L.A., I'm going to pick the Kings.

New York in Five: Now, I picked the Devils to lose in five games against Philadelphia too, thinking that Philadelphia's depth up front would be too much to overcome. I think that these two teams are actually more comparable in terms of depth. New York's Fenwick percentage looks poor, but that's because of an atrocious start - over the last sixty games of the season, the team's fenwick percentage with the score tied during five-on-five play was 52.1%, which is right in line with the Devils. The difference, in my view, will come between the pipes. Martin Brodeur was a great goalie, and he has played very well through the playoffs, but he just hasn't been consistently good over the last two years, and it's probably because the guy is now 40 years old. Henrik Lundqvist is in his prime, and I think he'll be the difference.

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