Before the puck dropped on the Stanley Cup finals, Alec, Garrett, Tony and yours truly sounded off on the playoffs thus far with three rounds passed, and looked into our crystal ball to pick the eventual NHL champion…
Q – What team and/or player was your biggest surprise and your biggest disappointment in these playoffs?
Garret – Sens surprised me. I didn’t expect them to do so well, even though as someone who deals with probability I should know better as the NHL Playoffs allow weaker teams or underdogs to win more series than most other sports. What you know and what you end up feeling are two different things haha. Haven’t exactly been disappointed at really anything, really.
Alec – The biggest surprise for me was how tightly the Leafs pushed the Capitals in the first round. I expected that the inexperience of the Leafs would allow the Caps to dominate the series. However, the inexperience allowed the Leafs to play more freely, with all the pressure on Washington. Things are definitely looking up in The Big Smoke. The biggest disappointment in the playoffs was the Minnesota Wild. The trade that added Martin Hanzal gave the Wild a legitimate top 3 centres that set them up to compete with the Ducks and Blackhawks in the Western Conference. It appeared that this was the year for the Wild to finally overcome the playoff underachiever moniker. However, a loss to the Blues makes it 4 straight seasons losing in either the 1st or 2nd round.
Art – Biggest surprise for me was how quickly the Blackhawks exited these playoffs and didn’t really put up much of a fight. Granted the Preds as we’ve seen have found an extra gear and have especially dominant on defense, but if you asked me which team was a for sure candidate to be swept in the first round, my 16th pick would have been Chicago. My biggest disappointment though is Washington and how can it not be? They kind of played down to the Leafs level (sorry Leafs fans, but it’s true) and dug themselves a hole against the Pens. The last period of game seven versus Pittsburgh was a damn shame to watch if you’re a Caps fan. Zero effort from pretty much the whole team except the one guy who for some insane reason keeps on getting pegged as the guy not showing any effort at all. (That being Ovechkin of course)
Tony – biggest surprise has to be the Sens. Had them getting bounced in the 1st round. Karlsson has been fantastic. Biggest disappointment goes to the Bruins. Bye bye playoff bracket.
Q – If you had to award the Conn Smythe (Playoff MVP) award after three rounds, who would you be giving it to?
Garret – Karlsson or Rinne. Both of those players played amazing and basically caused their team to play stronger than ever before.
Alec – Pekka Rinne. There have been long stretches in each of the Predators 3 series so far where they have been solidly outplayed, and Rinne has come up with timely saves to keep the Predators in the game. Add to the fact Rinne has been a career Predator who has been constantly undervalued and underappreciated, and he is certainly the most deserving winner of the award this postseason.
Art – I know it’s never given to a player who was bounced out in the third round, but Erik Karlsson damn near willed the Sens into the final and did so with two hairline fractures in his heel. I suppose the default answer is Pekka Rinne of the Preds, but if I had a vote it would take an amazing effort in the final round from anyone on either Nashville or Pittsburgh to convince me they were more valuable to their club than Karlsson was to his.
Tony – Karlsson, no one player has been as important to their team. They don’t get out of the Boston series without him.
Q – For the Predators to beat the Penguins in the finals, what is it going to take?
Garret – Score more goals by out shooting and having better save percentage than opposition. 😛
Alec – Pekka Rinne will have to continue holding the Preds in the games. With a depleted centre ice position, missing Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher, expect to see the Penguins dominate the possession battle. If Rinne can outplay Matt Murray, the Preds will win the series.
Art – The Preds defense is going to have to shut the Pens offense down. They aren’t going to win any kind of run and gun, shootout contest so they’ll have to do what the Sens did and that’s grind them down with tight checking and lean on goaltending.
Tony – Rinne has to keep being playoff Rinne. Hope their top 4 can slow the Pens top 2 lines.
Q – Same question flipped… If the Penguins are going to beat the Predators, how do they do it?
Garret – They have better offense and are a really tough team to line match up front, but Preds have for top-30 (aka bona fide #1s) defenders on their roster so they are a team that leans on that depth to shutdown top players and not really forward line matching.
Alec – Crosby and Malkin need to continue being consistent playoff performers. They currently are the top two scorers in the playoffs (Malkin with 24 points, Crosby with 20), and both will have an advantage in their matchups in this series. If they can keep it going for 4-7 more games, they will become the first back to back Stanley Cup champions in the salary cap era.
Art – Just be the better, deeper team. I feel the Pens have a bit more speed and have more offensive depth than the Preds do. As long as Murray (or Fleury but likely Murray) can be a bit better than average, everythine else should take care of itself.
Tony – Play with pressure in all zones. Pens have more skill up front make the series as high event as possible.
Q – Who do you have winning it all?
Garret – My numbers have Pens but my heart has Preds.
Alec – Pens in 7. Nashville has been a wonderful story in these playoffs, and I expect the emotion of the fans in Nashville to keep them in this series, especially when the series shifts back to Tennessee. However, Murray slightly outplays Rinne, Crosby and Malkin dominate, and the Pens use home ice in Game 7 to their advantage.
Art – Predators in 6. I like Nashville’s defense way too much and in my books, defense wins championships and to add to that, I don’t see why Rinne would suddenly falter now.
Tony – Pens in 6. Preds don’t have their #1 center and Rinne has been a little worse every series.