Conference Finals: 2/2, which puts me at 11 of 14 for the playoffs. (Previous predictions: conference quarters, conference semis, conference finals)
If I may digress for a moment...
So I'm obviously good at this predictions thing, getting 11 of 14 correct, right? Not exactly.
Interestingly, there haven't been a whole lot of upsets this year. In any given playoff season, it usually seems we're witnessing at least one shocker: think Edmonton over Detroit in 2006 or the Flyers nearly sweeping the Devils last year. But this season, only four series have been won by the lower seed - and in three of those four series, the "underdog" was seeded only a single slot below its opponent. All six division winners made it at least to the second round, meaning that anyone seeded sixth or lower was at the driving range by the end of April. I can't even recall the last time that happened (and I'm too lazy to look it up).
It's certainly an oddity that the higher seeds rarely lost a series this year. But is that really hard to predict?
Of course it isn't. Yet for some reason, I've read a bunch of self-congratulatory fluff lately from a lot of mainstream media writers and bloggers, all whose shocking Miss Cleo-like abilities allowed them to see an improbable future in which the best team in hockey, the Vancouver Canucks, play for the Stanley Cup. If you had correctly predicted a Sabres/Kings final, I'd have been convinced you were a fly on the wall during secret NHL meetings in which referees were instructed for whom the games should be rigged. But bragging about predicting two division winners in the final? Forgive me if I'm unimpressed.
Digression over. Thanks for indulging me. On to the pick:
Stanley Cup Final
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (3) Boston Bruins
The Bruins have certainly worked hard to get here, with a steamrolling of the Flyers sandwiched between seven-game oustings of Montreal and Tampa Bay. On the other side, the Canucks hilariously blew a three-game lead against Chicago but have since righted the ship in winning nine of their last twelve games, with Roberto Luongo looking unbeatable at times and contributions coming from all areas of the lineup.
The Canucks have the clear advantage on special teams, scoring on 28.3% of their powerplays and killing off a respectable 80.6% of their own penalties. Boston's PK percentage is comparable at 79.4%, but... that powerplay. That ghastly, horrific Bruins powerplay. You probably don't need me to tell you how bad it's been, but I'm going to do it anyway just because it's fun: 5 for 61 in the playoffs, an abysmal 8.2% pace. Not that it's (entirely) his fault, but the acquisition of Tomas Kaberle has done nothing to improve the man advantage. The Canucks might be able to play a man down for an entire game or two and still squeak out a win.
Momentum may play a large part in this series; the Canucks have it, the Bruins not so much, coming off a series in which they blew a lead of their own, during which Tim Thomas gave up five goals in three different games and four in another against the Bolts. Did the presumptive Vezina winner regain his form with a Game 7 shutout against Tampa, or will he struggle against the Canucks' so-deep-it-should-be-illegal collection of forwards?
The Canucks were the best team during the regular season, and at every position on the ice, they're simply better than the Bruins. In a year when the better team wins much more often than not, I see no reason to go against the grain. Boston can make it close if it fixes its goaltending and powerplay issues, but the Stanley Cup is going back to Canada. I have mixed emotions about that, because I know we'll be hearing about that from Canadians all offseason; but on the bright side, the rest of Canada seems to hate the Canucks, so I guess I feel a little bit better about rooting for them.
And I promise I won't brag if my prediction comes true. I wouldn't want to be a hypocrite. Canucks in 6.
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