Story by Nathaniel Rivas
Four teams remain. Blood, sweat and tears are left on the ice every night in these NHL Playoffs, and the time has come for the conference champions to rise and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. In the West, the Anaheim Ducks will be playing the Nashville Predators, and the East will see the reigning champions Pittsburgh Penguins facing off against the Ottawa Senators.
Western Conference Finals
The Nashville Predators started out this postseason as the second Wild Card team. Yet, Nashville looks to be one of the most dangerous teams still in the hunt for the Cup. After sweeping the powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks (I repeat: it was a 4-0 sweep against the Blackhawks) and defeating the St. Louis Blues in six games in the second round, Nashville seeks to become just the third team as the lower-seeded Wild Card to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. The last Wild Card team to reach the finals and win? The 2012 Los Angeles Kings.
The Anaheim Ducks came in as one of the top seeds in the West. After sweeping the Calgary Flames, the Ducks were pushed to the limit as the Edmonton Oilers forced a Game 7 showdown in Anaheim. The Ducks prevailed with a 2-1 victory. Anaheim hopes to move beyond the conference finals after losing the series lead in 2015 and being eliminated early last year. In fact, Nashville beat Anaheim in the first round last season.
Nashville tends to score first, and they can maintain the lead. According to NHL.com, Nashville has won six of the seven games when they score first in the playoffs. Anaheim has scored first in five games winning four of them. The offense for Nashville will have to go up against Anaheim’s goaltender John Gibson. Gibson will need protection and assistance from his defense as Gibson is averaging a .908 saving percentage, the lowest among the last four starting goalies according to NHL.com. Nashville, led by their captain, forward Mike Fisher, look to score first and apply pressure early. Fisher provides a strong presence in penalty kills, face-offs and hits. He also leads the forwards on the team with 13 blocks. The extra days of rest may also come in handy for Nashville.
Nashville currently leads the series 1-0 with a game in Anaheim tonight (5/14)
Eastern Conference Finals
The defending champions have not been undefeated this postseason. The Pittsburgh Penguins cruised by the Columbus Blue Jackets but did drop one game to Columbus. The Second Round proved a harder task as Pittsburgh faced off against the Washington Capitals. Pittsburgh won in stunning fashion following a 2-0 victory in Game 7. Although Pittsburgh did drop several games to Washington, they did win Game 4 without star Sidney Crosby due to injury.
The Ottawa Senators may not be the biggest name in the postseason. Nevertheless, Ottawa is in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 10 years. Ottawa defeated the Boston Bruins and the New York Rangers in six games. Ottawa is no doubt the underdog in this series, but this will only drive the team to play even harder.
Ottawa will be coming off some extra days of rest when they face Pittsburgh for the first time. Ottawa needs to figure out how to slow down Pittsburgh as the Penguins like to play with pace on both ends of the ice. It has proven to work for Pittsburgh as they are averaging 3.42 goals per game this postseason according to NHL.com. Ottawa must stick to the structure of the team on the ice and put pressure on Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The back-up goalie has played exceptional this postseason after coming in during the first round. Pittsburgh leads the postseason with 250 blocked shots according to NHL.com.
Ottawa currently leads the series 1-0 with a game in Pittsburgh tomorrow night (5/15)
Featured image for this post courtesy of St. Marys Indy