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NHL Playoff Predictions: Glamourous Cup Final Shaping Up

The Associated Press
Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick celebrates with captain Dustin Brown following the Kings’ sweep of the St. Louis Blues in the second round of NHL playoffs. Los Angeles advanced to face the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference final.

Many NHL playoff prognosticators will be running for the hills after this post-season, and I’ll be giving chase by the looks of it.
With the third round starting today, anybody who predicted third-seeded Phoenix — sixth-ranked based on regular-season point totals — would be facing eighth-seeded L.A. in the Western Conference final is, well, a genius. A month or two ago, that same person would have been labelled a fool and laughed out of most rooms. But nobody is laughing now, except maybe the Las Vegas bookies, who have to be raking it in hand over fist with all these upsets.
The Eastern Conference final is a little different story, with the top-seeded New York Rangers surviving two Game 7s against No. 8 Ottawa and No. 7 Washington, advancing to face No. 6 New Jersey.
I went 1-for-4 in the second round — only calling the L.A. Kings’ ousting of St. Louis — to bring my putrid predictions record to 4-for-12. There are power plays that connect at a better clip than my 33.3 per cent.
Making matters worse, I’m now 0-for-4 in my Stanley Cup final predictions — initially picking Pittsburgh to beat Chicago, then, after both those teams were booted in the first round, Philadelphia to defeat Nashville. Again, both teams were sent packing in the second round — Philadelphia falling to New Jersey and Nashville getting dumped by Phoenix.
So here I sit, trying to salvage some pride by correctly predicting the final three series, starting with the conference finals.

Western Conference

Phoenix (3) vs. Los Angeles (8)

I was on the Kings’ bandwagon last round, so there’s no point in hopping off now. This isn’t a marquee matchup for Canadian fans. That potential was lost with L.A. upsetting Vancouver in the opening round. But there’s some appeal to this series, especially for fans of good goaltending with L.A.’s Jonathan Quick and Phoenix’s Mike Smith among the Conn Smythe Trophy contenders as playoff MVP. Smith, especially, is the main reason the Coyotes are still playing despite getting outshot by Nashville and Chicago. Quick has been every bit as solid, turning aside the top-seeded Canucks before sweeping the No. 2 Blues. Los Angeles should be slightly fresher, having played only nine playoff games this spring compared to 11 for Phoenix. The Kings also have more scoring depth up front, including some big forwards who could make Smith’s job all the more difficult.
Prediction: Los Angeles in 6.

Eastern Conference

New York (1) vs. New Jersey (6)

I didn’t expect the Devils to be here, to dismantle the Flyers like they did, but I should know better than to bet against future Hall-of-Famer Martin Brodeur. He’ll backstop New Jersey in a goaltender’s duel against New York’s Henrik Lundqvist, a Vezina Trophy finalist this season. Expect both these series to feature low-scoring, close games, though there could be a bit more run-and-gun here. The Devils outgunned a Philadelphia team that was full of firepower, albeit lacking between the pipes with the ever-shaky (and quirky) Ilya Bryzgalov. New Jersey will have a tougher time beating Lundqvist. Personally, I prefer New York’s defence but New Jersey’s offence. What’s that cliché about defence winning championships?
Prediction: New York in 7.

And the newest winner is . . .

That would make for a big city Cup final between New York and Los Angeles — Times Square-versus-Hollywood. Talk about a dream come true for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, a much more desirable pairing for ratings than, say, New Jersey and Phoenix. For what it’s worth — and that’s less than two cents — I now have the Kings getting crowned rather than King Hank (Lundqvist), with L.A. hoisting hockey’s holy grail in six games. However it plays out, I’m sure it’ll still be fun to watch. So stay tuned and enjoy.
Larry Fisher is a sports reporter with a passion for hockey at all levels. Follow him on Twitter @LarryFisher_KDC or email larry.fisher@ok.bc.ca.
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