Our “experts” are keeping score of how many series they predict correctly and incorrectly, though doing anything would yield better results than what Will Shanahan has had. A bonus is awarded for picking the correct number of games it takes for a team to advance. The current grisly standings look like this:
Telerski: 6 correct, 6 incorrect (2 bonus)
Roman: 5 correct, 7 incorrect (3 bonus)
Nathan: 5 correct, 7 incorrect (1 bonus)
Will: 0 correct, 12 incorrect
Boston – Carolina
Telerski – Going into the playoffs, I thought it would be prudent for the Bruins to give Jaroslav Halak a start here or there to allow Tuukka Rask to rest, and because the tandem had been so effective all year. Practically splitting starts (45 for Rask and 37 for Halak), they combined for a .917 save percentage and an average of 2.42 goals against on the team’s way to 49 wins.
But, as it turns out, Rask got all the rest he needed during the regular season. He has been an absolute monster – the best goalie in these playoffs and it is not even close.
Rask leads all goalies in save percentage at .938, and holds the best average goals against of any remaining goalie at 2.02 (number one for the entirety of the playoffs is Robin Lehner, who barely squeaks ahead of Rask having allowed 2 goals a game on his way to a second round exit at the hands of the Hurricanes). Rask has done all of this while facing more shots (435) than any goalie not named Ben Bishop (448), and almost 50 more than the next closest netminder, Jordan Binnington (378). That all comes together to equal 8.09 goals saved above average (how many more goals this goalie saved than the league average goal tender on the same number of shots), and no other remaining goalie has more than 3.
Rask completed the construction of his brick wall with a 39 save shutout to wrap up the series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, laughing in John Tortorella’s metaphorical face for saying Columbus had “dented” him in the final period of Game 5, which the Bruins were able to pull out of the fire with a late goal from David Pastrnak. Now, with the Hurricanes trundling into Boston like a Nor’easter, Rask isn’t going to let his house get blown down, not by the wispy, playoff-beard hairs on his chinny-chin-chin.
It has been said before in this space that the Hurricanes have a dangerous offence that is just unlucky, the thought being that somehow the team that generates the most high danger scoring chances (481) only turning 11.1 percent of those chances into goals (60) just needed a few puck bounces in their favor to really become a prolific offense. This argument (and those who are proponents of it) are of course, very silly. A team which shoots at 8.6 percent for an entire season (only 0.4 better than the worst shooting team the Buffalo Sabres) is not unlucky, it is just bad.
And when the ex-Hartford Whalers have gotten the opportunity to go on the power play during these playoffs, when they should be putting these high danger tendencies on display and running up the score with the man-advantage, they have been equally “unlucky.” While 11 games is a small sample size, they have only been able to convert on 10.5 percent of power plays. This is a regression from the 17.81 percent they had during the regular season, but when the competition gets tougher the scoring does too. So does the importance of being able to finish when you have the chance.
They might be a bunch of jerks, they might be the darlings of these playoffs, and the Bruins might be the hockey wing of the evil Boston sports establishment, but the Hurricanes have surged their last storm. The Best Line in Hockey™, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak combined for 12 points in six game, and 7 of the team’s 17 goals. On top of the top line clicking, the depth scoring kicked in. 11 different skaters tallied a goal against the Blue Jackets, and David Krejci has stepped up in a big way with 10 points through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
This Bruins team can also be big and bad like their predecessors when they want to. David Backes, the grizzled old man at the age of 34, was a lightning rod for the team after the lost games two and three back to back. The Bruins won three straight to close out the series after Backes joined the line up. Zdeno Chara, who is amazingly seven years older than Backes, has been playing some of his best hockey of the season the past few games. Against Toronto it looked like the faster, younger opposition was getting to him, but he stepped up in a big way against Columbus, bringing the physicality the team needed.
The pieces are all coming together for Boston. The offense is clicking, the youth is contributing, the experience is showing, and Rask has been completely and utterly unstoppable. It’s been nice knowing you Carolina, but you’re about to learn just how well New Englanders deal with storms. Boston in 6.
Will – Emotional stuff from Telerski. As much as I would like to rip into his analysis and urge him to take off his black-and-yellow blinders, with Colorado’s Game 7 loss last night (a day after Dallas’ 2OT G7 loss to St. Louis), I have officially fallen to 0-12 with my picks to date in these playoffs. So it would really behoove me to get on the board and just pick the team that’s actually going to claim the Prince of Wales Trophy.
I’m picking the Carolina Hurricanes. Do I hate the Bruins? Yeah, certainly. I’m the exact type of person Brad Marchand wants to be hated by. If you need to get out of personal slumps by striking kneeling guys in the back of the head, only to skate away seconds later, I’m not going to pick your team in its next round, 0-12 or not. Also, let’s not pretend that the B’s top line was a never-before-seen juggernaut against Columbus…the apparently trademarked best line in the game put up 12 points against the Blue Jackets. Can you believe that? Twelve! For the math guys out there, those 12 points were also spread across three of them (average = 4) over six games, for a grand total of 0.67 points per game per player! Our favorite rat Marchand put up 100 points in 79 games in the regular season. Kudos to Patrice Bergeron for doing a hell of a job shutting down Pierre-Luc Dubois and Matt Duchene last round. But I don’t want to hear the rest of it.
Tuukka Rask has had a hell of a playoffs so far, and was particularly strong against Columbus. Not that New England would ever give him credit for that, because they still think the Vezina should be renamed after Tim Thomas because he made some cool-looking saves playing a hare-brained style of goaltending and had a legendary playoff run in 2011. Seeing Marchand get off scot-free for his hit to the head, Charlie McAvoy crushed Josh Anderson and is suspended for Game One of the Carolina series, which will really be a difficult absence for Bruce Cassidy considering Zdeno Chara is still playing 23 minutes a night despite getting bundled by guys 60 pounds lighter than him. Can someone give Matt Grzelcyk a vowel? Did I mention I hate these guys?
Carolina also looked awfully impressive rolling over the Isles in four games last round. The most unlikely of goaltending tandems is playing their socks off, the likes of Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are becoming household names on the back end, and they still have the only guy in the world cool enough to be nicknamed Mr. Game Seven. Your services hopefully won’t be needed that long though, Justin. Carolina in 5.
Nathan’s pick: If we’re not picking objectively, this one is a joke. On one side we have aggressive clown Rod Brind’Amour and his group of clowns who think you have to be prepared to get rear-ended under any circumstances (RE: T.J. Oshie). On the other side we have aggressively good guy Marcus Johansson. The Bruins have some unsavory figures but MoJo outweighs them all with his sheer goodness. If only Boston fans could call him by the right nickname. Boston in 7.
Roman’s pick: I am a big eye test guy, and when my roommate and I went to a Canes game over spring break, I saw them absolutely throttled by Winnipeg 8-1. However, the eye test reserves the right to be incorrect, and the team I saw in Raleigh is not the team that has been playing recently. Give me Rod Brind’amour’s boys making it one more round, but not easily. Carolina in 7.
St. Louis – San Jose
Roman – Sharks fans know pain. This team has made the playoffs 18 of the last 20 years, but has only made a Cup final time one time, losing to Pittsburgh in 6 games in 2016. Every time it seems like the team from San Jose could go all the way, the dream dies. However, never before has the NHL playoffs been so wide open as it is this year, and this is one of the deeper Sharks teams in recent memory. They have been able to withstand injuries all season, none bigger than the loss of their captain Joe Pavelski in the first round against the Vegas Golden Knights. Pavelski made his return in Game 7, which provided a boost, but the team was able to weather the storm without him. They have been led by top playoff goal scorers Logan Couture and Tomas Hertl, who have nine goals apiece. Defensemen Brent Burns (14 points) and Erik Karlsson (12 assists) have also provided key contributions on the offensive end. Off the score sheet, shutdown Marc-Edouard Vlasic had a huge role in moving past the Golden Knights when he came back from injury, and held Avalanche superstar Nathan MacKinnon in check throughout the next series. While the Sharks are finally healthy, they are definitely fatigued. San Jose has played fourteen games this postseason, more than any other team, and has given everything they have to get to this point. However, this team is hungry. Most players have never hoisted a Cup; all of them desperately want to reach the promised land. Doing this rests on one man: Martin Jones. My colleague Nathan Chen may call him Swiss cheese, but Jones has been putting in work as of late. Jones has allowed 2 goals or less in 7 of his past 10 games. If he keeps up this play, the Sharks offense will get theirs.
Meanwhile, St. Louis has been on fire for such a long time that it is no longer a hot streak but merely the mark of a really good time. On the morning of January 3, the Blues hit rock bottom. They were the worst team in the NHL. Head Coach Mike Yeo had been fired in November. The team was struggling to coalesce. Then, a rookie goaltender from Richmond Hill, Canada came along and changed the season. I am proud to say I was on the Jordan Binnington hype train before the playoffs even started, dating back to his burst on the scene, when he opened his career going 13-1-1. With this stretch, Binnington seized the starting job from Jake Allen and hasn’t looked back since. The young netminder finished the season with a 1.89 goals against average and a .927 save percentage, and came into the playoffs as the hottest goalie in the league. While he has cooled down some in the playoffs, it has still been enough to get the Blues into the Conference Finals, a feat no one saw coming on January 3. He has been helped out by his offense. The team has been led by unexpected juggernaut Jaden Schwartz, who has 8 goals and 11 points. Alex Pietrangelo matches Schwartz with 11 points (9 assists), and Ryan O’Reilly has contributed 9 points. These contributions have been necessary because regular season standouts Vladimir Tarasenko (68 points) and Brayden Schenn (54 points) have been quiet, with 5 and 4 points respectively.
I’m going to keep rolling the dice. The Sharks have been so good for so many years but have never had the hockey gods on their side. This seems like it could be the year, and the players seem to realize this. They have already played in two game sevens, and there is no quit in this team. The Blues have already knocked off the offensive-minded Winnipeg Jets, and arguably the best goalie in these playoffs in the Dallas Stars’ Ben Bishop. However, the Sharks have also knocked off two top teams in the Avalanche and Golden Knights. As always it comes down to PLAYOFF MARTIN JONES, and he has proven again and again that he can stand on his head in the big moments. San Jose in 7.
Nathan – Thank God Roman’s piece wasn’t as biased as Telerski’s was so I don’t have to provide rebuttal in the form of Blues propaganda. Seriously, that’s hard to do because I just can’t spout propaganda unless it favors the Capitals or Carolina’s dangerous offense. No matter what happens in this series, I will be rooting for the winner to take it all because every fanbase deserves to feel what we felt last summer. Winning the Stanley Cup for the first time is a magical thing, as I believe it is the hardest trophy to win in North American sport.
The reason why it’s difficult to capture is because it relies so much on luck. A series can swing based on a bad bounce, and so teams with top goaltending are at a significant advantage. This is where St. Louis holds the edge over San Jose, despite Roman’s insistence that Playoff Martin Jones is a thing. As Roman outlined, Jordan Binnington has been excellent all year, finishing with impressive statistics. Jones on the other hand was Swiss Cheese in the regular year, finishing with a save percentage of .896 and allowing 2.94 goals on average. With the defensive corps that San Jose possesses, it’s almost inexcusable to post such figures, but Jones’ play has admittedly improved in the playoffs. It will be critical for San Jose to push the pace of play right from the beginning and provide their goaltender with support. As the series went on against Colorado, San Jose tended to start fast, and that would be critical for them if they wish to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
However, this St. Louis outfit is much more formidable defensively than the Colorado team they faced last round. Obviously Binnington represents an upgrade over Philipp Grubauer, but the core of the team is more gritty and experienced than Colorado. St. Louis is led by a group of veterans who have never tasted the big one before: forwards Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko, David Perron, and Alexander Steen, and defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester have all been around since the Ken Hitchcock days. Those teams were built on discipline and toughness, which have continued as the hallmarks of Blues hockey. Another reason why St. Louis will represent a greater challenge is because of their depth scoring. Sammy Blais (22 years old), Robert Thomas (19 years old), and Vince Dunn (22 years old) are a young, exciting group of players for the Blues who have made significant contributions in these playoffs. The team also boasts significant depth in the form of grizzled veterans, such as Ryan O’Reilly (77 points), Tyler Bozak (38 points), Joel Edmundson (11 points), and Colton Parayko (28 points).
Nevertheless, San Jose possesses all the talent they would need to win the Cup. Outside of the (still) glaring question in net, they have great players at all positions. What has always stood out about San Jose is their ability to acquire offensive defensemen, and this year is their finest in that department. The acquisition of Erik Karlsson to pair along with Brent Burns made San Jose an immediate Cup favorite, and mainstays Marc-Edouard Vlasic (25 points) and Brenden Dillon (22 points) have only added to their success. That’s probably enough I need to say that’s positive about San Jose.
I would be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to St. Louis bench boss Craig Berube. Nicknamed “Chief”, Berube was an enforcer throughout his NHL career, and he played with a ton of grit and hustle. This isn’t the first time he’s led a turnaround job. In 2013, he was named Philadelphia’s head coach in an interim capacity, and they shook off their slow start to clinch a playoff spot. Sound familiar? He’s done the same with St. Louis, except to an even larger degree. On January 3, St. Louis had 300-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup, and now they find themselves just 8 wins away. When this round is complete, I think they’ll be 4 wins away, due to superior goaltending and depth support that Colorado just didn’t have. St. Louis in 7.
Will’s pick: I read an article by Pierre LeBrun of all people about the hockey world’s thoughts on what this could mean for Joe Thornton, despite Jumbo himself trying to deflect and heap praise on his teammates at every turn. So, San Jose. Plus, if these playoffs have taught me anything, it’s that if I analyze this any further, I’ll just be horribly, horribly wrong. San Jose in 6.
Telerski’s pick: All of the numbers point to San Jose winning this series. But, Jordan Binnington has shown he can keep his composure on the big stage, and he will need every bit of it to stop the Shark’s offense and carry his team to the Stanley Cup Final. St. Louis in 7.