The NCAA calls its version of the Final Four in hockey something more appropriate, and we’re stealing that for the NHL Conference Finals today. In our second-round predictions, we nailed the Western Conference on spot—while completely blowing it in the Eastern Conference. Oh well.
It comes to this: The Boston Bruins have home ice in the East against the Carolina Hurricanes, while the San Jose Sharks have home ice in the West against the St. Louis Blues. Boston and San Jose had the second-best records in their respective conferences, this year, so they should be favored with the top seeds getting eliminated in the first round.
But it’s not that simple, of course … or is it?
The Hurricanes took out the defending champions on the road in Game 7 of the first round before sweeping a team in the second round that had swept the 2016-17 champs in the first round. Clearly, Carolina means business.
Meanwhile, the Blues won two tough series themselves, one without home ice in six games, the other with home ice in seven games. That is battle-tested preparedness at its best, in terms of Stanley Cup playoff hockey.
Every series is a coin flip at this point, so here’s how we read it.
Boston Bruins against Carolina Hurricanes: The Bruins won three more regular-season contests in regulation or overtime, the best value to determine a team’s relative strength, than the Hurricanes did. Plus, Boston has home ice. That’s enough to make us pick the Bruins. The two teams played three times this year, Boston winning twice while both teams scored a combined ten goals in the three games. The Bruins have more potential for scoring, and that makes a difference. Boston in seven games.
San Jose Sharks against St. Louis Blues: Likewise, the Sharks posted four more ROWs than the Blues did in the regular season, and San Jose won two of three games between the two teams, with a combined 7-6 score in favor of the Sharks. Is there anything that makes us think St. Louis can pull this off? Not really. San Jose has the experience, the goaltending, and the scoring to win this series, now that it is back at full strength. It also may have fate on its side, if officiating is any sign. San Jose in five games.