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The NHL is down to four teams as the quest for the Greatest Trophy in Sports continues. The Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers will faceoff for Western Conference supremacy, while the Tampa Bay Lightning must dispatch the New York Rangers for their third straight Eastern Conference title. Jay Zawaski, Greg Boysen, and Mario Tirabassi give their takes on what should be two fantastic Stanley Cup Playoff series.
Western Conference Finals
Jay: I can’t wait to watch this series. Two of the game’s brightest stars, Nathan MacKinnon and Connor McDavid, will have a chance to show their skills on the biggest stage. We also get to see more of Colorado defenseman Cale Makar, which is never a bad thing. No one is giving Edmonton much of a chance here. Colorado has been a juggernaut all season and has long been the favorite to win the West. As impressed as I’ve been with Edmonton’s run so far, I think it ends here. They just don’t have the horses to contend with the Avalanche. McDavid won’t be able to singlehandedly win a series versus a team this deep. Avalanche in 6
Greg: If you like speed and skill, the series is for you. The idea of MacKinnon and McDavid going at it is exciting. Plus, throw in an Evander Kane/Nazem Kadri cage match, and we have ourselves a heck of a series. This will be the first time both teams will face a team that can match them speed-wise. These games should be full of fast-paced, exciting end-to-end hockey. The Avs were my pick to win the Stanley Cup before the season started. While the Oilers are on a great run thanks to having the greatest player on the planet exert his will, I just don’t think they can beat Colorado four times. They will make the Avalanche work for this one, but Colorado gets back to the Stanley Cup Final in the end. Avalanche in 6.
Mario: Speed kills. Both of these teams have plenty of it. McDavid is arguably the fastest player in the world in skates, but MacKinnon is not far behind. The difference is that Colorado has more team speed up and down their lineup, and I also trust the depth of their lineup both in the forwards group and defensive group more than I do in Edmonton. One of the biggest factors that can decide this series might be goaltending. Darcy Kuemper has been good, not great in the postseason, and while Mike Smith is chaotic, he also has been really solid when he needs to be for Edmonton. I’ll still trust Colorado to mask blemishes more than Edmonton in the end. Avalanche in 6
Eastern Conference Finals
Jay: The storyline here will be the netminders. Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy and New York’s Igor Shesterkin are the two best in the world. Flip a coin for who is #1 and who is #2 (give me Vasilevskiy). Shesterkin was the difference in the Rangers’ series win over the Hurricanes, but I have to credit the Rangers’ big guns. They might not have the overall depth of Colorado or Tampa Bay. Still, their many star players like Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Adam Fox, and former Blackhawk Artemi Panarin can keep them in games. That said, I can’t pick against Tampa Bay. No one has been able to beat them in a playoff series in two-plus years now. As Greg says, you can’t pick against them until they lose again. Lightning in 6
Greg: The Rangers keep proving me wrong after I picked against them in the last two rounds. Their all-word goaltender is playing as such, and their stars are delivering when they need to. However, they are stepping up in class with the Lightning. They have not faced a team with the goaltending, depth, and defensive play that Tampa brings on a nightly basis. This is a match-up of the up-and-coming contenders versus the champs. The Lightning’s championship window is not closing just yet. While the Rangers will keep this series close, you can’t bet against the Bolts right now. Lightning in 6.
Mario: Hard to bet against the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions who just had a 10-day break to “get healthy.” The Rangers are good and Igor Shesterkin has been one of the best goaltenders in the postseason, but the Lightning are a top to bottom better team. With a wash in net between Shesterkin and Andrei Vasilevskiy, give me the deeper, more talented, more experienced Lightning squad. Lightning in 6
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