The Panthers are out of the Stanley Cup playoffs once again, but like Stephen Weiss and David Booth, we'll be following former Cats who have finally made the dance.
Half the fun of the postseason, like any tournament, is watching for upsets. While it's generally true that the top seed is the favorite in a tournament, media hype drives the favorites and we here at Litter Box Cats are ready to put ourselves out there once again and pronounce our individual picks for the third round of this year's NHL playoffs. The second round was surprising, with two Eastern Conference sweeps. Lucky for us, the Detroit Red Wings stepped their game up after going down 3-0 to the Sharks.
The higher seed won in both Western Conference finals, while we still have an underdog in the east, our neighbors on Florida's west coast, the Tampa Bay Lightning. One quick note before we unleash our picks. Donny is in the middle of moving and unable to make his picks before the first game Friday, so we have asked Chris Roberts, aka CSUMarmot, to make our third set of picks this round. You'll find them after the jump.
Boston Bruins (2) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (5)
John: Lightning in 6
I'm doing it. I'm calling Tampa on this one. Sure, the Bruins, with Tim Thomas in goal and with their outstanding play against the Flyers, should be the winner here. Much has been made of two things. The first is the Bruins' 3-1-0 record and Thomas' 3-0-0 record against the Lightning this season. The lone loss was with Tukka Rask in goal. However, two of those wins were early in the season and all were against Mike Smith or Dan Ellis. The Bruins have not faced Dwayne Roloson this season, though Roloson played twice for the Islanders against the Lightning. The second is how the Bruins almost matched the Lightning for goals in the regular season despite the Bolts having a 40 goal scorer and a 30 goal scorer in the lineup. The Lightning had one more goal in the regular season, the Bruins have one more goal in the post-season. The Bruins' points leader is Patrice Bergeron (2-10-12) while their goals lead is a three way tie between Brad Marchand, Nathan Horton and David Krejci (5). The Lightning's top points man is Martin St. Louis (6-7-13) and their top goal scorer is Sean Bergenheim (7). The goalie battle should be excellent. Roloson has 8 wins in 11 games in the post season with a 2.01 GAA, .941 save percentage and 1 shutout. Thomas also has 8 wins in 11 games with a 2.03 GAA and a .937 percentage.
Chris: Lightning in 7
An extended break for both the Bruins and the Lightning after impressive series sweeps has become a two week long watch as each organization stares down the barrel at their opponent. What each has found though, is that they’re scoping out their mirror image. There aren’t many advantages to tip the scales towards one team, but the most major of these is a significant discrepancy in power play percentage. In their semi-finals series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Lightning terrorized the Penguins going 7 for 26 (27%) while the Bruins scored 0 goals in 12 chances against the Flyers. In the playoffs as a whole, Boston has stumbled along at a 5.4% clip on the power play while Tampa Bay has gone 26.7%. Tampa also boasts a 94.4% while killing penalties, Boston clocks in at 80.4%. This will be a series won by the team that has superior special teams, and it looks like the ‘Nang have them.
Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. San Jose Sharks (2)
John: Sharks in 7
I may regret this later, but I think the Sharks have turned the corner with their gutsy play in game seven against Detroit. Joe Thornton was a monster in the series as was Antti Niemi. Dany Heatley hasn't been much of a factor, but his lack of production has been adequately covered by Devin Setoguchi, Ryan Clowe and Joe Pavelski. Patrick Marleau stepped his game up when it really counted in game seven. They'll be hitting a rested team in Vancouver for game one and the Canucks are no slouches, especially Ryan Kesler, but if the Sharks keep up the play they showed in the five of their seven games against Detoit, they'll win their Conference Final this season.
Chris: Vancouver in 6
Unlike the Eastern Conference Finals, the Western Conference Finals took much more time to determine team matchups. San Jose and Vancouver both look to shake reputations of recent playoff underachievement after struggling to finish off their opponents last round. Vancouver and San Jose have some of the most star studded rosters in the NHL, but Vancouver’s super twin combo known as the Sedins let Ryan Kesler steer the ship last round versus Nashville while San Jose enjoyed well rounded offensive production from their usual sources. Though Vancouver has better numbers on the power play and penalty kill, San Jose arguably has the momentum coming into the series after a big game seven win over Detroit. Antti Niemi holds a bit of an advantage over Roberto Loungo if only because he has the experience playing this deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs, but make no mistake, Loungo has played better over the last two rounds. Defense may be the ultimate key in this series, if Vancouver regains their regular season offensive prowess, a weak defensive corps highlighted only by Dan Boyle may not be able to stop a determined Canucks squad.