BRUINS VS. HURRICANES
SEAN: Bruins in 6. You really want to see the Hurricanes advance and continue their memorable run this postseason, but in the end I think Boston’s top line and the play of Tuukka Rask will be what does them in. The Bruins got through the Blue Jackets with only a single goal from Brad Marchand, showing they can match the depth production of Carolina. The Hurricanes’ special teams have been abysmal through two rounds. They own the worst power play (10.5%) and penalty kill (75%) of the four teams remaining and are coming off a four-game series where the unit managed only one goal with the man advantage.
JAMES: Bruins in 7. The Hurricanes’ excellent defense, two-way depth, underrated talent, and fresh legs make them a tough opponent for anyone, Bruins included. Boston boasts the most complete team Carolina’s seen yet, with Tuukka Rask playing the best hockey of his career, improving supporting cast members picking things up well on the rare off nights for the Bruins’ ridiculous top line, and … oh yeah, that ridiculous top line.
And no, I’m not going to take the bait and make a bunch of jerks/Brad Marchand joke. Never. Not me.
ADAM: Hurricanes in 6. I do not think this run comes to an end. The Bruins are a great team and don’t really have a weakness anywhere on their roster, but I just love the way this Hurricanes team is playing. Their defense from top to bottom is better than Boston’s, I think their speed up front is going to give the Bruins fits, and as long as either Petr Mrazek or Curtis McElhinney doesn’t turn into a pumpkin I think they are getting enough goaltending to get through this. They don’t need whoever plays in net to steal this thing; they just need them to not lose it. And I think they can do that.
JOEY: Bruins in 6. Hurricanes fans should be thrilled. I didn’t pick Carolina in the first or second rounds and we all know how that turned out. I’m not trying to disrespect the ‘Canes, but I think their run ends here. The Bruins started getting production from David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron at the tail end of their second-round series against Columbus, and Tuukka Rask has been nearly unbeatable for a while now. The Hurricanes will need to be almost perfect if they’re going to cause another upset. I don’t see that happening.
SCOTT: Bruins in 6. You have to give Carolina credit here. They just walked through the New York Islanders and took down the defending Stanley Cup champions in the round prior. They keep getting it done despite an injury to Petr Mrazek (who may be back for Game 1). And they possess, possess, possess. And they grind like Rod Brind’Amour used to. But they’re coming up against a Bruins team that has found its stride. The ‘Big Three’ are scoring and Tuukka Rask is playing lights out. Boston is going to win the physical battle, and if Rask doesn’t let up, its the end of the line for these bunch of jerks.
RYAN: Bruins in 7. Boston already took down something of a Cinderella story in Columbus and I think that’s going to happen again. The Hurricanes have really impressed in this playoff run and I think teams are going to look at them a lot differently next year. However, the Bruins are the ones with the experience and star power to pushed past Carolina and into the Stanley Cup Final. I do think that the Hurricanes will be able to at least frustrate the Bruins though and steal some games through their goaltending and defense.
BLUES VS. SHARKS
SEAN: Blues in 6. “This will be the series Jordan Binnington is solved for good,” he says, probably regrettably. The Sharks getting their captain back in Game 7 was a huge boost for them — and that was before he scored the opening goal and added an assist. Fully healthy, San Jose can be a dominant team as long as Martin Jones is playing like Good Martin Jones, which he showed in Round 2. But Binnington has been unflappable — even when he’s “celebrating” a double overtime series-clinching goal. He won’t be rattled, even in high-danger situations as he’s shown in 13 starts. The Blues’ stars have stepped up, they’re getting balanced scoring, and they have a goaltender who’s been consistently great since making his NHL debut at the age of 25 just four months ago. Play Gloria!
JAMES: Sharks in 7. It sure looks like San Jose is destined to do this the hard way. These two teams are pretty versatile – able to win games with scoring or defense, with the occasional night stolen by a hot goalie. The Sharks’ firepower just looms a little to large to me, much like the Bruins’ high-end pieces. It’s not just the obvious, like Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson, and a recently rejuvenated Joe Pavelski. I expect Timo Meier to torment the Blues in much the same way as Roope Hintz did in Round 2. Tomas Hertl won’t be easy to handle. This should be a slugfest, and the Sharks’ haymakers simply hit a little harder.
ADAM: Blues in 6. The Blues were my pick to come out of the Western Conference at the start of the playoffs and I am sticking with them here. I just like the way they have been playing for the past few months — pretty much ever since the Jordan Binnington and Craig Berube duo showed up. They have been one of the best teams in the league since then defensively (it is not all Binnington) and while they may not have a lot of star power up front after Vladimir Tarasenko it is a deep, balanced group of forwards that can put pressure on you. I could easily see the Sharks winning this, especially if they keep getting the same Martin Jones they got in Round 2, but I think that is my concern. I have to see it from him again before I believe it.
JOEY: Sharks in 7. Yeah, another seven-game series for the Sharks. Jordan Binnington has received a lot of positive press for the way he’s played since the start of the new year, but Martin Jones has quietly bounced back in a big way. Also, it’s impressive that the Blues managed to get to the Western Conference Final without getting a goal from Brayden Schenn and Ryan O'Reilly in the second round, but they can’t have that happen against the Sharks. San Jose has many a lot of guys who can put the puck in net.
SCOTT: Sharks in 7. A Martin Jones that can stop pucks and Joe Pavelski back and reasonably rested? I don’t know what it’s going to take to stop the San Jose Sharks, who have all sorts of weapons. That said, Jones is no Ben Bishop, so the goals could come a little easier. But the Sharks just seem bloody determined at the moment. There’s so much motivation for them outside of just winning the Cup. Joe Thornton hoisting it finally. Pavelski, too. The Blues will put up a fight. Jordan Binnington has been special in these playoffs and the Blues have found ways to grind out teams have got contributions from everywhere. The Sharks just seem destined for this at the moment.
RYAN: Sharks in 7. San Jose was my pick to win the Cup and I’ll stick with that. Certainly I do like St. Louis a lot. They’re a deep, well-rounded team and Jordan Binnington has done enough to push them this far. Ben Bishop deserves a lot of credit for his Game 7 heroics, but Binnington faced back-to-back elimination games and held the competition to a single goal in each contest. He’s been attracting a lot of attention for a reason. Still, the Sharks seem to have everything a championship team needs with the possible exception of a goaltender they can depend on. Martin Jones held his own against Colorado in Round 2, so maybe now they even have that.