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(Harry How/2009 Getty Images)
(Harry How/2009 Getty Images)

Conference finals prediction: <br>A Sharks-Bruins final</br> Add to ...

Eastern Conference

(3) Boston Bruins v. (5) Tampa Bay Lightning

Team strengths:

Both of these teams are well coached and rely heavily on their defensive systems, which could make this a very tight checking, chess match of series in which special teams are key. On that front, the Lightning have been excellent, converting on 27 per cent of their power plays and allowing only three power play goals (94.4 per cent).

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The Bruins and Lightning also have received excellent goaltending from their veterans in the crease, with Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson currently sitting 1-2 in most categories after two rounds.

Team weaknesses:

The most obvious weak point for either club is Boston's awful power play, something that may cost them the series if it keeps converting at a less than 6 per cent efficiency. The Bruins lack the really high end offensive talent that Tampa has in Steve Stamkos, Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier, and will dearly miss Patrice Bergeron's terrific defensive game.

The Lightning's weakness, meanwhile, is on the back end, where they're not particularly quick or deep. Coach Guy Boucher has been leaning very heavily on Eric Brewer in more than 26 minutes a night and he's played well, but Boston has the edge in a true, elite defender like Zdeno Chara.

Missing Simon Gagne and Pavel Kubina, who are both battling injuries, could also hurt Tampa's depth.

Key matchup:

It's Chara. His ability to limit what the Lightning's big guns can do will be huge. Tampa had a hard time scoring against the Bruins during the regular season and lost their last three meetings.

Wildcards:

This series could simply come down to depth, as both teams throughout these playoffs have gotten offensive production from some unlikely sources. Can Brad Marchand and Chris Kelly keep putting the puck in the net for the Bruins? And can Sean Bergenheim do the same for the Lightning?

Prediction: Bruins in six



Western Conference

(1) Vancouver Canucks v. (2) San Jose Sharks

Team strengths:

San Jose's biggest strength is its depth down the middle, with Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski centring the top three lines and excelling in these playoffs. In many ways, this postseason has been a coming out party for Thornton, who may finally shed the chronic underachiever label he's had for so long.

Vancouver, meanwhile, should have an edge on the blueline, with an excellent top shutdown pairing (Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa) and one of the best team defences in the league.

Team weaknesses:

There aren't many here.

Both teams, however, have key offensive players who were essentially no-shows in several games in the second round that they need to produce to win this series. Whether that is Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau for the Sharks or the Sedin twins for the Canucks could swing things either way.

San Jose rarely uses its fourth forward line and its second and third defence pairings could be vulnerable. They've been very healthy through the playoffs, but injuries could be a problem. Some members of the Canucks, meanwhile, are already beat up.

Key matchup:

The Canucks are likely going to want to roll Ryan Kesler out against Thornton's line. The Sharks are probably going to want to avoid that matchup and get Thornton out against the Sedins. That's one key battle to keep an eye on.

Wildcards:

Roberto Luongo and Antti Niemi qualify here. Niemi was phenomenal in the conference finals a year ago as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, shutting down the Sharks with a .949 save percentage in a four-game sweep, but he's been ordinary in these playoffs. Roberto Luongo, meanwhile, has been shaky at times and can be rattled.

Prediction: Sharks in seven

 

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