How does this happen?
The top two seeds – San Jose (No. 1) and Chicago (No. 2) – make it through the first two rounds of the Western Conference playoffs.
The bottom two seeds – Philadelphia (No. 7) and Montreal (No. 8) – remain alive in the Eastern Conference.
Either way, on paper it looks like it’s going to be one lopsided Stanley Cup Final.
Don’t tell that to the Flyers or Canadiens.
Here’s a breakdown and picks for the Western and Eastern Conference finals. Both series begin play today.
No. 1 San Jose vs. No. 2 Chicago
San Jose fans have got to be happy seeing what Joe Thornton did against Detroit. After being limited to just three points in the Sharks’ opening-round win over Colorado, Thornton had three goals and five assists in helping oust the Wings in five games.
Blackhawks sniper Jonathan Toews has thrived. Toews leads Chicago with six goals and 14 assists through 12 games.
However, Marian Hossa has been a huge disappointment this postseason for the Blackhawks, with just two goals in 12 games. He does have eight assists.
Chicago had the edge during the regular season, winning three of the four meetings. However, the Sharks have not seen Blackhawks playoff goalie Antti Niemi. Cristobal Huet started every game against San Jose in the regular season.
Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov has been solid with a .907 save percentage and a 2.43 goals against average.
An interesting stat: San Jose is 5-1 at home in the playoffs; Chicago is 5-1 on the road.
This is the first time San Jose and Chicago have met in the playoffs.
Pick: San Jose in 6.
No. 7 Philadelphia vs. No. 8 Montreal
It’s hard to find two hotter teams in the playoffs.
The Flyers are coming off a historic win in Game 7 over the Boston Bruins, becoming just the third team in the NHL to ever come back and win a best-of-seven series after falling behind 3-0. They also climbed out of a 3-0 deficit in the first period before downing the Bruins, 4-3.
Montreal has played more games than any other team this postseason, needing seven games to defeat Washington and then Pittsburgh. Both Game 7 victories came on the road.
The key in this series will come down to goaltending.
Jaroslav Halak is playing himself into a playoff MVP. He leads with a .933 save percentage. When Halak makes 30 or more saves Montreal is 7-1 and 5-0 when he makes at least 35 saves.
On the other hand, Michael Leighton, who was picked up on waivers by Philadelphia in December, is the man for the Flyers after replacing an injured Brian Boucher. He did win the final two games in the series with Boston, but looked less than impressive in Game 7.
As hot as Halak is, so is his teammate Mike Cammalleri. Cammalleri tied a franchise record with seven goals in a series. He had 12 goals in 14 games.
Pick: Montreal in 6.