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Stanley Cup playoffs: Conference finals preview

The Eastern Conference finals between the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning begin Saturday at Boston. The West finals between the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks start Sunday at Vancouver.

May 13, 2011|By Helene Elliott
  • Sharks right wing Devin Setoguchi (16) tries to maintain his balance after getting checked by Canucks center Henrik Sedin in the third period of a regular-season game at HP Pavilion in San Jose.
Sharks right wing Devin Setoguchi (16) tries to maintain his balance after… (Chad Ziemendorf / Reuters )

The second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs was full of drama, magical playmaking, emerging stars … and then there was the Eastern Conference.

Action in the West outshone the East. The Vancouver Canucks had to labor to eliminate upstart Nashville, while the San Jose Sharks finally developed a collective heart in holding off the Detroit Red Wings in a series that featured six games decided by one goal.

The East finals will start Saturday at Boston's TD Garden. The West finals will start Sunday at Vancouver's Rogers Arena.

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

NO. 1 VANCOUVER CANUCKS VS.

NO. 2 SAN JOSE SHARKS

How they got here: Vancouver defeated Chicago in seven games and Nashville in six games. San Jose defeated the Kings in six and Detroit in seven.

Outlook: Each team had to slay playoff demons and nearly squandered a 3-0 series lead. The Canucks, eliminated by the Blackhawks the previous two seasons, avoided a hat trick by pulling out a Game 7 victory in the first round. The mentally fragile Sharks let the Red Wings take them to seven games before Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton awoke in Game 7. In this series the Canucks must get contributions from forwards Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Both were silent against Nashville and each is minus-8 defensively. Playoff scoring leader Ryan Kesler (five goals, 15 points) is a solid most-valuable-player candidate, and there's grit and depth to back him up. The Sharks have the goaltending they've lacked in 2010 Cup winner Antti Niemi, and Logan Couture brings youth, energy and big goals. But Marleau and Thornton must play big and it's no guarantee they will.

Pick: Vancouver in seven

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

NO. 3 BOSTON BRUINS VS.

NO. 5 TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

How they got here: Boston defeated Montreal in seven games and swept Philadelphia. Tampa Bay defeated Pittsburgh in seven games and swept Washington.

Outlook: It's the golden goalies — 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson of the Lightning and 37-year-old Tim Thomas of the Bruins rank 1-2 in playoff save percentage and goals-against average, with Roloson at .941 and 2.01 and Thomas at .937 and 2.03. The Bruins will miss top postseason scorer Patrice Bergeron (two goals, 12 points), who has a concussion. Chris Kelly is expected to play between Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi, with rookie Tyler Seguin centering for Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley. The Lightning expects forward Simon Gagne (head injury) to play in the opener, but defenseman Pavel Kubina (upper-body injury) might not be ready. Tampa's power play (12 for 45, 26.7%) could be decisive. The Bruins' penalty-killing efficiency has been only 80.5% and their power play merely two for 37.

Pick: Tampa Bay in seven.

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