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May 18, 2010

Pete Michaud's Take on the NHL Conference Finals

Hello hockey fans...

The Admirals' season may be over, but there is still some great hockey to get excited about with a number of former Admirals involved. In fact, all four NHL teams currently playing in the conference finals have ties to the Admirals.

Among the noteworthy players who once toiled in Norfolk that are still in the hunt for Lord Stanley's Cup are F Travis Moen of Montréal, G Michael Leighton and D Lukas Krajicek of Philadelphia, D Kent Huskins, D Jay Leach and Assistant Coach Trent Yawney of San Jose, and more than a dozen members of the Chicago Blackhawks! It's really exciting to watch these games involving players, coaches and executives that I've spent countless hours with on buses, in hotels, in locker rooms and at rinks around the American Hockey League.

Michael Leighton/Photo by Yvonne PaxsonThe Eastern Conference Finals would seem to be taking place somewhat under the radar. Hockey fans are still stunned that both Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin's Washington Capitals are not fighting for a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals. Montréal is certainly riding a wave of momentum after eliminating both Washington and Pittsburgh, but one wonders how much emotional fuel the Habs have left in the tank after those first two series. The Flyers, meanwhile, are coming off one of the most amazing comebacks in team sports history, rebounding from a three-games-to-none deficit and three-goal deficit in Game 7 to stun the Boston Bruins. I love the way Michael Leighton responded back in the regular season when he took the starting job for the Flyers, and he's done the same thing for the Broad Street faithful in the playoffs. His 28-save shutout in Game 1 against Montréal Sunday has set an impressive early tone in that series.

The Western Conference Finals, however, is where most of the attention will be focused, and rightfully so. San Jose and Chicago were the two Dustin Byfuglien/Photo by Allison Veinotepremier teams out west all year. With Washington and Pittsburgh both done in the east, many feel the Western Conference Final will decide the Stanley Cup, and I'd tend to agree. The Sharks have long been the enigma of the west, a powerful regular season force that has consistently fallen short when it matters most. The Blackhawks probably have the most talent among forwards and defensemen, but their goaltending has been a question mark at times. If the Hawks get the same kind of effort the rest of the series that they got from Antti Niemi in Game 1, in which he made 44 saves, I can't see how you could bet against Chicago. What makes Chicago even scarier is that a majority of their nucleus is so young. And guys like Dustin Byfuglien, the former Admiral who netted the winner Sunday in San Jose, aren't even supposed to be some of the Blackhawks' best players.

I know making a prediction after a series has already begun is like cheating, but for what it's worth, I like Philadelphia in six games in the East and Chicago in seven contests in the West. I'll take whoever wins the Western Conference to win the Stanley Cup Finals in five games. There is nothing as intense and competitive as playoff hockey, and it only gets better as we near the Stanley Cup Finals. Enjoy the hockey!

Until next time...


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