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2023 NHL Western Conference Finals Prediction

What a fun end to the second round. The best two teams in the west made it to the conference finals. Vegas dominated a hyped Oilers team the longer the series went and made the most of their special teams opportunities. Bruce Cassidy is proving why he was the best coaching hire this season and how bad Boston botched his firing. The original core on the Knights have been the difference makers on offense while goaltending has been smooth no matter who starts. Then there’s Peter DeBoer, who led Vegas to the conference finals in 2020 against the team he’s now coaching. This time there’s no bubble and fans can see the best series of the conference finals in person. In what could be a last gasp attempt to win and hold the Stanley Cup, Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski and Tyler Seguin have to go all out in a chess-match of a series. Both teams have their hands full, and many believe whoever wins this series has a great chance to win the championship. Time to break down who has the best shot to win the western conference and advance to the Stanley Cup finals.

#5 Dallas Stars v. #1 Vegas Golden Knights

The majority of the Stars’ goals are on the power-play this postseason. As the Edmonton Oilers found out last series, it works well against Vegas…until you need to win.

There’s poetry knowing the Stars and Golden Knights face each other in another conference finals matchup. Nobody thought these two teams would have a rivalry when Vegas played Dallas in their first regular season game in 2017. It’s likely one of these rosters goes through a re-build after next season, so this is a must-win for both franchises.

The Golden Knights haven’t played goaltender Jonathan Quick and won’t specify on why. Regardless, coach Cassidy has correctly chosen who to start in net each series. Quick will be backup to Adin Hill when the series starts tonight, so there’s a high possibility we see him play some point this conference finals.

The goaltending topic hasn’t mattered much when Jonathan Marchessault, Jack Eichel, Mark Stone, and Vegas’ depth on defense shot-blocks and scores at will. Eichel plays like this could be his only chance to win a championship despite being in the league for six years. Cup winning teammates Alec Martinez, Alex Pietrangelo and Ivan Barbashev set the tone early with their physical play and clogging the middle of the ice.

This is the first series the Golden Knights will face a team matching their physical presence. Stars captain Jamie Benn’s enforces his will and takes a fair number of penalties to set the tone. While Benn targets opposing defenders, Joe Pavelski’s had the best playoff run of his career at 38. He’s surpassed both Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby for most goals in the postseason for a current player. His puck passing combined with the play of Roope Hintz and Miro Heiskanen will often test the Vegas defense.

In what could be the last deep postseason run for either team with the current core players, the determining factor is depth. Dallas only has four centers with five forwards on each end, and barely eight eligible defensemen. The Golden Knights have more depth to work with, dwarfing the number of players Dallas has in each position. Factor in Cassidy being the better coach and Vegas being the more rested after ending their series earlier, the Stars face an uphill battle once the series settles in every other day.

Prediction: Golden Knights win the western conference and the series 4-1

Western conference playoff predictions after two rounds: 5-1

2023 NHL Eastern Conference Finals Prediction

What fun! The two best teams in the east are in the conference finals. On one side, the well designed, balanced and deep Carolina Hurricanes. Led by coach Rod Brind’Amour, captain Jordan Staal and veteran defenseman Brent Burns, the Hurricanes are the best and most complete of the remaining four postseason teams. Their opponent is last year’s President’s trophy winners and most formidable eighth seed anyone’s watched. Defensive leader Aaron Ekblad, two time winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and Conn Smythe favorite Matthew Tkachuk lead Florida’s charge. All three are Conn Smythe worthy after their team ousted two of the deepest and well built division rivals. Both squads will have their hands full and many believe whoever wins this series is the favorite to win the championship. Time to break down who has the best chance to win the eastern conference and advance to the Stanley Cup finals.

#8 Florida Panthers v. #2 Carolina Hurricanes

Depth players Jaccob Slavin (left) and Sam Bennett (right) will clog the middle of the ice, shot-block and assist on hard fought goals at the front of the net.

On paper, this is a lop-sided matchup. Carolina finally returns to the conference finals playing to the elite level many predicted at the beginning of the season. They made quick work of last round’s opponent and look more confident on every side of the puck. Despite injuries to some star players, the defense played well the previous round and depth stepped up when needed most.

Florida is not your average conference finals team. After finishing the biggest comeback in NHL history, they dominated a confident and well-rested Maple Leafs unit, almost completing a sweep. The most impressive feat is how stout the defense is anchored by defenseman Aaron Ekblad and Sergei Bobrovsky in net. Bobrovsky gave up nine goals last series versus Toronto and he’s the best goaltender remaining.

Both teams have high octane, physical and layered offenses. Aleksander Barkov and Jordan Staal captain their power-play units. Special teams and taking away the goalie’s vision will determine who wins each game.

The series will also be determined by coaching. Paul Maurice has made perfect adjustments since the 3-1 series deficit in Boston. The honest work ethic, playing the rinks to every advantage approach and elite defense makes audiences believe Florida’s the best and most consistent team left. The Panthers can also turn the tide of a game by instigating opposing players and starting fights. Since the infamous Ryan Lomberg hasn’t been at the center of any mayhem for at least a month due to injuries, expect his return to cause multiple stirs once the series sets in to take the Hurricanes off their game.

Upset prediction of the conference finals: Panthers win the eastern conference and the series 4-2

Eastern conference playoff predictions after two rounds: 3-3

2023 NBA Eastern Conference Final Prediction

The remaining two teams in the east had a long and fun second round. Boston and Miami were more committed and better coached than Philadelphia and New York. The Heat are on a roll led by coach Erik Spoelstra. It’s possible their run cements Spoelstra’s case for being a top five all-time NBA coach. One of these two dedicated teams has to advance to the championship round. Time to break down which one has the best chance to represent the east in the finals.

#8 Miami Heat v. #2 Boston Celtics

One of the best players of the 2010s squares off against one of the best players in today’s game for a re-match of the 2020 western conference finals. This time fans will be in attendance.

The second of two conference champion matchups audiences saw in the 2020 bubble, one team looks to correct previous playoff mistakes while the other has a chance to continue a storybook season. Like the other series, one team clinched an early playoff berth while the other had to make the playoffs by winning a lower seed at the end of the season from the play-in tournament. However if one watched both teams without knowing the seed number, there’s no question which of the two played better the last month.

The Celtics stumble continues despite their conference finals appearance. While their previous opponents were either inexperienced or got in their own way when it mattered most, Miami is neither. Jimmy Butler is the most determined star Boston’s starting five will guard before the finals and Erik Spoelstra will give rookie Joe Mazzulla coaching fits. Bam Adebayo and Kevin Love can counter Al Horford and Jaylen Brown while Butler and Jayson Tatum play at all-star levels. The Celtics have to grind out four wins against a more focused and rested opponent. It’s fair to assume Miami’s strengths and determination pull off another upset.

Upset conference finals prediction: Heat win series and advance to the NBA finals 4-2

Eastern conference playoff picks record: 4-2

2023 NBA Western Conference Final Prediction

The remaining two teams in the west had a long and fun second round. Denver and Los Angeles were more committed and better coached than the star-studded teams in Phoenix and Golden State. While the Lakers are on a roll and could be the hottest team remaining in the playoffs, the Nuggets are the team to beat after two dominant series. One of these two dedicated franchises must advance to the championship round. Time to break down which one has the best chance to represent the west in the finals.

One of the best NBA players of all-time squares off against one of the best players in today’s game in a re-match of the 2020 western conference finals. This time fans will be in attendance.

#7 Los Angeles Lakers v. #1 Denver Nuggets

The first of two conference champion matchups audiences watched in the 2020 bubble, this one features a defensively locked in team versus an offensive powerhouse. Los Angeles dismantled their past two opponents to a degree where both teams eliminated have to re-vamp their rosters and make major moves at multiple positions. Denver stonewalled two highly talented offensive teams while scoring at will in their two series wins. They’re the highest seed in either conference the last month of play and don’t feel there’s pressure despite some historic firsts.

The term, “You’re as strong as you’re weakest link” hints which team wins this series. The Lakers are the better defensive team but need consistent scoring from players not named Anthony Davis or LeBron James. The Nuggets have the best scoring presence and offensive starting five remaining but need to play solid defense in order to take pressure off stars Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray.

Two factors regarding who advances are coaching and the forward positions. Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. will have a hard time versus Jarred Vanderbilt and LeBron James on both sides of the ball. Gordon’s inconsistency in the middle of last series’ win against Phoenix raises red flags the longer this best-of-seven continues. Michael Porter Jr. will struggle to limit LeBron’s impact for many reasons. The forward duo that performs better certifies who wins each game.

To me, the better coach will determine who advances to the finals. Unlike his former mentor in Milwaukee, Darvin Ham breaks down technique, mistakes and film better. He makes pivotal adjustments while planning how to exploit an opposing team’s weaknesses without overusing his star players’ health. Mike Malone has done a great job shifting Denver’s attention to play better defense against offensive minded teams deep in the playoffs. It’s possible Ham’s adjustments force the Nuggets to focus back on offense with how the Lakers are the opposite of their previous opponents. Malone might not have a lot of answers once both teams settle into the series.

Prediction: Lakers win series and advance to the NBA Finals 4-2

Western conference playoff picks record after round one: 4-0

2023 NHL Eastern Conference Second Round Playoff Predictions

The first round of the NHL playoffs intrigued and entertained many fans and analysts. The best regular season NHL team of all time was eliminated after going up three games to one versus last year’s President’s trophy winners. Toronto finally won their first playoff series in 19 years. New Jersey continues to shock the NHL world after their elimination shutout of the Rangers. Carolina proved they can take care of business with flexible goaltending and no Andrei Svechnikov. Four fantastic teams will show audiences why they made it this far, but only two elite teams will go to round three. It’s time to predict which two have the best chance of advancing to the conference finals.

#8 Florida Panthers v. #5 Toronto Maple Leafs

One captain’s dream will come true: an eastern conference finals appearance against the best team in the Metropolitan. The winner of this series has a great chance of taking home the Stanley Cup due to their depth, determined mentalities and all-out efforts in play.

No one had this second round matchup even as a distant thought. The Florida Panthers led by their head coach Paul Maurice and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky pulled off the biggest upset in NHL history. The Toronto Maple Leafs finally ended their 19 year curse and got past the first round, and they did it against this decade’s reigning eastern conference champions. Both teams bring confidence, high octane offense and grit. While most would laugh it’s fair to say the winner of this series has a great chance of not just going to the Stanley Cup finals, but winning their first title this century.

Serious fans and analysts should go over film on Auston Matthews’ play from last series. His half dozen blocked shots in a series clinching game shows how far he’s come from being a pure goal scorer. The addition and leadership of Ryan O’Reilly has changed the locker room into perennial loser to a determined team believing they can win it all by executing the small and physical parts of the game on a near religious basis.

No team matured faster than last years President’s trophy winning Panthers. They also shot-block well, but there are other factors tilting in their favor. Paul Maurice’s explicit tirade after lackluster performances and losses to more physical teams such as Ottawa reversed Florida’s trajectory. NHL Network analysts have broken down the Panthers playing the side of the rinks perfectly while fresh coaching has heightened physical play near the net and excellence in reading defensive coverages. They’re behind only said Senators in penalty minutes, meaning they can fight and cause a lot of trouble no matter how smooth a game goes. Even better, the defense is rock solid with Aaron Ekblad finally playing every game in the postseason.

The series will be determined by who’s better in net every night. Florida has the luxury of starting Sergei Bobrovsky or Alex Lyon if either falters. The Leafs are dependent on Ilya Samsonov due to Matt Murray’s season ending injury. Samsonov has to win almost every game by playing close to perfect against a more determined team, and he hasn’t been in these spots before unlike Bobrovsky. Regardless of who wins, this might be the best series in round two.

Upset of round two: Panthers win series 4-2

#3 New Jersey Devils v. #2 Carolina Hurricanes

Captain Jordan Staal and the Hurricanes offense have to play their best against a young and care-free Devils team that loves causing chaos.

This might be the most polar matchup of round two. New Jersey defies every expectation this season and keeps making storylines no matter the topic. Whether it’s their top four offense in the league or the emergence of Akira Schmid in net, nothing seems to dampen the mood in Newark. Captain Nico Hischier and star Jack Hughes lead the offense while veteran defensemen Dougie Hamilton and Ryan Graves keep the defense steady and alert. One of the best advantages for the Devils is their loose style of play while having fun and expecting to learn more lessons than coach Lindy Ruff can teach.

ESPN commentator Dominic Moore said it best when Carolina played the Islanders at the start of last series, “Safe is suicide.” The Hurricanes have to take risks just like when they unexpectedly got past the Washington Capitals five seasons ago. Carolina has the better roster and more veteran team like the Rangers did, but pressure is building on coach Rod Brind’Amour to get the team out of the second round or conference finals.

Just like Florida and Toronto, the winner of this series will be the one with better goaltending. While Frederik Andersen will start and play more this series after Antti Raanta sputtered, the Hurricanes have the option to make a switch if things don’t go well with Andersen. Akira Schmid’s comparison to Devils and league legend Martin Brodeur is worthy praise, but even Brodeur struggled at times in the playoffs and it sunk New Jersey’s chances at a championship. Perhaps Schmid takes out another team that spent lots of money upgrading the roster. It might be harder with how coach Brind’Amour’s been in similar situations both as a player and coach.

Prediction: Hurricanes win series 4-2

Eastern conference first round picks record: 1-3

2023 NHL Western Conference Second Round Playoff Predictions

The first round of the NHL playoffs intrigued and entertained many fans and analysts. In the west, the reigning Stanley Cup champions were eliminated against the newest NHL franchise in their first ever playoff appearance. After a dramatic two overtime loss, Dallas crushed Minnesota in all but one game and scored on almost half of their power-play opportunities. Vegas keeps winning even if Jonathan Quick doesn’t start, and Leon Draisaitl had a point in almost every Oiler goal in a six game series victory against Los Angeles. Four fantastic teams will show audiences why they made it this far, but only two elite teams will advance to the conference finals. It’s time to predict which two have the best chance of advancing to the conference finals.

#3 Edmonton Oilers v. #1 Vegas Golden Knights

MVP favorite Connor McDavid and the Oilers have a tougher test against a more experienced Golden Knights roster that’s better coached than Los Angeles.

Edmonton might have dispatched the Los Angeles Kings in six games but one more member of south California’s franchise stands in their way. This time he has a better defense, team and coach on his side.

Jonathan Quick didn’t have to play a game last series versus Winnipeg, meaning he’s the freshest player on either team heading into Wednesday’s series. The defensive core of Alex Pietrangelo, Alec Martinez, Nicolas Hague and Shea Theodore are a more stout and formidable unit familiar with Quick’s style of play and have gone to at least a conference championship.

Vegas’ offense hasn’t peaked this postseason either. Jonathan Marchessault didn’t score last series but he’ll have plenty of chances with Jack Eichel, William Karlsson, Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone drawing increased coverage. Edmonton goalies Stuart Skinner and Jack Campbell might feel too much pressure against a veteran offense that’s been in similar situations in previous postseason runs.

None of this diminishes the historic Oilers offense led by the first 100+ point scoring trio on any team since the 1995-1996 Pittsburgh Penguins. Leon Draisaitl’s Conn Smythe performances coupled with Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ play ensures the winner of each game has to score four goals or more. Overall Vegas has the better built team, depth and coaching. As both teams settle in, expect the Golden Knights to be the more determined and most physical team.

Prediction: Golden Knights win series 4-2

#7 Seattle Kraken v. #5 Dallas Stars

The Kraken defense won’t have the same luxuries against Dallas they had against Colorado. The Stars’ scoring depth features a number of players such as Joel Kiviranta (25, black) who clogs passing lanes by the net and hinders a goaltender’s vision.

The Seattle Kraken did something no NHL team in over 100 years of existence did last series; they eliminated the current Stanley Cup champions in their first ever playoff series win and appearance. Many audiences thought that series would go past four games, but not a full seven where Seattle scored first every time. Scoring depth and the loss of a captain matters more than most think…including this page.

That said, Dallas is a much different team than Colorado. The Stars are deep at center alone and will give Seattle problems with their veteran playmakers throughout the series. The Kraken’s defense was fortunate they only faced an Avalanche offense pressured to score two goals or more to win each game. The Stars’ layered offense baits opponents early and often. They apply constant pressure and take advantage of inexperienced defenses wanting to score on the rush in transition. Dallas also has two of the best paired defensive lines remaining out west. Seattle’s lack of offensive stars who can drive the puck deep into Dallas’ zone and take command of offensive possessions late when trailing will be highlighted further in the series.

Finally, Jake Oettinger is the best goaltender in the conference. He out-dueled a red-hot Filip Gustavsson last round despite some early subpar performances. Philipp Grubauer’s style of movement in net is a negative against a power-play that scored 44% of the time last series versus one of the league’s best defenses.

Prediction: Stars win series 4-2

Western conference first round picks record: 3-1