The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Western Conference and Stanley Cup Finals predictions

Spring is a rough season to be a student at Grinnell College. We all endured the harsh winter, and now that the weather is nice, all we really want to do is enjoy the outdoors. So we trick ourselves into thinking that we can work outside. Now don’t get me wrong, some people can actually be productive whilst basking in the sun, but most people, including myself, cannot. Inevitably, I’ll just end up talking to the 18 other people who thought they could work outside. Sometimes I’ll see people tossing a football around or something, and just spend the next three hours playing football instead of working on that 12-page paper due in a couple days. You know it’s academic crunch-time, though, so you force yourself to post-up in Burling or Noyce. The only problem is you’re sitting next to a window, so you waste mad time staring at all the people having, for all you know, the greatest time of their lives, while you’re stuck inside doing work that’s only going to take longer because you stopped to stare at people outside. If that wasn’t bad enough, the NBA and NHL playoffs start up, along with Major League Baseball, just to make sure that getting work done at night is equally difficult to getting work done during the day. It’s like this, hipsters: picture your favorite electronic musicians in a battle of the bands tournament, and in order to make it to the next round of the tournament, they have to beat some other band in a best-of-seven day concert series (so the first band to be better than the other on four separate occasions moves on to the next round), and this whole tournament is being broadcast on YouTube. So yea, you can see why I’m pumped, and why I’m not going to get much work done this spring.

In my last column, I took a look at some of the contenders in the Eastern Conference, and made the prediction that the Philadelphia Flyers would make the Stanley Cup Finals. This time, I’m going to look at the much more competitive, and exciting, Western Conference. The Western Conference of the NHL has a very similar feel to the Western Conference of the NBA this year. The team with the best overall record in the NHL resides in the west, the Vancouver Canucks, and behind them lay a multitude of good teams tightly packed together in the standings and in the process of jostling for playoff seeding. Most experts have come to the consensus that Vancouver is the best team in the NHL, as they have scored more and given up fewer goals than any team in the league. They have a pair of twin brothers in Daniel and Henrik Sedin that take freaky-twin connection to a whole new level. I have never seen two players so aware of where the other one is at all times, without even looking sometimes! The Canucks also boast a solid corps of defensemen and a four time all-star goalie in Roberto Luongo, who is currently stopping shots at a 92.7 percent clip. Just like the San Antonio Spurs, though, something about this front-runner Canucks team makes me believe they’re going to get bounced out of the playoffs short of the Finals. Before this season, the Canucks had won the Northwest Division, and finished with 100 plus points, four out of the past six years. Yet the team never even advanced past the conference semi-finals one of those seasons. Similar to the Washington Capitals of last year, who also finished the regular season first in the NHL, the Canucks have never won a Stanley Cup in their 40 years of existence. Like it or not, Vancouver fans cannot deny that the lasting legacy of the franchise is one of choking in the playoffs. Add in the fact that despite his brilliant regular season statistics, Roberto Luongo has never advanced past the second-round of the playoffs, and things don’t look as rosy for the Canucks as one would think. Add in the additional fact that the Canucks’ best faceoff-man and penalty-killer, and best hockey player of Indian heritage ever, Manny Malhotra, is out for the playoffs with an eye injury, and things look even bleaker for Vancouver. So you get the gist that I don’t think the Canucks are going to win the Western Conference. Who do I think will step up and face the Flyers in the finals, then? I think I have to go with the hottest team in the NHL over the last three months, the San Jose Sharks.

Listen, I really hate the Sharks. For one, professional hockey teams in warm-weather locations just seem wrong. I know it’s an indoor rink, and the San Jose community manages to pack the HP Pavilion (yes, they named the arena after a laptop) for every Sharks home game, but something just seems messed up about playing a sport on ice where the temperature pretty much never dips below the freezing point of water. I also hate the Sharks because their roster is like half the freakin’ Canadian national team, what with Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, Ryan Clowe, and Dan Boyle all suiting up in the teal and black. If you didn’t already know, I like Team USA and Team Russia, and because Canada is the biggest rival of both of those teams, and Canada as a nation is way too pretentious about their hockey, I really don’t like those hosers. The Sharks are heading to the postseason for the seventh consecutive year, and somewhat wrenched the monkey off their back last year by making it to the conference finals for the first time in five years. The fact remains, though, that the Sharks have never made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in their 19 years of existence, and like Vancouver and Washington, are known as a perennial playoff choke-artist. So why am I picking San Jose to win the Western Conference this year? First, the Sharks are a mind-boggling 26-5-4 since they snapped a six-game losing streak on January 13, by far the best mark in the NHL over the last 3 months. Second, the Sharks have traditionally been done in by poor goaltending in the playoffs, despite the long list of fantastic European goaltenders that have come through San Jose in the past decade. However, this past offseason, the Sharks picked up Antti Niemi. That name sound familiar Blackhawks fans? It should, he’s the guy who stepped in for a shell-shocked Cristobal Huet and led your team to a Stanley Cup Championship last season. Niemi is young, but he already has a fair amount of playoff experience and the mental toughness it takes to win it all. He’s been very good this year, posting a .920 save percentage and 34 wins. Combine the improvement in net with a top-10 NHL defense (in terms of shots allowed per game), the second best power-play unit in the league, and a roster absolutely loaded with playoff experience, and you have a team that is poised not only to win the Western Conference, but Lord Stanley’s Mug as well.Finals Prediction: Philadelphia Flyers vs. San Jose Sharks

Winner: Sharks in 7

Sleeper Teams to Watch in the Playoffs: Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning

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