The NHL Conference Finals are set!

It's Penguins versus Lightning in the East, while the Blues face the Sharks in the West
Which names are going on this next? Can you guess? (Wikimedia Commons)

Two series down. Two to go. For fun, we're going to look at the match-ups and predict who will win each series to advance to the Stanley Cup final. (And we want to know who you think will win, too, so let us know below.)

East Final: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

Tampa Bay eliminated the New York Islanders in 5 games. Many people are a little surprised that the Lightning (who also got past Detroit in only 5 games in the first round) are making such short work of their opponents. Though they made the Cup final last year, they're missing their captain and best player, Steven Stamkos, plus No.2 defenceman Anton Stralman to injury. But this is still a super-quick Lightning team with a great goalie and a lot of experience from last year. We shouldn't be surprised they made it this far.

Speaking of super-quick, no one is playing faster hockey than Pittsburgh right now. They overwhelmed the President's Trophy-winning (that's the regular season's best record) Washington Capitals in 6 games. Their strategy? Wave after wave of attacking hockey. In fact, the Penguins were so good as a team that superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin barely got any points at all. Instead, their best player in the series was ex-Maple Leaf Phil Kessel. Meanwhile in net, rookie Matt Murphy outplayed the Capitals' Braden Holtby, despite Holtby being a pick by many as the best goalie in the NHL this year.

PREDICTION: Tampa Bay is a very good team, but they haven't had to play anyone as tough as Pittsburgh yet. The Penguins have already beaten the league's best team fairly easily — and they did it without Crosby scoring a single goal. This Lightning team is about as quick as Pittsburgh, but without two of their best players it is in trouble. The Penguins will win in 5.

West Final: St. Louis Blues vs. San Jose Sharks

For a long time, the St. Louis Blues have been a very good regular season team...who always lost in the first round. (Sigh) This year is different. For real! First, they defeated last year's Cup champs, the mighty Chicago Blackhawks. And though their next series against the Dallas Stars went the full 7 games, they won the last game 6–1, looking better balanced in every way than their opponents. The Blues are big and strong, have excellent defence led by Alex Pietrangelo, and aside from one rough game six against Dallas, their goalie Brian Elliott (aka The Moose, listen for the "MOOOOOOOOSE!" cheers Blues fans give him after saves in home games) has been rock solid. Looks like this team has finally gotten over its jitters and is ready to win it all!

The funny thing is, you could say a lot of the same things about the Sharks. Like the Blues, the Sharks were always that team (great in the regular season, but full of nerves and failure in the playoffs). And like the Blues, the Sharks changed their fortunes in the first round this year — they beat the powerhouse Los Angeles Kings easily and looked great doing it. And also like the Blues, though they went to 7 games against their next opponent, the Nashville Predators, they owned the more dominant moments in the series overall. They won the final game last night 5–0. (Ouch, Nashville.)

PREDICTION: But these two teams can't both win. It's gonna be super close and will go the distance. San Jose is maybe a little quicker and sneakier, but the Blues also have Vladimir Tarasenko, who is one of the best goal scorers in the game. In the end, the fact that the Blues host game seven might be what clinches it. The Blues will win in 7.

What do you think?

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