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Published:May 16th, 2011 17:03 EST
NHL Playoffs: Round 3 Begins!

NHL Playoffs: Round 3 Begins!

By Michael Weidenhamer

Earlier in the week, I passionately wrote about my hometown team, the Detroit Red Wings, and their quest to pull off a monumental comeback.  Sadly, that did not happen and I was indeed left heartbroken.  However, unlike some hockey fans, I don`t stop watching the playoffs when my team loses.  I will be watching the rest of the playoffs and be genuinely interested in what happens and who wins.  There are four teams left: the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vancouver Canucks, and the San Jose Sharks.  The next month or so is going to be filled with exciting hockey games as each one of these teams can smell the silver on the Cup. 

Who do I think will make it to the Finals?  That`s a tough question.  Each one of these four teams has a large collection of talent and I would not be surprised to see both series go to seven games.  One area that is especially superb for every team is the goaltending.  The Bruins` Tim Thomas and the Canucks` Roberto Luongo are both up for the Vezina Trophy this year, awarded to the best goalie of the year.  The Lightning`s Dwayne Roloson is 41 years old and yet he`s playing like he`s 21.  In these playoffs, he has stopped the Pittsburgh Penguins and Alexander Ovechkin`s Capitals, two teams that would make lesser goalies shake in their skates.  And then there`s the Sharks` Antti Niemi, who just last year won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks.  It would probably not be surprising if most of these games ended 1-0. 

Defensively, the Bruins have veterans who are still in the primes of their careers.  Zdeno Chara, the tallest player in the NHL, had the league`s highest plus/minus rating this season so not only is he good at preventing goals, but he is also good for his team`s offensive output.  One of his main defensive partners is Andrew Ference, who also had a high plus/minus rating for the season.  The two of them have low penalty minutes so they can clearly play smoothly.  Yes, the Bruins did allow 5 goals earlier tonight, but I feel that they will come back and win this series.  Tampa Bay doesn`t have the defense that the Bruins have, and the Conference Finals tend to be highly competitive.  Offensively, just like with the goaltending, these teams match up very well.  The Lightning have a slew of offensive stars, some of whom were with the Lightning when they won the Cup in 2004.  Captain Vincent Lecavlier is on his way to eclipsing the point total of 16 he had in the 2004 playoffs, as he already has 12 points in the first two rounds.  He has Martin St. Louis to feed him the puck often, and Simon Gagne, formerly of the Philadelphia Flyers, is another helpful veteran presence.  Despite Tampa Bay`s offensive superstars, I think Boston will end up winning this series in six or seven games. 

On to the West Finals.  For the second year in a row, the San Jose Sharks have made it to the Conference Finals.  The Vancouver Canucks are trying to win their first Stanley Cup ever.  Both of these teams have been exposed in the previous two rounds, since the Sharks let the Red Wings win three straight games to force a game 7, and the same thing happened to the Canucks in round 1 against the Blackhawks.  Both of these teams are trying to prove that they do have what it takes to survive in the playoffs.  Defensively, the Sharks got off to a rocky start in the playoffs in their first round series against the Kings, allowing so many goals at times that Niemi had to be replaced in a couple of games.  Led by Dan Boyle, right now their defensemen are doing what they should do: stopping goals when the game is on the line.  The Canucks` defense also had some problems in the first round, but they smoothed everything out and usually kept the Predators to 1 or 2 goals in the second round. 

Offensively, these teams definitely pack a punch.  The Sharks` young right wing Devin Setoguchi is on a scoring jag, netting a hat trick in game 3 of the last round.  They also feature captain Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, and Patrick Marleau, all players who have scored over 300 goals in their careers and who are doing very well in these playoffs.  The Canucks bring twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin to power through with their WonderTwin powers.  They also have Livonia native Ryan Kesler, who had a breakout season with 41 goals.  Despite the Sharks wanting to prove yet again that they are not playoff chokers, I think the Canucks will win in seven games.  They want to bring the Cup back to Canada. 

This should be a very exciting round of playoff hockey.  I`m certainly excited to kick back and watch some exciting, hair-raising playoff moments that I might remember years from now.  If you`re a true fan of hockey, so will you.