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The keys to the NHL Conference Finals

Michael Kim

tampbay 285x300 The keys to the NHL Conference FinalsThe Stanley Cup Playoffs have whittled sixteen teams to a final four. With the Conference Finals set to open this weekend, I sat down with ESPN hockey analysts Barry Melrose and Matthew Barnaby for this latest edition of “Kimmer & Answers”. Here are their thoughts on the keys in each series, what the Sedin twins must do to breakout of their dual scoring slumps and which teams will play for hockey’s Holy Grail.

MK: Let’s begin with the East.  Tampa Bay and Boston open their series Saturday.  The Lightning will not have played in ten days and the Bruins haven’t in eight.  What concerns do you have about the time off and potential rust developing on the players?

Barry Melrose: I think the time off helps more than it hurts. Both teams needed the time off because of injuries.  It gave Boston a chance to get Patrice Bergeron healthy. Both needed rest more than anything else.

Matt Barnaby: Both teams got much-needed rest. For Tampa Bay, Simon Gagne’s back and healthy and having him back is very good for them against Boston. Both teams will have rust early but they’ll shake it off quickly.

MK: In the West, Vancouver and San Jose will square-off.  What’s the difference in this series?

BM: The West is a great series. There is a lot of speed here. Obviously, the Canucks have to get the Sedin brothers back to scoring. Vancouver is rested and healthy. The Canucks could take advantage of that, especially early in the series.

MB: Detroit would have been a better match-up for Vancouver than San Jose. The Sharks made it a “flip-the-coin” series. These two teams are very even. The Wings aren’t as physical normally, so that would have been better for the Canucks.

MK: Surprisingly, the Canucks are one series win away from playing for the Stanley Cup without Daniel and Henrik Sedin doing much offensively. What do they need to do to get going offensively?

BM: They’re not going in front of the net to the traffic areas. They’re trying to play a regular season style in the playoffs. You can’t do that. You have to be willing to pay a bigger price. They’re not doing that. They’re reluctant to shoot.  Shooting is vital in the playoffs. They pass too much. There’s no room for that in front of the net in the playoffs.

MB: They’ve got to pick up their games. They have to provide more offense for this team to win.  Ryan Kesler would be the MVP of this team if they took a vote right now, but he can’t do it alone.  Vancouver needs them to do more.

MK: Prediction time. Which teams emerge from these conference finals?

BM: In the East, it’s Boston, if Bergeron plays. If not, it’s Tampa Bay. I’ll say Boston in seven games or Tampa Bay in six, if Bergeron doesn’t play. In the West, Vancouver in six games.

MB:  I’m going with Tampa Bay in seven and Vancouver in six.

Michael Kim is the host of SportsCenter, ESPN America’s flagship US sports news programme, now airing in the UK on ESPN America – Sky channel 430, Virgin channel 531 and TalkTalk TV channel 566 – every weekday morning live from 6:00am with an updated show at 10:30pm. For more details visit: www.espnamerica.com. The NHL Playoffs are live and exclusive on ESPN America. Game one of the Eastern Conference Finals between Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins is live at 1am on Saturday night. Game one of the Western Conference Finals – San Jose Sharks at Vancouver Canucks – is live at 1am on Sunday.

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