SPNHL Season 31: Conference Finals Review / Stanley Cup Finals Preview
By: Dirty-Dietrich & Cuban1616.
Well this is a very special article, in more than one, maybe even two ways. We’ll start with the obvious one: it’s the finals of the thirty first season of the SPNHL. It’s been a grueling two months, and only two teams remain in the pursuit of championship glory. Secondly, it’s the first time in four seasons that the finals don’t feature the Colorado Avalanche, which I applaud Eggman and Sedin for and want to say thank you for setting such a high standard for teams in this league (and to Pliskin for finally introducing the rule that destroyed the dynasty). Thirdly, we have the legendary Cuban, a member of the Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights and my very first GM in SP (S26 NJD STAND UP) sharing his expertise. And lastly, it’s my first visit to the finals as a GM and I’m fucking terrified.
This isn’t about us, though. This is about two phenomenal teams who served as underdogs in these playoffs battling through two rounds against tough opponents and colliding in the Cup Finals. We’ve seen dynamic offense and steadfast defense from both teams while playing in front of excellent goaltenders, but it all comes down to these next 4-7 games. I highly doubt this series will be a sweep, as I expect it to be incredibly competitive. Or, I could be wrong and one team gets absolutely dominated by the other. I hope it isn’t that.
Anyways, let’s see how the Conference Finals dictated the Cup Finals matchup. I could talk about how that series turned out, but let’s get some insight from the man who played through it. Take it away, Cubano!
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Colorado Avalanche (1st) vs. Vegas Golden Knights (3rd)
Result: Knights win in 6 games.
As stated in Dietrich’s last article this would be the most anticipated matchup and it completely lived up to the hype.
Colorado and Vegas played 6 hard fought games with Vegas walking away the winning the series 4 – 2
The series could have gone either way with 5 out of the 6 games decided by 1 goal and 4 of the 6 games had a score of 2-1, while 3 of the games went into overtime.
This was a complete defensive matchup on both sides, with the forwards on both teams struggling to find ways to generate any type of offense.
Colorado, who many declared the team to beat after dismantling Winnipeg last series, found themselves in unfamiliar territory being down in a series and not able to really establish themselves as they did in the last series.
Vegas who were chalked up as the next victims after having finishing off Anaheim in their first series matchup came into the Colorado series with a nothing to lose attitude and it showed on the ice with their style of play.
This was a boxing match as stated by Vegas player NJs_VeryOwn.
Game 1 was a feeling out for both teams as they counter punched each other and tried to see what each team can establish which ended with a Colorado win in OT.
Games 2-6 Vegas seemed to have figured out the style of play they needed to implement and executed it to defeat Colorado and end their amazing season.
Cuban’s Finals Prediction
New Jersey Devils (2nd) vs Vegas Golden Knights (3rd)
New Jersey Devils
Strengths: Their Offence – With forwards Grammy (12GP, 15G, 8A, 23P) Serv (9GP, 5G, 10A, 15P), Rich (6GP, 4G, 9A, 13P) & Dirty (7GP, 5G, 7A, 12P) *DD note, I only play when Rich wants to play poker.* …These guys have been able to put the puck in the net and control the offensive zone all season and now in the playoffs they’ve had continued success and are in the Finals.
Their goalie play is not to be overlooked as Ciulla (7GP, 88.76 SV%, 89 SA, 10 GA) and Rancher (5GP, 86.67 SV%, 60 SA, 8 GA, 1 SO). These 2 guys have faced some extreme pressure and have been able to carry the load for NJ.
Weakness: Mental/Availability – Not to cop out here but after looking over the roster and checking the stats the only thing I feel that NJ is weak at right now is overthinking and schedules. I feel even if Philadelphia would have won its series versus TB that NJ would have beaten them and been in the Finals. So for NJ will they be able to mentally prepare themselves for a Finals in which they aren’t facing Colorado as expected but instead a team in Vegas that defeated Colorado and availability for his top guys. *DD edit, thanks for not talking shit about us.*
Vegas Golden Knights
Strengths: Experience – This team has a group of guys who are no strangers to SP playoff and finals hockey. The group of ACK, NJs, Uber, Prodigy and Cuban have played in and won multiple playoff games and each have played in and won the Finals in their respective careers.
The experience of this group showed in the Colorado series after a game 1 loss Uber sat himself after Vegas won game 2 with the pairing of Gods and Cuban playing better in the series and letting those 2 guys anchor the rest of the series
As for the forwards the composure and communication of ACK (11GP, 10G, 10A, 20P) and Njs (9GP, 7G, 9A, 16P) and Prod (7GP, 4G, 6A, 10P) have kept Vegas mentally ready for every game so far the entire playoffs
While Slim has literally been a wall in net for Vegas (9GP, 86.92 SV%, 107 SA, 14G)
Weakness: Hangover/Availability – After winning such an intense series versus Colorado can Vegas regroup and finish? I know that with the experience on the team it won’t be hard to refocus but how long will it take is the question? Availability goes for Vegas too. 1 or 2 of these main guys aren’t able to play is there depth there to make up for the production?
Finals – Vegas in 6
Not playing the bias card and saying something to stay neutral here.
Statistically both these teams are as even as can be:
NJ – 12GP, 30GF, 18GA
Vegas – 11GP, 28GF, 18GA
So the numbers don’t really tell the story of which team will have the upper hand going into the series.
So I’m going to say this will come down to matchups and the biggest matchup will be the goaltenders and which team will be able to help there goalie out by not giving the puck up and letting the other team capitalize.
Vegas are that team. Overall they have 3 great defenseman who are able to move the puck up the ice and the forwards have been able to come back and play amazing in the defensive end while not compromising their offense on the other end.
NJ has a great set of offensive skilled players and their goalie paring have themselves a few Cup Finals wins to show for it as well but I don’t feel the D pairing of Ceeg and Shirk will be able to handle the Vegas forwards and give the NJ goalies the assistance to keep the puck out of the net.
Good Luck to both teams.
Cuban aka K.O.D. *DD note: does the K.O.D. stand for King of Donair?*
“Is that cologne I smell? What about our “No cologne” agreement?”
Eastern Conference Finals
New Jersey Devils (2nd) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (4th)
Result: Devils win in 5 games.
We knew this was gonna be a clash of styles before we even started the series, and the Bolts and the Devils played a very close, hard fought series. After the first round sweep of the first seed Flyers, Tampa Bay were the heavy favourites going into this series due to their strong defensive play and exceptional goaltending. After splitting the first two games (where both teams averaged a goal a game), New Jersey won game 3 with a score of 4-2 and never looked back. They won the next two games by a goal a piece and won a very narrow series. The great goaltending by Rancher and Ciulla (averaging 1.6 GAA per game) combined with a great defensive team effort and an offense that capitalized on opportunities (including Serv COMIN’ ALIVE IN GAME FIVE) was enough to take the 2nd seeded underdogs (??) to the finals.
DD’s Finals Prediction
New Jersey Devils
Strengths: goaltending. Our offense is great, our defense (both blueline and team defense) has greatly improved since the beginning of the season and excelled in the playoffs, but the goaltending combo of Ciulla and Rancher is one of the strongest in recent memory. After having a rough regular season, Rancher stepped it up in the playoffs, winning a crucial game seven against Pittsburgh and shutting out Tampa in the first game of the conference finals, while Ciulla has won five of his seven starts in the playoffs. Their save percentages and goals against average are both in the top five (Ciulla leading playoff goalies in both categories), and they’ll need to keep up their spectacular play if the Devils want to win the Cup.
Weaknesses: experience. The Knights have a team with an extensive championship pedigree in SP, with Stoner, Prodigy, and Cuban all winning championships in the past and NJ and Gods_Plan appearing in their second consecutive Cup Finals. Ciulla and Racher have won Championships and Conn Smythe trophies in the past (Rancher last season, Ciulla in season 27), but the rest of the Devils squad doesn’t have as much championship experience aside from a couple Cup Finals appearances for Grammy and DD. They’ll need to play the best games of their lives on the biggest stage they’ve played on.
Vegas Golden Knights
Strengths: defense. The defensive core that the Knights have is outstanding, not to mention the defensive abilities of their forwards. Having NJ, Prod, and Stonerboy as a top line presents a hard forechecking and defensively conscious entity, and their defenders are no slouches themselves. GodsPlan is a Norris finalist for this season, Uber is an elite defender who has developed plenty of chemistry in front of his friend Sliyum (having trust in your defender is crucial for a goaltender), and Cuban is an all-time SP great and is a stud at defense, appearing in the playoffs after being an anchor for the lowly Columbus over the past two seasons. Having a trio of defenders with this talent is rare, and may be the deciding factor in this championship series.
Weaknesses: man this is tough. I’m gonna so with the same thing Cuban said, fatigue. After an incredibly hard fought series against the Avalanche that nearly went the distance, do the Knights have enough left in the tank to win four more games and secure their first title in four seasons? This is a team with a strong offensive core who has faced a very tough road in these playoffs. These last four wins were some of the most exhausting games that the Knights have played all season, will they be able to it four more times?
Finals – Devils in 7.
I’ll try not to be biased as well, as I believe this is going to be an incredibly challenging series that will go the distance. However, there are some slight advantages that New Jersey holds over Vegas, and these will be key for this upcoming series:
Discipline. The Knights have taken 29 penalties this playoffs, averaging over two penalties per game and more than doubling the total of the Devils (13). Normally this wouldn’t be too much of a problem, but the Devils are capitalizing on 31.6% of their power play opportunities and are known to draw penalties.
Depth. If they follow rules and play all their 10 players, the backup forwards for the Knights are still new to the team and may not mesh well with the other forwards. The Devils have had the same group of forwards since the beginning of the season and are all very familiar with each other, with their top line having chemistry with their backup forwards.
Dynamic offense. Prodigy and Stoner are top-tier forwards, but Grammy and Rich are two of the top wingers in the league. Having won Rocket Richard and Art Ross trophies in the past, these guys are known for their finishing abilities. Grammy has 15 goals in these playoffs and Rich scored more goals than anybody this past season by a large margin. Their finishing ability will give the Devils the advantage.
For the first time in three seasons, we are guaranteed a new Stanley Cup winner. The Knights were the last team who weren’t the Avalanche to win the cup, while the Devils are reaching their first Finals under the DD/Grammy banner. With renewed focuses on defense and team structure, expect this series to be played with a lot of grit. The offense in this series will be hard to come by, but when you see them, there will be flashes of brilliance.
We’re not sure if we’ll be doing a show during the Finals as I’ll be studying for midterms and pulling my hair out over the combination of school and SP. However, we’ll be bringing you the Cup review episode of SPNHL: Off the Ice this Saturday, where we’ll recap the season, announce award winners, and enjoy the bickering between Kozmo, Reap, Pliskin and I. Maybe we’ll even have special guests. Maybe Cuban? Not sure. We’ll find out. Don’t pester me!
Cuban, thank you so much for your addition to the article! I wish you and the Knights the best of luck this week. You guys are an incredibly talented team and after dethroning the Avs, you guys deserve to win the Cup.
We won’t make it easy.