Final four holds no surprises

In past years, the final four teams in the WCHL usually fields at least one Cinderella team. Last year it was the Detroit Red Wings, who powered through three of the best squads the WCHL had to offer before finally being closed out in seven games in the WCHL Cup finals by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
 
This year, that's not the case. In the Western Conference, the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche have ripped through the competition, losing a combined three games thus far, with both teams sweeping their second round opponents.
 
In the Eastern Conference meanwhile, the closest there is to an upset is the New York Islanders, who shocked the top seeded New York Rangers in the second round. Even then, the Islanders finished the season with 107 points and boast a whose who of elite names, so their presence in the conference finals is anything but a Cinderella story.
 
What will be interesting is to see whether two teams who have made a sport of failing to meet expectations can get the better of two teams who have succeeded in reaching them. The Sharks and Penguins both have cup rings to their name, with the Sharks having won four titles and the Penguins currently the defending WCHL Cup champions. As for the Avalanche and Islanders, despite having elite level talent for a number of seasons, both have failed miserably in the playoffs, with only one prior appearance in the conference finals each to their credit.
 
Will the proven prevail, or will the Avalanche and Islanders finally reach their long overdue goal of a finals appearance?
 
Western Conference
 
(1) San Jose Sharks vs. (3) Colorado Avalanche
 
The Sharks were the toast of the WCHL all-season long, and look like they are heating up again, having swept through a tough Anaheim Ducks squad in the second round. A pair of 15 game winning streaks are to the credit of the Sharks this season already, proving they can be hard to stop when they get hot. And right now they are hot.

 
For the Avalanche though, no one has been hotter these playoffs. Losing only once so far, the Avalanche have won seven in a row and blew through the Red Wings in the second round, one season after the Wings upset them in the second round. Looking like a team possessed, the Avalanche will likely face their toughest challenge here in this round against San Jose.
 
The Avalanche will need to reverse their regular season fortunes against the Sharks, where they lost all three games by a combined score of 10-4. One of those game did go to a shoot out however, an option that won't be available to San Jose this time around.
 
Prediction: San Jose in six games.
 
Eastern Conference
 
(3) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (4) New York Islanders
 
The Penguins are aiming to become only the second team in WCHL history to repeat as WCHL Cup champions, and they took a huge step towards that goal by beating the Atlanta Thrashers in round two. Only the Sharks have ever won a WCHL Cup one year and advanced to the third round the next year before Pittsburgh did just that this year, so the odds of a repeat grew dramatically.
 
Joel Rechlicz Joel Rechlicz #40 of the New York Islanders fights with Mike Rupp #17 of the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Nassau Coliseum on April 11, 2010 in Uniondale, New York.
 
For the Islanders though, playing nail-biting hockey is nothing new to them this post-season, so taking on the defending champs won't likely be very intimidating. One year after missing the playoffs entirely, the Islanders have knocked off the Boston Bruins in seven games in round one after trailing the series 3-2. They did one better in round two, defeating the top seeded Rangers in six games after trailing that series 2-0.
 
If the Islanders can avoid failing behind the Penguins here, they could push past the champs, as Pittsburgh has looked somewhat erratic these playoffs.
 
Prediction: New York Islanders in seven.

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