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The Final Battle Begins...

After each playoff round I've provided summaries for how well the predictive tool I'm using is performing, but in order to get my Stanley Cup prediction out here in time for the puck to drop in Game One, I'm going to save my conference final summary for later. Suffice it to say I had picked Buffalo in what was basically a pick 'em type of series (one that the Senators surprisingly dominated), and the Red Wings to skate past the Ducks in seven, so obviously both of those went awry. Overall in these playoffs I'm 9-5 in picking series winners (or as Earl Sleek enjoys pointing out, 9-2 when the Ducks aren't involved).

While the mainstream US media is basically ignoring this championship series, any hockey fan should be looking forward to it - we have two very strong squads that were among the dominant teams in their conference throughout the season. The Ducks got off to a roaring start before a bizarre injury stretch brought them back to the pack, and the Senators got off to a horrible October in the win/loss column despite playing solid hockey, although eventually the bounces went their way and the wins started piling up. Both teams have dispatched other strong contendors along the way in these playoffs, with the Senators getting past Pittsburgh, New Jersey and Buffalo to make the SCF, whereas the Ducks pushed through against some of the toughest defensive teams in the league in Minnesota, Vancouver, and Detroit. Whether you enjoy great goaltending, superstar forwards, or unselfish team play, there is something here in this series for just about any hockey fan. It's too bad the MSM can't figure out how to tell that story.

So let's get right down to it and see what my analysis says about this Stanley Cup Final:

How the Ducks can score: The Ducks generate a high number of shots from the key 10-19 foot range, and making good on those chances will be pivotal to their success against Ottawa. They tend not to generate many goals directly from mid- to long-range shots, and Ray Emery is apparently handling those threats well already (note the Sht % Factor from 30 feet out).

How the Senators can score: The Senators offense is a bit more diverse than Anaheim's, as evidenced by the higher Expected Goals figures across almost all ranges. While Ducks goaltending has been superb during this playoff, it will be tested constantly by a team that fires effectively whether from in close or further out. The biggest warning sign for Anaheim is the high number of shots yielded in the 10-19 foot range, combined with Ottawa's superior shooting percentage in that range. In practical terms that means the Ducks need to avoid senseless penalties that put dangerous snipers out there for Ottawa in prime scoring position.

Summary: The Senators come out of a fairly healthy favorite here, with a 2.64 Expected Goals Per Game figure compared to 1.97 for the Ducks. That's one of the larger predicted gaps seen across this entire postseason, and is the largest gap predicted since the opening round.

Outside The Numbers: Both teams here are relatively healthy (nobody's completely staffed and fresh at this time of year), so recent performance should be a decent indicator for how these teams are doing. Other than the Ducks ability to outperform these expectations so far, there's nothing obvious to throw things in one direction or the other.

Prediction: I'll stick with what the numbers are telling me, and take Ottawa in 6 games.

Table Key:
Shots For = average of shots per game by that team, from the range specified.
Shots Factor = a factor representing how many shots the opposing defense yields in that range (1.24 = 24% more than average, 0.89 = 11% less than average).
Exp. Shots = "Shots For" times "Shots Factor", how many shots are expected to occur within each range.
Sht % = The fraction of shots from within that range result in goals.
Sht % Factor = a measure reflecting how the opposing goaltender handles shots from a given range (0.74 = 26% fewer goals than average, 1.53 = 53% more than average)
Exp. Sht % = "Sht %" times "Sht % Factor", the expected shooting percentage for this matchup.
Exp. Goals = "Exp. Shots" times "Exp. Sht %", the number of goals per game expected from each range.
Values indicative of significantly higher goal-scoring are shaded green, values for lower goal-scoring shaded pink.
All figures represent exponential moving averages, giving greater weight to recent performance. Empty-net goals are excluded.

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