Tags: Alex Pietrangelo Brad Richards Braden Holtby Brian Elliott Claude Giroux Drew Doughty Henrik Lundqvist Ilya Bryzgalov Jonathan Quick Los Angeles Kings Martin Brodeur Mike Smith Nashville Predators New Jersey Devils New York Rangers NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Pekka Rinne Philadelphia Flyers Phoenix Coyotes Shane Doan St. Louis Blues Washington Capitals
East – #1 New York Rangers vs. #7 Washington Capitals: The two teams are familiar with each other, or so they think. The Rangers and Capitals are set to meet in the postseason for the third time in four years, but this time things are different. The Rangers are the higher seed now, they’ve improved their roster, and they found a way to outlast the Senators in the first round. The Capitals on the other hand are the underdogs this year, something that is new to them after entering the last couple of postseasons as a high seed before failing to go far. Add that with the fact that Alex Ovechkin has taken a backseat to a more defensive team and rookie Braden Holtby, and this is a different Caps team for sure. But do they have the firepower and poise to pull off another big upset after beating the Bruins? The Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist don’t plan to let the surprising story continue. Lundqvist allowed just 12 goals in seven games in the first round and if the Caps want to play a defensive series, they will have to find ways to solve one of the NHL’s elite netminders. The difference maker might be what Brad Richards does this round. In the end he had two goals and three assists in the first round, but he finished -2. He had the ability to overwhelm defenses and create chances constantly on the powerplay. If he has a big series, the Capitals might not even have a chance. Predictions: Andrew takes the Rangers in six, as do I. The Rangers finally got going in the last two games and I think the Caps played a perfect series in the first round, something that will be almost impossible to duplicate.
#5 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #6 New Jersey Devils: A divisional rivalry in the semifinals? Sounds like fun. The Flyers advanced by winning one of the craziest first round series in recent memory over the rivals Penguins in a series that featured a lot of goals, tons of penalty minutes, and spotty goaltending. Now the Flyers will try to take out another rival, but this time they will need Ilya Bryzgalov to play a bigger role in the series. Claude Giroux and the Philly offense proved they have the firepower and Giroux looks like the most dangerous man in hockey right now. But the defense and goaltending will have to improve if they want to win the East. The Devils survived a long series against the Panthers, but if they thought that was tough they are in for a whole new challenge in the second round. Martin Brodeur helped save the Devils despite multiple blown leads in the series and one of the best goalies ever will need to be the MVP of the series for New Jersey to win. What should really worry the Devils and their fans is the special teams battle. The Flyers had the best powerplay in the first round by far (with an impressive 52% conversion rate), and New Jersey had the worst kill out of the teams that advanced and it almost cost them the first round. In the end the Devils second and third lines will have to find ways to stop the Flyers and contribute, or this series could be over very quickly. Predictions: Andrew picks the Flyers in 5, while I am going to step out and predict the only sweep of the playoffs with the Flyers winning in four.
West - #2 St. Louis Blues vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings: The story of the first round in the West revolved around goaltending. That likely won’t change in the semifinals. The Kings upset the defending West champs in the Canucks with great goaltending, timely goals, and smart defense. Jonathan Quick had an exceptional regular season and he definitely carried it over into the playoffs. His 1.59 goals against and .953 save percentage show how dominate he was. But the Blues have some great goaltending of their own and the team with a lot of young stars didn’t have too hard of a time knocking off the Sharks. Brian Elliott had a regular season that made many question why he didn’t get at least a look from a few teams last year and he jumped into the middle of the first round after Halak got hurt, keeping the Blues rolling along. Patrik Berglund and Andy McDonald both contributed a lot for St. Louis in the first round, and the Blues boast three lines that can chip in offensively. But with the stacked rosters and great speed that both teams possess, the series still looks like it could be all about goaltending. And with most games likely coming down to one or two plays, the special teams battles will be key. Both Drew Doughty and Alex Pietrangelo rank among the best young blueliners in the league that can play in their own end and lead an offense from the backend. While the Blues went 6-for-18 in the first round in five games, the Kings struggled with their powerplay chances, and that could be a deciding factor if it continues in the second round. Predictions: Andrew says the Blues win in 7, and I will take the Hitchcock kids in 7 as well. But no matter who wins, I think this should be the series to watch in the 2nd round.
#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #4 Nashville Predators: Another match-up where the two teams both rely on strong goaltending and good defensive play to win. But there is one big difference between the two “non-traditional market” franchises: one is stacked and prepared for a deep run, while the other is relying on a goalie and great play from everyone just to compete. The Coyotes and Mike Smith shocked the Blackhawks by stopping almost everything thrown at them and capitalizing on the Blackhawks mistakes and over-aggressive play. They can’t plan on that again in this round. The Predators have the better goalie in Pekka Rinne and their defense is astonishing, taking away the big advantage that Phoenix had over Chicago. The Preds under-produced a little and relied a little heavily on Rinne, but they have the firepower to dominate, while the Coyotes relied on Smith constantly and big performance by a lot of players. The only Phoenix player that didn’t really show up in first round was Shane Doan with only one goal, and he will have to step it up for the Coyotes to have a chance at upsetting Nashville. At the other end Ryan Suter and Shea Weber lead a defense that is capable of shutting down the best in the league, something they proved against Detroit’s top players, and providing it as well. If the Predator can improve their powerplay a little, they are very capable of running away with this series. They were the best five-on-five team of the first round, and if they can solve Smith at even-strength then the Coyotes will have to win the special teams battle to keep the series from ending quickly. Predictions: Andrew says the Predators win it in a full 7, while I think the Predators only need 5 games and will be in full control after winning game one in Phoenix.