Stanley Cup playoff preview: Round 2

Stanley Cup

One of the most thrilling first rounds in memory came to an exciting conclusion, but without any break, we’re ready to move right into Round 2.

Who are you picking this time?

THN gets you prepared for the next round with a breakdown of the four matchups ahead. The predictions represent the combined opinions of THN staff.

BOSTON BRUINS vs. MONTREAL CANADIENS
How the Bruins got here: The best team in the East, Boston beat Detroit four times in a row after losing the opening game of that series. It was the lowest-scoring series of the opening round, with Boston holding Detroit to a goals per game average (1.20) that was nearly half that of the 15th ranked offense. The Bruins averaged the sixth-fewest shots-against per game and Tuukka Rask backed up the defense with a .966 save percentage at 5-on-5. Stingy defense, stellar goaltending and timely scoring – that’s what the Bruins are made of.

How the Canadiens got here: The Habs ended up having the easiest road into Round 2, sweeping a Lightning team that was down a Vezina finalist. Montreal averaged four goals per game – the highest mark in Round 1 – and got a flurry of production out of Brendan Gallagher, Lars Eller and Rene Bourque. But those three players combined for only two assists (both by Gallagher) against the Bruins in four matchups this season. Carey Price was good enough for the Habs in Round 1, but needs to improve on his .904 save percentage if the Habs are to move on.

X-Factor: Carey Price didn’t have the most polished first round and now he’ll face a team he’s only played once this season. The Habs won three of four games against Boston in the regular season and only played Price in one of them – he made 32 saves in a 2-1 win. Even in three games against Petr Budaj, Boston’s offense was only once able to score more than one goal. Price needs to be better against Boston than he was against Tampa Bay, because the Bruins won’t allow a lot of goals themselves. But Boston’s offense also needs to improve on what it did against the Canadiens all season.

Keep an eye on: Alex Emelin vs. Milan Lucic. These two hate each other and have a run-in almost every time they play. The last time they met, this beautiful – and completely clean – hip check by Emelin on Lucic…

Was soon followed by this Lucic retaliation..

After that game, Lucic called Emelin a chicken, so look out for this rematch. Both hit hard and hit often. Rivalry time.

Prediction: We can expect the Bruins to play physical and for the Canadiens to buzz around and give them a hard time with speed. Boston has won the last two series these two rivals have played and we’re picking them to make it three in a row. Regular season record be damned: everything is white washed in the playoffs. It’ll be long and it’ll be close, but we’ll give Boston’s defense and goaltending the edge. BRUINS in 6.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS vs. NEW YORK RANGERS
How the Penguins got here: Just like last year’s first round matchup against the Islanders, Pittsburgh was given a good run by an opening round underdog. The Blue Jackets kept Sidney Crosby out of the goal column all series and kept Evgeni Malkin out of it for the first five games. The Penguins won despite their goalie, who showed a haunting similarity to his other meltdowns gone by. Even when Pittsburgh held a 4-0 lead in Game 6 they still allowed the Jackets to claw back to a one-goal deficit. No lead is safe with Marc-Andre Fleury and this defense.

How the Rangers got here: Defense and goaltending. Henrik Lundqvist finished Round 1 with a .957 save percentage at 5 on 5, which ranked third behind Darcy Kuemper and Tuukka Rask. But with the exception of Game 3, he didn’t have an overly heavy workload. New York’s defense held Philadelphia to 25.6 shots per game – second lowest of the opening round. They certainly didn’t get much help from their power play, which has now gone 21 consecutive advantages without a goal. Even colder is $7.8 million man Rick Nash, who didn’t score once against the Flyers.

X-Factor: It would be hard to give this one to anyone other than Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins goalie is a playoff enigma; one-time Stanley Cup champion turned annual choke artist. It’s not that Fleury was a sieve throughout, or even completely to blame for Columbus’ three goals a game – the Penguins defense was pretty awful too. But he has a penchant for letting in bad goals at bad times. These gaffes and meltdowns aren’t healthy for a Cup run.

Keep an eye on: The stars who were virtually absent on the score sheet for these teams in Round 1. For the Penguins, Sidney Crosby went goalless, James Neal and Kris Letang had one point and Matt Niskanen and Paul Martin led them in scoring. For the Rangers, Rick Nash didn’t get a goal and Ryan McDonagh didn’t earn a point. All of these players won’t continue to get shut out or slowed down.

Prediction: As Ken Campbell wrote this one is difficult to predict, because both teams are hard to pin down. Sure, the Penguins have a lot of top-end talent, but do they have the depth and the capability in goal and on the blueline? And ya, the Rangers have good goaltending and a strong defense, but they keep falling short in the playoffs because they can’t score (their power play is 0-for its last 21). Neither team inspires a ton of confidence at this point, so we’re going to go with the tighter defense in a tight series. RANGERS in 7.

CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS vs. MINNESOTA WILD
How the Blackhawks got here: Chicago lost its first two games of the playoffs, but turned on the jets and won four in a row against popular Stanley Cup pick St. Louis. Corey Crawford was much better in the last four games than the first two, making 30-plus saves in three of those games. Chicago’s best players also came up big against the Blues, with Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Patrick Kane the top scorers.

How the Wild got here: Defense. The Wild allowed the fewest shots-against per game during the regular season and kept it up against a Colorado team that had a heck of a time maintaining any level of offensive pressure. It’s this defense that helped third-string goalie Darcy Kuemper hold a .913 save percentage and it’s this defense that will be relied upon to dam a high-level Chicago offense. Kuemper left Game 7 with an injury, so the defense will need to be at its best to insulate the very unpredictable Ilya Bryzgalov. The Wild ultimately got here, though, because of this Nino Niederreiter goal in Game 7 OT.

X-Factor: If the Wild have to ride Bryzgalov through this series, it will get very interesting. Coming on in relief in Game 7 against Colorado, Bryzgalov faced only one shot in 13 minutes of regulation and overtime and wasn’t really involved in the outcome. Minnesota was 3-1-1 against the Hawks this season and the one game Bryzgalov started, Minnesota lost 3-2 in overtime. Minnesota’s defense should keep this series a little closer than you might expect – but Bryzgalov has the potential to blow up and cancel it all out. Against Colorado, he had an .826 SP.

Keep an eye on: The Wild got its offense going in the last two games against Colorado, scoring 10 times, but they can struggle to get production from their secondary guys. Dany Heatley turned it on against the Avs, but how will the maligned former 50-goal scorer carry over? Same goes for youngsters Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund, who both had a good first round, but now face a much more prepared opponent. Last year, the Hawks rolled over the Wild in five games because of Minnesota’s complete lack of offense, so even Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu will be under the microscope in this one. In last year’s matchup with Chicago, those two combined for just one goal and one point.

Prediction: On paper, this one should be a blowout. The Hawks have an elite level of depth few, if any, can match, and their offense will be shooting on Minnesota’s fourth-string goalie, it appears. Minnesota will need to slow the Hawks right down and just hang around in one-goal games, but that’s easier said than done. Even though the Wild won the season series, we saw in last year’s playoff just how much Chicago could overmatch them. BLACKHAWKS in 5.

ANAHEIM DUCKS vs. LOS ANGELES KINGS
How the Ducks got here: By going against the advanced stats grain. Anaheim’s -10.6 Fenwick differential was better only than Tampa Bay, Columbus and Colorado in Round 1 and really puts into question how long they can keep it up for. If it wasn’t for a miraculous comeback in Game 6 in Dallas, they too would have been forced into a Game 7.

How the Kings got here: By making history. Los Angeles was outscored 13-5 in the first two games against San Jose, but roared back to outscore the Sharks 18-5 in their four wins. Los Angeles became just the fourth team in NHL history to recover from a 3-0 series deficit for the win. They can’t go on playing with fire, but the Kings team that finished the Sharks was in peak form and nothing like the team that began that series. Jonathan Quick, terrible early on, helped steal the series. This save on Patrick Marleau in Game 7 really was the death knell for San Jose:

X-Factor: How much will the loss of Stephane Robidas to a broken leg impact Anaheim’s defense? Their best stay-at-home player who was mostly used in end-zone defensive situations, Robidas was a very reliable player for the Ducks who will be next to impossible to replace. Puck possession was already running hard against the Ducks’ chances, but without their best shutdown guy, a matchup against Los Angeles’ deep group of talented, grinding forwards could become a nightmare.

Keep an eye on: Anaheim’s depth. This year’s team scored the most goals in Ducks history and the reason for that runs much deeper than the Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry super line. Nick Bonino and Devante Smith-Pelly had excellent first rounds, but there’s also Andrew Cogliano, Mathieu Perreault, Patrick Maroon and, oh ya, some guy named Teemu Selanne. Anaheim has more horses in its stable than you might think. They should at least give Quick a work out.

Prediction: For the first time, these two California rivals will face off in the playoffs – why not play all the games between Angel and Dodger stadium? Where the Ducks struggled in puck possession, the Kings thrive with their frustrating, shutdown defense that totally neutralized the Sharks in the last half of their opening round series. And then there’s Jonathan Quick, who can destroy the spirit of any team with this acrobatic ways. Can Anaheim overcome their possession woes and Quick’s excellent goaltending? We say, no. KINGS in 6.