NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: Round 2
NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: Round 2
An amazing first round, complete with four Game 7 showdowns, is in the books and the road to the Stanley Cup continues.
When it was all said and done, though, only two upsets occurred and both were No. 5 seeds. Will the trend continue in the second round, or will the bracket busting begin?
The Sharks and Red Wings face off in the second round for the second consecutive season with San Jose taking down the Western powerhouse in 2010. The Bruins will play the Flyers for the second time in a row as well, with Boston aiming to redeem itself after blowing a 3-0 series lead to Philly last year.
The Capitals seem to have found a happy medium between all-out offense and stay-at-home defense, which they hope will finally bring them up to their potential. But the division-rival Tampa Bay Lightning and 40-year-old netminder Dwayne Roloson will have something to say about that. And, finally, will the Canucks settle back into a groove or will the Predators be able to give them enough of a hassle for a monumental upset?
Stay tuned to THN.com to follow all the action.
#1 CAPITALS VS. #5 LIGHTNING
How the Capitals got here: By completely transforming themselves from an offense-first team that seemed content to win (or lose) games 6-5 into an outfit that plays a far more patient game with more of an emphasis on team defense. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Capitals in the first round was their stars didn’t start freelancing when they were involved in suffocating games against the Rangers.
How the Lightning got here: By being resilient and focused and getting contributions from everyone on the roster from the stars to the fourth-liners. The ageless Dwayne Roloson led the comeback by pitching a shutout in Game 7 against the undermanned Pittsburgh Penguins, but he was also playing behind a much more disciplined and structured team after Game 4.
OFFENSE: What was once the most explosive offensive team in the league has displayed far less in the way of fireworks, but the Capitals are far more measured and stable when it comes to producing goals. They might not score in bunches the way they used to, but they’re also not as prone to droughts and stick squeezing when goals are much more difficult to score. The Capitals outscored the Lightning 18-10 (not including a goal awarded for winning a shootout game) in the six meetings with the Lightning during the season. The fact Sean Bergenheim outscored Steven Stamkos, Vinny Lecavalier and Simon Gagne in Round 1 tells you everything you need to know about the Lightning and their ability to create offense. The Lightning’s lesser lights came up big-time in the first round and Steve Downie was outstanding after having a so-so regular season offensively. EDGE: Even
DEFENSE: A lot of people never thought they would see this with Bruce Boudreau behind the Capitals bench, but the coach has finally managed to get his players to buy into a system based on structure and responsibility from everyone. Alex Ovechkin will never win a Selke Trophy, but he has improved on the defensive side of the puck. The tandem of Karl Alzner and John Carlson is rapidly becoming one of the league’s best. One caveat to the Capitals defensive prowess in the first round was they were playing the Rangers. The same Tampa Bay team that was so tight defensively in terms of giving up shots during the regular season was porous by comparison in the first round of the playoffs, relying far too much on its goaltending and giving up 36.7 shots per game. Both St-Louis and Stamkos were minus players in the first round against Pittsburgh and young Victor Hedman struggled mightily at times in his first playoff appearance. EDGE: Capitals
GOALTENDING: Michal Neuvirth of the Capitals is just 23 years old, but already has two Calder Cup championships to his credit and proved his playoff prowess was not a fluke by being very solid in the first round against the Rangers. As a result, the Capitals no longer have a black hole/serious concern in goal in the playoffs. At the other end of the age spectrum, Dwayne Roloson became the oldest goaltender in NHL history to pitch a shutout in a Game 7 when the Lighting blanked Pittsburgh 1-0 in the pivotal game. He allowed just four goals in the last three games of the series and had the best save percentage (.947) among goaltenders who played every one of their team’s games in the first round. EDGE: Even
SPECIAL TEAMS: You’d think with the talent they have at their disposal, the Capitals would have a much more potent power play. A healthy Mike Green certainly helps, but the Capitals are still a little too predictable when playing with the extra man. Too many of their shots from the point end up being blocked - a problem against the Rangers - and they still haven’t adjusted to making things happen enough down low. Tampa Bay was the third-best team on the power play and second-best on the penalty-kill in the league in the first round of the playoffs. EDGE: Lightning
PREDICTION: After several fruitless and frustrating tries, the Capitals finally look like a team that is built for success in the playoffs and their road through them was made easier by drawing the Rangers in the first round. The Lightning shut the Capitals out twice during the regular season, but the Capitals won four of the six games and we’re betting they’ll win four first in this series. Capitals in 6.
POLL: Who will win the Capitals-Lightning series?
#2 FLYERS VS. #3 BRUINS
How Philadelphia got here: To squeak past the Sabres in seven games, the Flyers needed the return of Chris Pronger in Game 6 and a barrage of offense from their deep group of forwards. Certainly, they weren’t winning games because of their three-man goalie carousel of Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton. If one of those three doesn’t assert himself this time around, it will be a much shorter series and one that doesn’t end in the Flyers’ favor.
How Boston got here: If goalie Tim Thomas didn’t prove he was the Bruins best player during the regular season (and don’t kid yourself, he did), his starring role in Boston’s seven-game come-from-behind series win over the Canadiens certainly did. In the Bruins first three wins over Montreal, Thomas’ save percentage was a sparkling .941 (112 for 119). He dragged them this far and may have to continue doing so unless Boston rediscovers its scoring touch.
OFFENSE: The Flyers had the second-most productive offense among Eastern Conference playoff teams (averaging 3.14 goals per game, which was good for eighth in the league); the Bruins, on the other hand, sat 15th among the 16 playoff teams with a 2.17 GPG mark. Clearly, Philadelphia can boast the more offensively potent forward unit. Claude Giroux has been a playmaking machine with eight assists, while Danny Briere led the group with six goals. EDGE: Flyers
DEFENSE: The Bruins had a better goals-against-per game average (2.33) than Philly (2.57), but the Flyers were a much better defensive unit with Pronger back for the final two games. His presence – even if it is hampered by a lingering hand injury – gives the Flyers a slight edge over Boston’s inconsistent defenders. EDGE: Flyers
GOALTENDING: You don’t need to be working in The Hockey News editorial department to know who has the edge here. One team has a Vezina finalist who played like one in the opening round. The other team has…uh…we’re still not quite sure, as nobody can tell who’ll be playing from game to game and period to period. We’re confident you know which team is which. EDGE: Bruins
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Flyers’ power play wasn’t exactly clicking at 14.3 percent efficiency (five goals in 35 first round chances) and 12th among all playoff teams, but Boston’s was as bad as it can be – goalless in 21 opportunities for 16th spot. The Bruins penalty-kill was slightly more successful though, so we’ll give a slight edge to Boston here. EDGE: Bruins
PREDICTION: Thomas had to stand on his head to keep Montreal from running up the score on an offense-challenged Bruins team. Against the Flyers’ far more dangerous offensive machine, he’ll have to be at least as spectacular. But even if he isn’t, Philadelphia’s organizational Achilles heel of inconsistent goaltending will keep the series very close. Flyers in 7.
#1 CANUCKS VS. #5 PREDATORS
How Vancouver got here: By overcoming the beast. The Canucks snuck past the hard-charging Blackhawks by the skin of their teeth in a Game 7 overtime that included a clutch penalty-kill. The Sedins were absent for the last half of the series, so it was performances from players such as Ryan Kesler, Alexandre Burrows and Jannik Hansen that picked up the slack. Roberto Luongo’s mettle was tested when he was benched in Game 6, but he showed a lot of character in winning Game 7 and nearly shutting out the Hawks in the process.
How Nashville got here: By overcoming a beast of their own. The Predators finally got out of the first round for the first time in franchise history and they did it against a pretty good team. Surprisingly, Nashville was the second-highest scoring team of the opening round; not surprisingly, they did it by committee. With the exception of Shane O’Brien, every Predator recorded a point in the first round and 12 different skaters scored a goal. The Preds don’t have any game-breaking, household stars, but proved they can topple a team of stars with a concentrated effort.
OFFENSE: OK, so the Predators had a high-ranking offense in the opening round and Vancouver struggled, but let’s be real here. Even though they struggled, the Sedins still managed 12 points – most coming early in the series. If the Swedes can’t find a way through Nashville’s defense, the Canucks still have some other ferocious forecheckers who make life miserable for opponents. Nashville brings a strong team effort, but the Canucks have one of the best forward units going. EDGE: Canucks
DEFENSE: The Predators have the best duo in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, but the Canucks take pride in their depth. Alex Edler is a top-notch defender, but he’s a second-unit player on the Canucks, which speaks volumes about their arsenal. The Preds get points again for the defensive awareness their forwards bring, but the Canucks have Selke Trophy favorite Ryan Kesler, Alexandre Burrows and more. EDGE: Canucks
GOALTENDING: Two Vezina candidates going head-to-head is going to be exciting to watch. There’s no question the Predators will be counting on Pekka Rinne more than the Canucks will be relying on Luongo, but ‘Bobby Lou’ is the one with more pressure and more to prove. His Game 7 performance against Chicago was great, but will that continue or will Luongo allow another team to get in his head? Neither goalie played with any sort of tremendous consistency in Round 1 that would give them a leg up, but whoever ends up winning this series will reveal themselves as a post-season performer. EDGE: Even
SPECIAL TEAMS: The opening round power plays of these two teams were identical in their conversion rate, but the Canucks had the better penalty-kill. Vancouver has more resources to draw from to create a threatening man-advantage attack and also have a collection of speedy, frustrating penalty-killers. The Canucks were a special teams force all season, so we’re not about to give anyone the edge over them here. EDGE: Canucks
PREDICTION: Nashville will surely put up a fight and give Vancouver fits, but man-to-man the Canucks are the better team. If the Sedins struggle to get on a roll and Luongo continues to fight the puck the balance of power will start to shift towards Music City. However, that’s not all Vancouver has. Nashville wins on its team effort, but the Canucks have the better team up and down. Canucks in 5.
#2 SHARKS VS. #3 RED WINGS
How the Sharks got here: By working overtime. The Sharks have (rightly) had their playoff credentials and their cajones questioned over the years, but they made it through Round 1 on the strength of three overtime victories, one of which required them to dig themselves out from under a 4-0 deficit. Another one came less than a minute after killing off a five-minute major. Round 2 has always been an adventure for San Jose, but they seem better equipped to deal with it now than ever before.
How the Red Wings got here: With the efficiency and precision of a surgeon and the killing ability of a venomous cobra. The team that is always supposed to be too old and too slow to keep up with the frenetic pace of the playoffs was remarkably spry in the first round and took advantage of Phoenix’s fragile state of mind by pouncing on them and not letting up. And they did it all without the services of Henrik Zetterberg. The fact they got through the first round without breaking a sweat will serve them well in this series.
OFFENSE: The recipe for stopping the Sharks used to be to shut down their Big 3 of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley. But that was before Ryane Clowe emerged as one of the league’s most impressive power forwards, before anyone knew Logan Couture would be this good this quickly and before Joe Pavelski became one of the greatest clutch offensive performers since Claude Lemieux. The Sharks score more by committee than ever before and that makes them difficult to contain. But, the expected return of Zetterberg will be an enormous boon to the Red Wings, who have the luxury of being able to throw four productive lines at you. Pavel Datsyuk was, well, his Datsyukian self during the first round against Phoenix and will likely remain on the top line with Johan Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom, two warhorses who have a history of being outstanding offensive performers when the stage is biggest and the spotlight most hot. Even without Zetterberg, the Red Wings averaged more goals per game in the first round than any other team. EDGE: Even
DEFENSE: The first round was won largely because the Sharks were able to go one better than the Kings from an offensive standpoint and their defensive game, both from the blueline and in terms of the contributions from the forwards, is going to have to tighten up against a Red Wings team that has the capacity to tear suspect defensive teams apart. Dan Boyle admitted during the series that his game had to improve and he and his teammates will have to do just that against Detroit. The Sharks had the most goals-against per game (3.33) in the first round of any of the eight teams left. Meanwhile, Detroit has a Norris Trophy finalist, one of the most terrorizing hitters in the league and an offensive force among their top three defensemen and they play a system that emphasizes creating offensive opportunities from good defensive play. Their blueline corps has good shutdown ability and their forwards from Datsyuk to Zetterberg to Dan Cleary to their third- and fourth-liners all know their way around their own end very, very well. EDGE: Red Wings
GOALTENDING: Has there ever been a more maligned Stanley Cup winner than Sharks goalie Antti Niemi? The trouble with Niemi isn’t so much his level of play rather than his inconsistency. He’s like the little kid with the curl. When he’s good, he’s really good. But when he’s bad…watch out. Niemi is almost Grant Fuhr-like in his ability to shut the door in crucial situations after giving up a bushel of goals. Speaking of maligned goalies, Jimmy Howard can certainly pile up the wins, but there are also huge concerns over his level of consistency. So far, so good in these playoffs for Howard, who is becoming more battle tested all the time and goes into this series knowing he played very well against a very good Phoenix team. The Red Wings have not, and likely will not, require Howard to win games singlehandedly for them. He just can’t singlehandedly lose them. EDGE: Even
SPECIAL TEAMS: San Jose’s power play, the one that finished second in the league during the regular season, went dry in the first round, connecting on just two of 23 opportunities, including an 0-for-11 run on home ice. On the penalty kill, the Sharks gave up two power-play goals in Game 2 and Game 6 and essentially that was the difference in their only two losses in the series. When their penalty kill was good, they managed to win the game. The Red Wings were shorthanded an uncharacteristic 18 times in only four games in the first round and the fact they weren’t used to the extra work on the penalty-kill showed. They allowed six power play goals in the first round, which has them dead last on the penalty-kill among teams in the playoffs. The power play, which was among the league’s best during both the regular season and the first round, will be enhanced by the presence of Zetterberg. EDGE: Red Wings
PREDICTION: The Sharks got rid of their second round demons by dispatching the Red Wings last season, but you just get the sense the Red Wings are locking things down in their customary fashion during this year’s post-season. If the Sharks play as harried and sloppy as they did in the first round, the Red Wings might make very quick work of them. As it is, we’ll take the Red Wings’ experience and savvy. Red Wings in 6.
THN PUCK PANEL - ROUND 2 PREVIEW
PRODUCER: Ted Cooper