NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: Round 2
NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: Round 2
The first round did not disappoint thrill-seekers as it was full of overtimes, last-minute comebacks and epic collapses. But while there were a couple of upsets - as there are every first round - the top two seeds in the league and heavy Cup favorites are still alive. So are the defending champs, who came back from behind in a series, something they didn't have to do last season.
So we're ready to move right on to Round 2 Tuesday night and look ahead by comparing teams in each of the four matchups.
#1 PITTSBURGH vs. #7 OTTAWA
How Pittsburgh got here: The Penguins’ first-round series against the Islanders was much tougher than many expected, in large part due to the shaky play of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. But in the end, they exploited the shakier play of Isles goalie Evgeni Nabokov and their powerful offense – posting a playoff-best 4.17 goals-per-game average – performed exactly as advertised.
How Ottawa got here: The Senators were an underdog heading into their series with the No. 2 seed Canadiens, but played like a team that didn't lack confidence. Their 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio was an astonishing 2.17 (the next-best was Chicago at 1.86) and although part of that was a result of Montreal’s goaltending falling apart, it speaks to a well-coached, veteran squad that has some degree of urgency on it given the advanced ages of captain Daniel Alfredsson and a few other key veterans.
Offense: The Sens were led in the first round by a pair of Swedes (Alfredsson and star blueliner Erik Karlsson) who had six points apiece. After that, it was offense by committee for them. By contrast, the Penguins had six players with at least six points or more, including two defensemen. Ottawa is clearly outclassed here. EDGE: Pittsburgh
Defense: The Pens’ defense was often sloppy and did no favors to Fleury and No. 2 goalie Tomas Vokoun for much of the Isles series. Ottawa, meanwhile, leaned heavily on Anderson to give them the third-best goals-allowed average (1.80) of any playoff team and have won with their defense all year long. EDGE: Ottawa
Goaltending: Vokoun was signed last summer as an insurance policy for Fleury and it should worry Pens fans that they’ve had to cash that in so soon in this post-season. It’s the polar opposite situation in Ottawa, where there’s Anderson playing outstandingly and backup Robin Lehner able to provide solid relief if he falters. EDGE: Ottawa
Special Teams: The Penguins had the top-ranked power play (33.3 percent) in the opening round and the third-best penalty kill (90.0 percent). The Sens were tied with Detroit for the fourth-best PP (24 percent) and the seventh-best PK (84.2 percent). In other words, Ottawa can do better, but the Pens are already operating at near-ideal levels in regard to their special teams. EDGE: Pittsburgh
Prediction: With due respect to the Islanders, the Senators are a deeper, more experienced squad than the one Pittsburgh faced in Round 1. As he did against the Canadiens, Sens coach Paul MacLean will push the underdog theme to keep his charges fresh and loose, but when you’re up against the world’s best player and a surrounding cast that’s as talented as any remaining in the playoffs, Ottawa will need to continue defying odds and expectations to move on to the conference final. PENGUINS IN 7
#4 BOSTON vs. # 6 NY RANGERS
How Boston got here: By the skin of their teeth, basically. The Bruins needed a momentous third period collapse on the part of the young and inexperienced Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of their first-round showdown and were outplayed for large portions of the series. But they get full credit for showing veteran backbone and continuing to believe in themselves – and they wouldn’t be facing the Rangers without goalie Tuukka Rask playing spectacularly and bailing out an often lackadaisical group of teammates in front of him.
How the Rangers got here: By continuing to suffocate their opponents with defense as they did most of the regular season. The Blueshirts were able to overcome a 3-2 series deficit against the Washington Capitals because star goalie Henrik Lundqvist did not allow a goal in the final 120 minutes and because their offense woke up in time for a 5-0 Game 7 blowout win.
Offense: In the first six games of their series with Washington, the Rangers scored just 11 goals. Game 7 aside, they’re not about to blow out teams with waves of scoring. The Bruins scored 22 goals against the Leafs and have more impressive offensive depth and talent than do the Blueshirts. EDGE: Boston
Defense: The Rangers allowed just 12 goals in the first round, ranking them behind only L.A. (1.67) and Chicago (1.40) among playoff teams. Thanks to players such as Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, they’re a shot-blocking, physical menace on the puck. The Bruins are banged-up and much thinner on the back end, even though they have the most physical force of the series in Zdeno Chara. EDGE: New York
Goaltending: You could make the argument both Lundqvist and Rask were the series MVPs for their teams in the first round. But Lundvist’s numbers (including a 1.65 goals-against average and .947 save percentage) are better than Rask’s (2.49 GAA, .923 SP) were better for a reason: Lundqvist was more consistent. EDGE: New York
Special Teams: The Rangers’ power play was an abysmal 7.1 percent (2 for 28) against Washington and their penalty kill wasn’t much better (81.2 percent, good for ninth among all post-season teams). The Bruins PK was worse (11th-best at 76.2 percent), but Boston’s power play was better (also 11th-best at 15.0 percent). It’s a very slight edge, but it goes to the Bruins. EDGE: Boston
Prediction: This series features two different types of veteran teams – the accomplished Bruins against the desperate-to-be-accomplished Rangers. The Bruins had a tough enough time against the inexperienced Leafs, but they won’t have that luxury against a Blueshirts squad that has a bona fide, prime-of-his-career superstar in net. Boston isn’t about to roll over, but Toronto took a good bite out of them and that means a long, physical series favors the men from Manhattan. RANGERS in 7
How Chicago got here: The Blackhawks were in complete control of their first-round series against Minnesota, using a balanced attack and sound defense and goaltending to win the first round without breaking a sweat. That is something that will almost certainly give them an advantage in Round 2. The top line of Jonathan Toews between Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad scored just three goals, but Patrick Sharp made up for a sub-par season by being a star of the first round.
How Detroit got here: By showing they still have that Red Wing magic. The Red Wings, led by their star veterans Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, won three overtime games, then completely shut down the Anaheim Ducks best offensive players in Game 7. The Red Wings still have that ability to play the game any way you want it. They’d rather not get into a shootout if they can avoid it, but are willing to trade goals and chances. This veteran team will prove to be a tough out for the Blackhawks.
Offense: Only the San Jose Sharks scored more goals per game than the Blackhawks in the Western Conference in the first round. A resurgence by Sharp and the increased contributions from the backline courtesy Duncan Keith make the Blackhawks that much more dangerous. Datsyuk and Zetterberg were brilliant for the Red Wings in the first round and unlike the regular season, they got secondary scoring. The Red Wings have an edge in the faceoff circle, which will make them more dangerous in the offensive zone. EDGE: Chicago
Defense: No surviving playoff team gave up fewer goals per game than the Blackhawks (1.40) and no surviving team gave up more than the Red Wings (3.00) in the first round. That has something to do with the fact that the Red Wings played a far better offensive team in Round 1, but it also speaks to how Detroit’s once-vaunted defensive game has faltered. The Blackhawks don’t give up many chances and their forwards have done a very good job of helping to snuff out opponents. EDGE: Chicago
Goaltending: Corey Crawford was terrific in the first round, posting a .950 save percentage and leading the league in goals-against average. He clearly has his teammates confidence and seems to have ironed out his consistency problems. Jimmy Howard, as has been the case since he came into the league, rarely leaves you agog with his individual abilities, but all he does is win games and make big saves when the Red Wings need them. EDGE: Even
Special Teams: The Blackhawks did not allow a single power play goal in 17 Minnesota attempts and managed to score a shorthanded goal. The Red Wings power play was lights-out. So you’d think something is going to have to give here. The same goes with the other side of the equation, where the Blackhawks had a limp power play and the Red Wings gave up seven power play goals in the series against Anaheim. EDGE: Even
Prediction: The Red Wings have had an impressive run, both leading up to the playoffs and in the first round, but facing a team that has lost only seven of 53 games in regulation time this season, along with a grueling first-round series, is bound to catch up with them. The Blackhawks have been rolling since the beginning of the season, while the Red Wings have had to fight and claw for everything they’ve earned. Here is where the Blackhawks skill and precision comes in handy. BLACKHAWKS in 6
#5 LOS ANGELES vs. #6 SAN JOSE
How Los Angeles got here: By grinding down the St. Louis Blues in the most intense, most physical and most entertaining series of the first round. Unlike last season when they closed out their opponents before they knew what hit them, the Kings battled back from a 2-0 deficit and displayed the mark of a champion. The Kings don’t get it done with eye-popping offense, but they are a very, very difficult opponent.
How San Jose got here: The Sharks overwhelmed the Vancouver Canucks with a barrage of offense in the first round. Clearly, the torch has been passed from Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to the likes of Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, but what makes the Sharks so dangerous is that their veterans and young players are at an apex point in their careers where they’re all productive. When the Sharks management envisioned its team at its best, this is the team it saw.
Offense: The Sharks have a potent, balanced attack that is now led by Couture and Pavelski. Long gone are the days that a team could shut the Sharks down simply by bearing down on Thornton and Marleau. The Sharks averaged 12 more shots per game than the Kings did in the first round and while part of that was due to their opponents, the Kings are not the Sharks equal when it comes to creating offense. EDGE: San Jose
Defense: The Kings won the Stanley Cup last spring on the strength of outstanding team defense and airtight goaltending and that will be the case if they go on a long run this year. The strange thing about the Kings is that defensemen Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov are better offensively than many of the Kings forwards. The Sharks are led by veterans Dan Boyle and Scott Hannan and have a good mix of young players. EDGE: Los Angeles
Goaltending: This is truly an interesting one. It pits two Stanley Cup winners and two of the best goaltenders in the league this season against one another. After a monumental gaffe that led to the overtime loser against St. Louis in Game 1, Jonathan Quick was his usual playoff self, providing stellar goaltending and a calm demeanor. Antti Niemi wasn’t quite as sharp in the first round as he was during the regular season, but he didn’t have to be against the Canucks. It would be a shock to see them falter in this series. EDGE: Even
Special teams: The Sharks absolutely torched the Canucks for seven power play goals in their four-game sweep in the first round, while the Kings were far below their regular season efficiency against the Blues. Again, that has something to do with the quality of the opponent, but the Sharks are on a big-time roll with the extra man. The Kings are better than the Sharks on the penalty kill, but probably not enough to make up for the disparity in the power plays. EDGE: San Jose
Prediction: It would be very wise never to count out the Kings, since last year they achieved something this Sharks team has been trying to do for years. But you also have to wonder how much the Kings will have left after that incredibly taxing first round against the Blues. The Sharks seem to have shaken off their label as second-round chokers the past couple of years and no team has played more playoff rounds in the past three seasons than the Sharks. San Jose is looking an awful lot like a team of destiny. SHARKS in 6