Monthly Archives: April 2012
#2 St. Louis Blues vs. #8 Los Angeles Kings
The St. Louis Blues beat the San Jose Sharks in every aspect of the game. They got better offense out of their forwards, better defense out of the back end and better goaltending from their pair of tenders, Elliot and Halak and it showed. They took the series in five games with Hitchcock’s defensive system taking over. It was something that the Sharks couldn’t fight through. It was something that they couldn’t handle and the Blues moved onward. The Kings on the other hand, shocked many in the hockey world by taking out the number one team in the NHL, the Vancouver Canucks. Part of that was because Daniel Sedin was out the first three games. The other part was Dustin Brown and Mike Richards and while Quick was a big part of it, we knew that he would be. He has been stellar all year and did not disappoint through the first five games of the playoffs.
The St. Louis Blues are by all means a defensive team that relies heavily on stellar goaltending and a counter attack. They have offensive firepower in Oshie and Perron and have gotten a lot of assistance from Captain, David Backes, but is it enough? I’m not sure. I think that the Blues need to get more help. MacDonald has been a pretty big part of the playoffs so far as well, but I think that they need their depth to take it to the next level. I’m not going to pretend to know the ins and the outs of the top 12 forwards on the St. Louis Blues, but I will say this. It’s the playoffs and everyone that hits that ice has to be a contributor. They have to play like they are in the playoffs and if they aren’t, then they are a liability.
If the Blues can play the defense that has made them the number three team in the NHL, they are still a dangerous team. They can still take this series and they can still move onto the cup. I am not trying to put the team down, because they are a well coached system with veteran experience from Arnott and Langenbrunner. They still have one of the most dangerous one-two’s in the crease, assuming that Halak is healthy in this series but they are going to need to step their game up to beat the Kings.
The Kings are looking more and more like the team that everyone thought that they would be before the season started. Mike Richards and Dustin Brown have continued to be gritty bruisers that get into the corners and force turnovers. Dustin Brown had two short handed goals in the series against Vancouver and Mike Richards had a stellar series. They are getting help from the back end as well. Doughty, while not living up to his paycheck, is playing good defense and has been a relatively decent quarterback for the team. Mitchell is pitching in more than I anticipated and Green isn’t doing so bad either.
It’s interesting watching this Kings team because everyone is stepping up. They are all taking it to the next level and the organization is getting help from everyone. even Mr. Pancake himself, Dustin Penner. Penner has been a liability since he joined the team. He is slow. He doesn’t put up points and he isn’t much of a two-way player, but that’s not the case in the playoffs. Sure, he’s still slow and he isn’t back checking like he should be, but he’s out there. He’s trying and he’s contributing offensively, which is something that these Kings need desperately.
I don’t see either of these teams lighting the lamp too frequently in this series. If we’re lucky, we’ll get a combined three or four goals a game. Either way, I think that this series goes the distance and that it will be decided by the offensive depth. Both sets of goaltenders have proven themselves. Both teams have solid, young defenders and the offense of each team matches up. It’s just going to be about who hits harder and who goes that extra mile.
Is it Backes, Perron, Arnott and Oshie? Or is it Brown, Richards, Carter and Kopitar?
I suppose only time will tell, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kings take the Blues. If The Kings play like they did in the Vancouver series, the Blues are going to have a tough time overcoming adversity and I think that they will. I think that the Kings will play a physical game and I think that their offense will give them what they need to make it to the next round.
Prediction: Kings in 6
#1 New York rangers vs. #7 Washington Capitals
Nearly everyone made it seem like the New York Rangers were going to streamline through the Ottawa Senators. They made it seem like the series was going to be over in a quick four or five games, but I had a feeling it was going to go a bit further than that. Did I think that it would go to seven? No. I thought it would probably end around game six, but when Ottawa took the 3-2 lead in the series, I won’t lie. I was hopeful for an upset. But it didn’t happen.
There weren’t very many times in the Ottawa series where New York looked like a dominant team. Don’t get me wrong. I would say that they played well, but I don’t think that they played nearly as well as they thought they would. Their offense was essentially nonexistent. It seemed like they just couldn’t outwork the Senators and I think that’s going to be problematic in the series against the Capitals. If players like Gaborik, Richards and Dubinsky don’t elevate their game to the next level, they may find themselves in a heap of trouble, especially if Washington’s stars keep playing the way that they are.
For New York to be successful, they need to be less reliant on Lundqvist. By that, I mean they shouldn’t be focusing on winning 1-0 games. They shouldn’t be hoping that Lundqvist keeps them in there. They need to get out there and they need to produce offense. They need their stars and their forward depth to put the puck in the back of the net and from what I have seen, I don’t know if they have it in them. I haven’t noticed much of Gaborik at all so far in the playoffs. The first round seemed like it was the Callahan and Boyle show (until he got hurt). I mean, looking at game 7 alone, the Rangers had to rely on their defense to not only hold off the Senators, but also to step their game up and put the puck in the net. I know that this isn’t the Capitals of two years ago that were running, gunning and putting up six goals a game, but I think that they have a little bit more offense in them than the Rangers will be prepared for.
The Capitals played a tough, physical series against the Bruins and the Bruins made sure that the Capitals knew that. The hits were huge and explosive. The game was kept tight to the outside. Every game was within a single goal. It could have gone either way at any time, but Washington came out victorious. It was kind of an amazing story if you think about it. I mean, the Capitals toppled the reigning Stanley Cup champions with their third string goalie and on top of that, they won the series despite big Z keeping Ovechkin at bay. I know that doesn’t sound like much. I know that a lot of people are down on Ovechkin, especially this year, but I think that big things are coming his way. Towards the end of the season it looked like the Great Eight finally got his legs under him and he was making some of the plays that he has become known for. He started becoming that prolific goal scorer that is difficult to contain. Even though he was held out of the third period in most games in the Bruins series, he still led the team with 5 points. If Girardi and McDonagh don’t shut down Ovechkin the way that Chara did, I think that they Rangers are going to be in a bit of trouble.
Ovechkin is only the beginning for Capital’s offense that is comprised of a plethora of depth and persistence that starts with Brooks Laich and works its way through characters like Chimera, Johansson, Backstrom, Ward, and Knuble. I’m not so surprised from the effort that these guys put forth. They are all hard workers and they are living up to their hype. I am however surprised by one player in particular, Alexander Semin. Semin is not exactly known for his presence in the playoffs. He’s not quite as “gutless” as Patrick Marleau, but he generally tends to be pretty invisible. This year, it is the exact opposite. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a contract year or what, but Semin has been everywhere. He is diving to making plays. He is getting in the boards. He is back checking and he is scoring goals. He is exceeding everyone’s expectations by a mile and if he keeps that up, the Rangers are going to need more than a little bit of help from Gabby and Hank.
During the regular season, the Capitals took the Rangers in their series three games to one, which says a lot. I know that regular season records mean nothing come the playoffs because it is indeed a different game entirely, but so far, I would say that works in favor of the Capitals and against the Rangers. Dale Hunter knows what he’s doing with the Capitals and it looks like he has them believing in a defense first system. He even has Ovechkin believing in it, which is pretty unbelievable. That doesn’t mean that he has him playing defense, because let’s face it, that will never happen, but he has him on the bench. He has him right where he should be and he’s okay with that. He’s okay with sitting when he needs to, but he’s also okay with playing two minutes straight on the power play. The Capitals are doing a lot of things right and I think that they showed that by beating Boston in game seven.
Prediction: Capitals in 6
#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #4 Nashville Predators
In the first round, I went 7 for 8 in predictions. The only team match up that I got incorrect was Los Angeles vs. Vancouver and while it is considered an upset to many, I am not surprised. Maybe it’s because the Kings are starting to play a little bit more like the team that we thought that they would be prior to the start of the season or maybe it’s because the Canucks were without Daniel Sedin. Either way, I was rooting for the Kings the whole way in that series and I am glad that they got through to the second round. Now onto the match up at hand.
I don’t know if it’s because I moved into the Phoenix market, thus becoming a fan of the team or what, but this Coyotes team seems to play a lot harder and a lot tougher than I can ever remember them playing. This is a team without a true superstar. They don’t have a Claude Giroux. They don’t have Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby. They don’t even have a Corey Perry or Bobby Ryan. Some people might argue that by saying that they have Vrbata and Doan, a 30 goal scorer and a respectable veteran talent respectively, but they’re not quite the same kind of people. Vrbata’s 30-goal year could possibly be the quietest 30-goal year for any player in the NHL. To be honest, I am not sure that I would have known that he had 30 goals if I weren’t living here, and as for Doan, I have always known that he was a star. I have always known that he was talented and a leader by nature, but that doesn’t quite put him in that “Super Star” role. Their defense shines with young stars like Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larson, but being in the Phoenix market means that they are significantly underrated and sometimes, undervalued. But in the playoffs, the story isn’t these players. It’s the depth chipping in. It’s Brule and Boedker and Vermette. It’s everyone fulfilling their roles and playing a team game, as a team.
And then there is the man that won them the Chicago Blackhawks series, Mike Smith, but again, not quite a super star. He is simply a man that has thrived in a defensive system. Don’t get me wrong. He has outplayed and out shined everyone’s wildest expectations. After the series with the Hawks was over, I watched an interview with Jonathon Toews where he said, “I don’t know what else we could have done.” And it was true. For anyone that missed the series, particularly the last game, you would see that there was nothing that they could have done. Mike Smith had an answer every shot and if he plays like that in this series, the Predators are going to be in for a very, very long series.
On the Predators side of the fence, they have four stars in particular that are making all of the difference. Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne and Alexander Radulov. I would argue that Radulov isn’t living up to his expectations, particularly scoring, but he’s making his way around. He had 5 points in the series against the Red Wings, but only one of them was a goal and I am sure that’s something that he is looking to change. Like the Coyotes, the Predators have had their production come from their depth. They are another deep team that plays with a defense first mindset. They put you on the boards and outwork you and then as soon as you make one, tiny mistake, they pounce. And the thing with the Predators this post-season is that when they pounce, they don’t miss.
They took the Detroit Redwings down in 5 games and a lot of that was the Redwings beating themselves. Again, I’m not saying that the Predators didn’t outplay and out hustle the Wnigs, because they did a lot of the time, but the real difference maker was Rinne. Like the Hawks in Phoenix, the Wings could not solve their opponent’s goaltending and that’s the story in the West right now. Each series was stolen by stellar goaltending. I remember a few years ago, when the Hawks and the Flyers went to the Stanley Cup with mediocre netminders in Bouche/Leighton and Niemmi. Everyone asked, is the age of the superstar goaltender over? Is there no longer a need for the Lundqvists and the Haseks? I think that the Western Conference answers that question for you.
During the regular season, this series was split 2-2, with one of the Predators wins going to a shootout. So, in that sense, you have to give the edge to Phoenix, but at the same time, those games were earlier on in the season, and these are different teams. Mike Smith didn’t turn into this Mike Smith until the second half of the season and the Predators have acquired a significant amount of depth at the trade deadline and with Radulov returning from Russia. So, this series really is anyone’s game.
The Predators are a dangerous, dangerous team and I knew that coming into the playoffs. I knew that when the Wings drew them. It was the one team in the Conference that I wanted no part of, but alas, that’s generally how things work. The thing is, I think that the Coyotes match up much better against the Predators than the Redwings ever could. The defensive first mindset on both ends is sure to make this series a very, very close one. I imagine that it will look very much like a soccer series, with many 1 or 2 goal games. I could be wrong, but I don’t think that either team is sneaking that many goals behind Rinne and Smith.
I think that this series could go either way. I realize that every series can go either way, but I think that there is just so much going on here. The defensive systems and the scoring depth are just so prevalent in this series, but at the end of the day, my gut tells me it’s the Coyotes. I know that sounds biased because I live out here, but this team really is showing signs of something special. They are accomplishing feats that no one ever thought that they would be capable of and I think that by knocking out the former Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks, they are showing that. The Blackhawks were one of the top teams in scoring this year in the NHL and the Coyotes shut them down, so I am interested to see where this series goes.
Prediction: Coyotes in 7.