The turnaround on round 2 of the NHL playoffs is much quicker than I had anticipated. Suddenly, the second wave of match ups are here. No need to delay; let’s get straight to the mash.
Western Conference Semis
#5 Nashville Predators vs. #1 Vancouver Canucks
The first thing that jumps out at me in this matchup is a matter of emotional peaks. Teams hoping for deep postseason runs have to manage this phenomenon to keep a consistent edge for upwards of a month in order to win out. The question is how much of an effect does hitting such a high emotional peak have on the Canucks, several players of which have commented that winning their 1st round match up with their nemesis Blackhawks in OT of game 7 was more exhilarating than the Canadian Olympic Gold Medal. Really? That’s not a good sign because there’s still a lot of hockey to be played. The ‘nucks struggled mightily on defense but that had a lot to do with a talented offensive corps for Chicago … something that Nashville does not particularly boast. They are defensively solid and have an excellent backstop but do not have the same scoring punch as Vancouver ’s first round opponent. I don’t think peaking so early emotionally is a good sign for the Canucks but its effects are not likely to be felt until the next round when they suit up against the winner of Detroit/San Jose.
For now, the Canucks will outskate, outscore and outlast the Preds in a little less time than it took them to be rid of their playoff monkey, Chicago . Look for Luongo to return to form against a soft offensive attack.
Canucks in 6
#3 Detroit Redwings vs. #2 San Jose Sharks
Ah yes. This playoff match up has been a favorite of mine since the mid 90s when a couple of upstart #8 Sharks teams made my life miserable as a young Redwings fan. A little back story for those who haven’t known me forever and know this already: I fell in love with hockey before the Sharks franchise came into being and at a time when Steve Yzerman (to this day, my favorite athlete of any sport ever) dominated the league with numbers matched only by the likes of Gretzky and Lemieux. The Redwings back then were known as the Dead Things but it didn’t matter because Stevie Y was awesome. Eventually, when the Sharks came into existence, there was a natural conflict of interest. On one hand, I was already a Redwings fan for several years and they were turning things around with stellar drafts of Lidstrom and Federov to complement Yzerman. The Sharks on the other hand sucked so, so terribly with the likes of Kelly Kisio and Pat Falloon (remember those guys? Hehe). I developed a slight disdain for the Sharks. That disdain turned into disgust when the Sharks started to get a little better, sneak into the playoffs and then knock off the top seeded Redwings. That passion remains for me to this day.
So what of this specific match up. Well, the main thing to note here is that the Wings are considerably more rested than they were last year when they came out of a 1st round 7 game session with the Coyotes all beat up and drained just to get suplexed by what is still a very talented Sharks team. Truth is, they’re even better this year but going up against a better rested Wings team will prove to be an entirely different test. The Sharks are going to find Detroit ’s offense a lot more challenging than LA’s injury-riddled front line with the likes of Zetterberg and Franzen coming back from injury. The Wings are the best puck possession team in the NHL and will win the series if they dominate the tempo.
This is going to be one hell of a series as these two Western Conference powerhouses love to go at it. The Sharks are looking for that corner to turn and the Wings are looking to go about business as usual. My bets (and heavily biased opinion) are on the Wings outlasting the Sharks en route to the Western Conference Finals.
Wings in 6
Eastern Conference Semis
#5 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. #1 Washington Capitals
I don’t typically like to be wrong in my predicts (I wasn’t particularly happy about the nucks surviving the ruckus comeback by the Blackhawks) but I am perfectly fine with Tampa ousting the Pens. I had selected the Penguins mostly on their championship pedigree but I overestimated the effect of the Penguins defense in making up for the loss of Crosby and Malkin. That said, I should have stuck with my boy Stevie Y in his first year as GM of the Lightning. The Lightning were surprisingly solid on defense (though that could also be just the lack of Crosby and Malkin) while their offense relatively underperformed. Took a few games for Stamkos to get going but a fully functional Lightning team can roll out Stamkos, Lecavalier, Gagne and St. Louis like it’s nobody’s business. They’ll need them to all play extremely well to beat a Capitals team that is far more defensive minded and who focus on puck possession far more than they did in past years. They still have the offensive firepower they’ve always had with scorers like Ovie and Semin and company but they’re now playing with a new defensive resolve and are getting great goaltending.
So tough in fact that I think Tampa ’s run ends here when their weaknesses (generally speaking, defense and goaltending) are exposed by a very good Capitals team. I hate to pick against Stevie Y’s team again but the best team in the East is rolling straight to the Stanley Cup finals.
Caps in 6
#3 Boston Bruins vs. #2 Philadelphia Flyers
Can’t wait for this one, honestly. Incidentally, both of the series I’m most excited for are the 3v2 tilts with this one being maybe even a more difficult call than the one in the West. The Bruins just completed an epic series with their heated rivals from Canada so you know they’re pumped but the same pitfall that may inflict Vancouver with emotional peaks could sink the B’s against a potentially formidable Flyers team. Only problem for the Flyers is that messy 1st round they had with Buffalo complete with Goaltender carousel, media jabbing, the loss of Jeff Carter and all in all, a disjointed, chaotic effort. But they made it out the series and now face a Bruins team that had some trouble of their own early in their series with the Habs finding it hard to score against a good defense and good goalie… and that isn’t likely to get any easier with the Flyers and their defense although another goaltender like Price will be hard to find, especially with the circus they have in goal in Philly.
The Flyers are gonna need to get their powerplay going as they’ve been absolutely awful on special teams which is uncharacteristic for them. Getting Pronger back should help that out a bit. I expect the Bruins to outlast Philly here. I don’t know if the goaltender situation for the Flyers is going to hold especially if the 1st round triumph over Les Canadiens sparks the B’s into inspired play. I’m going with a long, arduous series but
Bruins in 7