Well I’m glad the first round is over, if only because that means I can move on past my terrible predictions and start fresh here in the Conference Semifinals.
A quick review of the way NHL playoff seeding works: the top remaining seed plays the lowest remaining seed, and the middle two remaining seeds play each other. This means that in the West, it’s 2nd seed St. Louis Blues vs the 8th seed Los Angeles Kings, and the 3rd seed Phoenix Coyotes are up against the 4th seed Nashville Predators. Over on the East, it’s the 1st seed New York Rangers vs the 7th seed Washington Capitals, while the 5th seed Philadelphia Flyers face off against the 6th seed New Jersey Devils. Who will advance and who will go home? Here’s what I think…
2. St Louis Blues vs 8. Los Angeles Kings
Let me first say this: the goalies are going to play a huge role in all of the remaining Western Conference games. These teams all have Vezina-worthy goalies. I expect a lot of low-scoring games, and a lot of close games. Ever since hiring head coach Ken Hitchcock, the Blues have played a dominant defensive game. Where did it take them? Straight to the top of the NHL. They fell just short of capturing the President’s Trophy as the team with the best regular season record, but I think they’ll get over it. That wasn’t the trophy they wanted anyways. Goalie Jaroslav Halak went out with an injury early in the first round, but Brian Elliott has stepped in admirably, not missing a beat from his stellar regular season where he led the league in Save Percentage and Goals Against Average among all goalies who played in more than 2 games. Unfortunately for the Blues, they’re going up against the Kings and Vezina Trophy finalist Jonathan Quick, the only goalie to have more shutouts (10) than Elliott (9). The Kings’ skaters seem to be getting it together at the right time, but they’ll be going against a much more defensive-minded team than their previous opponents. This series could easily go either way, but I’m going to count on my former Anaheim Ducks favorite Andy McDonald to lead the Blues past the Kings.
ST. LOUIS IN 7
3. Phoenix Coyotes vs 4. Nashville Predators
Another goalie duel in the West, 2012 standout Mike Smith will lead the Phoenix Coyotes against Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators. While Smith has been phenomenal throughout the entire season and has the ability to steal games, I don’t think the Coyotes have the firepower to overcome Nashville. In the last round, the Coyotes were able to get goals against an inconsistent Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks, but they’ll have no such luck against Rinne and the impressive defensive corps in front of him.
NASHVILLE IN 6
1. New York Rangers vs. 7. Washington Capitals
Call me crazy, but I’m expecting a big upset here. To be honest, I thought the Capitals defeating the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins was a bigger upset than it would be if they were to beat the Rangers. Rookie goalie Braden Holtby has been outstanding, and the Rangers had trouble finding the back of the net against the Ottawa Senators. The Capitals are scoring by committee with 12 different goal scorers and 18 different players with points in the first round. Not to mention they have Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Nicklas Backstrom who can ignite at any moment. No disrespect to New York’s depth, but I think Washington will carry their momentum and confidence from their big upset and force their way past the Rangers. It pains me to know that with two of my favorite goalies facing each other, one of them will soon be done for the season.
WASHINGTON IN 7
5. Philadelphia Flyers vs. 6. New Jersey Devils
I’m just going to say it… I think the Devils are done. They struggled to make it past the worst playoff team in recent history (no offense to the Florida Panthers) and now they’re going up against the hottest team in the league. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur is old and inconsistent, and he’s about to face the team that lit up the Pittsburgh Penguins for 30 goals in just 6 games. Not to mention that at the other end of the ice, Ilya Bryzgalov went 3-0 vs the Devils this season. I think that’s about enough said. Other than…
PHILADELPHIA IN 5