Um, wow. What a crazy first round we saw. Teams in both conferences that were favorites to win The Cup are gone. Sadly, my Penguins are amongst them. Teams that are perennial contenders are gone. The Nashville Predators made quick work of the Detroit Red Wings. And the Los Angeles Kings nearly swept the Vancouver Canucks as they eliminated the President’s Cup winners from the playoffs.
Yeah, those last two sentences were some I thought I would never write.
But I’m happy about it. Because despite my team being one of the victims, I’ve enjoyed how unpredictable this post season has already been, allowing a lot a fresh blood to make a run for The Cup.
Let’s take a look at who’s left.
1. New York Rangers vs. 7. Washington CapitalsThe New York Rangers definitely had a bit of a stumble in the first round, forcing them to win their way out of a hole. A small hole, but a hole nonetheless. Meanwhile, the Washington Capitals surprised everyone by eliminating Stanley Cup defending champions, the Boston Bruins. The reason being that the team has finally figured out how to play a defensive game. That and the amazing goaltending of Braden Holtby.
But therein lies the rub.
Holtby has been fantastic in net for the Capitals. He has stood strong, especially for a young goaltender playing in his first NHL post season. When mistakes or bad luck have led to goals, he hasn’t let it shake him up. But he’s going against the King, Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist is a seasoned goaltender that has been here before. He’s also playing the best hockey of his life. And that is saying something.
Both teams have offensive stars: Alex Ovechkin for the Capitals and Marion Gaborik. However, these two haven’t been the difference makers. In fact, Gaborik only has 3 points. The depth of these two teams have really begun to show as scoring seems to becoming from the lower lines. But the defense is definitely stacked in New York’s favor. Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh, Mark Stall, and Dan Girardi are going to be a hard group for the Capitals to crack. But the did manage to crack Boston’s defense, so it is possible.
I think, while the Capitals are definitely clicking as a team, the Rangers have been clicking all season. And with Lundqvist playing at the level he is, I see no reason while they will stop.
NEW YORK IN 6
5. Philadelphia Flyers vs. 6. New Jersey Devils
The Flyers’ first round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins will be the stuff of legends, for both groups of fans. It was a trip back to the playoff series of the past with high scoring games that amounted to the Flyers scoring 30 goals in 6 games. Meanwhile, the New Jersey Devils managed to take leads in their series only to cough up those said leads. They don’t seem to be the team of the past that could score one goal and lock you out for the rest of the game. Nor does their netminder seem to be the same guy from the past. Martin Broduer can be amazing and stop every shot that sent his way. Or he can…
PHILADELPHIA IN 5
2. St. Louis Blues vs 8. Los Angeles Kings
Man is this going to be a stingy series. Jonathan Quick had 10 shutouts during the regular season. And he was damn near lights out during his series against the Vancouver Canucks. Which would tip the scales in favor of the Kings, were it not for the goaltending tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott on St. Louis. Because they can both turn in performances like Quick has. In five games the Blues only allowed eight goals against an offensive heavy team in the San Jose Sharks.
The offense of the Kings was for more impressive than I gave them credit for, as was the Blues. But I would call the teams more or less equal when it comes to the offensive. At least as the forwards are concerned.
I think the defense is going to be the difference maker in this match up. Drew Doughty is good. But Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk are a deadly pair to have on the ice against you. Expect this to be a hard fought defensive battle.
But in the end, I believe the Blues will move into checkmate on the Kings.
ST. LOUIS IN 7
3. Phoenix Coyotes vs 4. Nashville Predators
And yet another goalie battle in the West. Pecca Rinne, the leader in wins during the regular season, and Mike Smith, the man that can stop a thousand pucks. Both these goaltenders have been outstanding and are a big part of the reason their teams have made it this far. But they haven’t been the only factors.
These teams aren’t offensive powerhouses. They tend to score more or less by committee, with a slight edge going to Phoenix because of Radim Vrbata and Ray Whitney. However, both teams have shut down very potent offenses: Nashville eliminated Detroit in 5 games and Phoenix sent Chicago packing in 6.
Both teams are going to rely on their defense. And while Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are very good, but they aren’t as potent at Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Even given that though, this is going to be a battle of depth, and a series that will require strong leadership from captains Shea Weber and Shane Doan.
This may be the most even match up in the entire second round, so I’m gonna trust my gut.
PHOENIX IN 6
Make sure you also check out what Lance thinks will happen.