I just wanted to start this out this: let it be known that the quarter’s predictions are already destroyed. Neither of his two teams to play in the Stanley Cup Final made it out of the first round. (Ignore the fact that my Western Conference winner is knocked out already and was the same pick as the quarter’s though).
The first round of playoffs featured some pretty great action. Four series went all the way to seven games and there was plenty of overtime to go around. The Blackhawks nearly came back from an 0-3 series deficit, but lost in overtime after tying the game late on a shorthanded goal. The Penguins blew a 3-1 series lead for the second time in two years and were beat by old man Dwanyne Roloson and Co.
In my personal predictions, I got 5 of 8 series right. I’m actually surprised that the Predators beat the Ducks, but I was almost a supergenius for picking the Blackhawks over the Canucks. And hey, I was close with the Habs beating the Bruins…it went 7 games with the final game decided in overtime. But come on, NHL, way to really rock the boat with these series. All 6 division winners advanced? And the only “upsets” were both 5 seeds beating the 4 seeds? Blah. Oh well.
So without further ado, here are my second round predictions:
#1 Washington Capitals vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning
By the Numbers (First Round):
Goals per game: WAS 2.60, TB 3.14
Goals against per game: WAS 1.60, TB 2.00
5-on-5 Goals for/goals against: WAS 1.67, TB 1.00
PP%: WAS 18.8%, TB 29.6%
PK%: WAS 95%, TB 97.1%
What really sticks out is how dominating both teams’ penalty killing was. Where they that good or were their opponents’ powerplay just that bad? The same goes for Tampa’s powerplay. Their powerplay made the difference in the series as the Penguins kept pace with 5-on-5 goals. That could end up being important to this series if the Lightning continue to rely on the powerplay to win them games. A strong powerplay is something you don’t take for granted, but as the playoffs wear on, the refs tend to start swallowing the whistles.
The Capitals have adopted a more defense-first style of play this year, and so far, it has paid off with a 5 game win over the Rangers. They’re not scoring at the clip they did over the last few seasons, but their defense is unrecognizably better. Ovechkin’s numbers are down a bit, but give him time and space, and the puck’s in the back of the net.
For the goalies, it’s young versus old, bright-eyed bushy tailedness versus experienced. Michal Neuvirth leads the playoff goalies in goals against average. In second is Dwayne Roloson. Dwayne Roloson leads playoff goalies in save percentage. Neuvirth is in second place. Neither goalie faced a very strong offense, but they both will this series.
The X Factors: For the Capitals, Nicklas Backstrom had a down year by his standards during the regular season and only registered an assist through 5 playoff games so far. If he can get clicking again, watch out. In Games 6 and 7, Dominic Moore made two fantastic passes to set up goals for Sean Bergenheim. What was especially great about them was that they were exactly the same play. He’s not a prolific point scorer, but with the Capitals really focusing on the likes of Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavalier, and Gagne, the Lightning need some secondary scoring.
Prediction: Capitals in 7
By the Numbers:
Goals per game: PHI 3.14, BOS 2.43
Goals against per game: PHI 2.57, BOS 2.43
5-on-5 Goals for/goals against: PHI 1.60, BOS 1.50
PP%: PHI 14.3%, BOS 0%
PK%: PHI 77.4%, BOS 77.8%
The Canadiens held the Bruins to ZERO powerplay goals. The Flyers weren’t very good on the powerplay against Buffalo, but they scored a few times. But to have no goals while being up a man is hard to do. Great penalty killing? Perhaps. Maybe all the Flyers have to do is go up 1-0 and then beat a trail to the penalty box. Hey, maybe it could work.
There are two big storylines for this series. The first is that it’s a rematch of last year’s Semifinal round. The Flyers came back from a 0-3 series deficit and from being down 3-0 in Game 7 to win the series. If it had any effect on the Flyers, it’s that they know it’s never over until it’s over and that they’ll stay calm when faced with adversity. As for Boston, people will say that it will weigh heavy on the Bruins’ psyche and if they lose any sort of lead (whether in the series or in a game), everyone and their mother-in-law will say they’re chokers again. Meh, I don’t buy it.
Speaking of everyone and their mother-in-law, the other big storyline will be the goaltending. Tim Thomas and Brian Boucher (or spin a wheel of goalies if you’d like to). Clearly, Tim Thomas is the superior goalie, but the same song and dance was said when comparing the Flyers’ goaltending to Ryan Miller in the first round. How’d that end up going? It’s not just about the goalies. There’s so much that goes on in a hockey, that to pick a winner solely based on goaltending might be the laziest thing you can do. If the Flyers play solid defense in front of Boucher and use their offensive depth to keep the puck pinned in the offensive zone, the goaltending will take care of itself. That said, it really helps when you’ve got a goalie like Tim Thomas who can bail his team out by pulling a save out of his ear, his sleeve, from under his shoe, or his back pocket.
The X Factors: Chris Pronger played Game 7 and a very limited role in Game 6. If he can get back to near 100% health, he is a huge difference maker and can spell trouble for anyone on the Bruins when he’s on the ice. And being the powerplay quarterback, he should be able to help the powerplay make some noise. For Boston, the player with the nose not quite as long as one of the Boston/Montreal games, Brad Marchand, is a rising young player who isn’t afraid to stick his nose into the tough areas and score meaningful goals. The Flyers need to watch out for the tricky little guy.
Prediction: Flyers in 6
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #5 Nashville Predators
By the Numbers:
Goals per game: VAN 2.29, NAS 3.67
Goals against per game: VAN 3.14, NAS 3.33
5-on-5 Goals for/goals against: VAN 0.79, NAS 1.60
PP%: VAN 22.2%, NAS 22.2%
PK%: VAN 79.3%, NAS 63.6%
Yes, Vancouver is the #1 seed and did win the first round. You wouldn’t believe it based on those numbers, but they managed to win despite them. They nearly had an epic collapse, but they pulled it together enough to squeak by in overtime of Game 7 to make it to the next series. Nashville seemed to have completely thrown away their style from the regular season to a “We’re just going to try to outscore you” style. They had an abysmal penalty kill and solid powerplay and Vezina Finalist Pekka Rinne sported an equally bad .876 save percentage.
Roberto Luongo didn’t fare much better than Rinne. Not only was he pulled twice in the series, but he was actually replaced by Corey Schneider as the starting goalie for Game 6 and only came into the game after Schneider was injured. He too is a Vezina Trophy Finalist who has those playoff demons he’s trying get rid of. In this his fourth postseason as a Canuck, he has yet to make it out of the 2nd round.
The Sedin twins continued their strong pace against the Blackhawks. If the Predators can’t stop the bleeding on the powerplay, it could be a quick series for them. The Preds withstood the attack of the likes of Selanne, Ryan, Getzlaf, and Perry on the Ducks, but they’ll get no break dealing with Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Kesler, and Burrows. The thing about the Sedin twins that separates them from the rest of one-two punches is the creepy psychic knowledge of where the other one is. That may work against them, however, if Nashville is able to constantly throw hard body checks on either one.
The X Factors: Roberto Luongo is widely held by many to be the best goalie in the league. That’s well and nice, but he’s also held by many to be a playoff choker. He’s on a great team this year, so he shouldn’t have to do it by himself, but he can’t afford to let in any weak goals. If he struggles and the Canucks have to think about putting in Schneider again, the Predators have a real chance to win the series. For Nashville, Jordin Tootoo showed his face on the scoresheet quite a bit against Anaheim. He’s an agitator and if he can keep the Canucks angry at him, he’ll shift their focus from the game and onto him. For any agitator, that’s mission accomplished.
Prediction: Canucks in 6
#2 Detroit Red Wings vs. #3 San Jose Sharks
By the Numbers:
Goals per game: DET 4.50, 3.33 SJ
Goals against per game: DET 2.50, 3.33 SJ
5-on-5 Goals for/goals against: DET 3.25, 1.07 SJ
PP%: DET 26.7%, SJ 8.7%
PK%: DET 66.7%, SJ 79.2%
The Red Wings are too old and the Shark’s big players, especially “No Show” Joe Thornton, don’t show up when it counts…oh wait. The Red Wings completed the only sweep of the playoffs so far, dominating the Phoenix Coyotes for what might have been the farewell tour for the team from the desert. Ironically, they’ll be playing the team I picked to sweep their opponent. The Sharks took 6 games, but they did come back from a 4-0 second period deficit to storm back to an impressive overtime win.
The Wings’ stats are impressive except for their very Nashvillian penalty kill. But look at the San Jose powerplay: it’s also pretty unimpressive. Immovable object or unstoppable force?
The Red Wings played their opening series without their star Henrik Zetterberg and the Sharks beat the Kings without their star, Anze Kopitar. Detroit’s had a long layoff since their last game, but the Wings are a veteran team that has seen just about every scenario thrown their way. While it may cause some slight physical issues at the very beginning of the first game, there will be no mental rust.
Antti Niemi may not have been rusty, but his numbers don’t look like they belong to a player who just won the first round of the playoffs. Sporting a wicked save percentage of .863 and an eye-popping goals against average of 3.99, he (or really, the entire San Jose defense) will have to get better. Giving up 4 goals a game will not get it done against a team like Detroit. Well, not unless they roar back with 5 goals every time they give up 4.
The X Factors: Niklas Kronwall is a tough, hard-hitting defenseman. If he gets unleashed on the Sharks forwards, they could start getting timid (translation: live up to their stereotype of not showing up). Keep your heads up, Sharks. Devin Setoguchi had another disappointing year after a breakout season in 2008-2009. He’s an RFA at the end of the season. A strong postseason could mean a much nicer contract than if he stays on course.
Prediction: Red Wings in 5