NHL Playoffs Round 2 Preview

NHL Playoffs Round 2 Preview

Well round 1 did not disappoint, with 18 games going into overtime, which is an NHL record.  We saw an 8 seed upset a 1 seed. Nashville who has been bullied by Chicago in recent years finally got their revenge. They out played Chicago in every aspect of the game, outscoring them 13-3 and shutting them out twice. The hottest team going into the playoffs, St. Louis Blues, ripped the heart out of the state of Minnesota. They won all three games in Minnesota and each in heartbreaking fashion, 2 in OT and the other with two minutes left in the 3rd. The Ducks continued to own the Flames (26-0 at home vs. Calgary since 2004) and finished the year 8-1 vs them. The young Edmonton Oilers bested the veteran Sharks with the help of unlikely hero Zack Kassian. He tallied 7 goals all year, but scored the game winners in the first two Edmonton wins. In the east we saw the reining champs flex their muscle in a 5 game series win over another 100+ point team in Columbus. We saw true hockey toughness when young superstar Zach Werenski took a shot to the face and game back to play. In just the 5 games of the series, the Pens have Malkin leading the league in points (11) and Guentzel leading in goals (5). The Capitals escaped the young Toronto stars in an epic 6 game battle which needed OT in 5 games. A great example of the now (Caps) vs. the future (Leafs).  The Senators won all three games in Boston. They played in one of the best games of the first round in their game 5 double-OT thriller. Karlsson showed why he is a Norris trophy finalist every year with his impressive performance. Bobby Ryan showed he still has it, netting 2 game winners. Great moment seeing goalie Craig Anderson and his wife in the stands after clinching game 6. The Rangers had just enough offensive fire power to win the goal tending match up of Price vs. Lundqvist. Montreal captain Max Pacioretty was held to 1 point which was a major reason for their offensive woes.

The second round has some new intriguing match ups and some epic rematches ahead so lets get to it…

Eastern Conference

New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators

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The Rangers in the first round got past Montreal with their tough physical defensive play, depth at forward and getting true Lundqvist back. Playing Cary Price is never ideal seeing he is an elite goal tender. The Rangers had 4 players score 22+ goals during the regular season. Against the Canadians, they were able to score 3 goals in 3 of the games. When you have Lundqvist playing as well as he is, that is most likely enough. Their defense played great. They were physical and won battles along the boards. McDonagh was fantastic and is always a lock down player on defense. The Rangers were 1-15 on the power play, but that 1 goal was the game winner in the series clincher. A showing of the resiliency of this team, they also fell behind 2-1 in the series then won three straight to clinch. The Rangers had the best record at home this year (27-12-2) and won 2 of 3 on the road against Montreal. (Last year the Sharks had the best regular season road record and made it to the Cup). Being able to win games on the road is Yuge (trump voice).

Here are some of their best plays in the first round…

Fast shorthanded as he gets tripped…

FastGM5

Zucc’s soccer trap and shoot…

ZuccarelloGM6a

The Senators quick strike offense and terrific blue line play got them past the rival Bruins. Oh and Erik Karlsson mainly. He is incredible. He was 4th during the regular season in time-on-ice. In the playoffs he is 1st, averaging 30:24 per game. The crazy part is that he missed the last few games with a fractured heel and is still not healed. He is leading all players in time-on-ice with a broken heel…. crazy. Bobby Ryan too. He finished with 4 goals in the 6 games and 2 game winners. He was a threat whenever he was on the ice against Boston. Ottawa was 5-23 on the power play (6th in the league). The series winner in OT was on the power play. 4 months ago, Clarke MacArthur was ruled out for the season due to concussions. After rehabilitating he is back and playing great. Scoring a goal in game 2 and the series winner in OT of game 6. In Games 2, 3 and 6 the Sens showed their quick strike ability. Scoring back-to-back goals in under 5 minutes (one pair was in less than a minute). They will need this quick striking offense to be a factor, because they are playing against a primer goalie.

Here are some of their best plays in the first round…

Hoffman on a breakaway…

HoffmanGM3

MacArthur for the game/series winner…

MacArthurGM6

The regular season series led to Ottawa taking 2 of 3 (2 were in NY). Their last match up was April 8th, the Sens dominated the game winning 3-1. A highlight of this match up will be Mika Zibanejad and Derek Brassard. They were traded basically for each other (with other draft picks but mainly a swap). Zibanejad finished +2, 1 goal and 4 total points. He dished the assist to Zucc for the game winner in game 6. Brassard was also great in the first round, finishing 2nd in the NHL points with 8 (2goals-6assists). They play on top lines and will face-off against each other. The Rangers are a great shot-blocking team, finishing with the 2nd most in the first round. This will be put to the test against the hot Sens power play. The Rangers like to play with speed so the Sens are going to need to control the neutral zone.

My Prediction: I think the Rangers forwards will be to much for the Sens. Karlsson is banged up (even though he can still play at an elite level, racking up those hard minutes can catch up to him). Lundqvist is back. I look for him, and the overall great shot blocking team, to be enough to tame the quick striking offense of the Sens. The Rangers have been good on the road all year. They won the last two at the garden against Montreal. I see the Rangers falling behind 2-1 again, but fighting back. Lundqvist is 7-1 at home in series clinchers. Rangers in 6.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

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The Penguins were simply the better team in the series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Their high-skilled offensive weapons were on display. There is no doubting the ability of Crosby, Malkin, Kessel and Hornqvist. The role players like Rust and Guentzel showed up. With the loss of Murray last minute before game 1, Fluery stepped in right where he left off before Murray took the starting job from him. The defense made up for the missing of Kris Letang. Malkin and Kessel were top-2 in points. They were also both +7. This is in only 5 games! Crosby was amazing. He made big-time plays. Dishing the behind the back pass to win game 2 and scored the eventual series dagger in game 5 on the power play.  Guentzel had 5 goals and Rust had 4. Rust’s 4 goals came in the same form. Both in the 2nd period. Fluery was also amazing. Facing the most shots per game, he held the Jackets to 2 or 1 goals in 3 of the 5 games. The Pens power play was 5-15 which makes them 2nd. In both of their recent Stanley Cup wins (09 and 16), they defeated the Caps on the way to both in the second round. 09 in 7 games and last year in 6. The Penguins had a 37-1-1 record when leading after 2 periods, that ranked third during the regular season.

Here are some of their best plays in the first round…

Crosby’s insane pass between the defenders leg for the game winner in OT…

GuentzelGM3winner

Crosby laser snipe for the final dagger…

CrosbyGM5

The Capitals had a scary first round, having to play the young studs of Toronto. Matthew, Nylander, Marner etc. are some of the best young talent in the league. Needing 5 OT games, one double-OT, could end up being beneficial. Last year, the Caps had a tough first round against the Flyers. This was a reason for losing in the next round. However, this year the Caps are healthy (last year they missed Orpik which was YUGE) and ready to go. Playing those tough games gets them ready for the tough ones ahead against the Pens. Their talent and successes is obvious and so is there recent post season woes. No need to beat a dead horse. The top line of Ovechkin-Oshie-Backstrom was very productive for the Caps. Oshie and Backstrom finished in the top-10 in points and Ovechkin had 3 goals. Justin “Mr. Game 7” Williams continues to have playoff success. Getting his 7th career OT playoff goal. These games against the Pens will be close. The Caps are 41-1-1 when leading after 2 periods. OT games will be necessary and having Williams is just the guy they needed. Holtby is locked in and looks great.

Here are some of their best plays in the first round…

Johanssen series winner in OT…

JohanssonGM6b

Typical Ovi….

OvechkinGM4

The season series was split 2-2 between the two teams, with the last game finishing 8-7 Pens in OT. Crazy game that was. The Caps won both games at home in blow out fashion while both games in Pittsburgh went to OT and the Pens. The obvious match up to watch is the superstars on both teams battle it out. Crosby-Malkin-Kessel-Hornqvist vs. Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie-Carlson. Crosby and Ovechkin have faced each other 2 times in the playoffs and Crosby has both wins. The 2nd game they played against each other ever in the playoffs in 09, they each had a hat trick. That was something cool to see. According to Elias Sport Bureau, “In 13 head-to-head games in the postseason, Ovechkin has 21 points-10 goals-11 assists to Crosby’s 15-8-7. Crosby and Ovechkin have played against each other 54 times (41 times in regular season), and Crosby has won 33 of those games (61%). Crosby has 75 points-28 goals-47 assists) and Ovechkin has 64-35-29.” That is great and all but the overall match ups between the top lines will be fun to watch. Just some of the best players in the past decade going at in during their primes trying to prove they are the best. Ovechkin hasn’t made it past the 2nd round so he is DYING for a series win. Crosby can claim ownership of the Metro Division and Eastern Conference with another series win. I look for this series to get chippy right away. The Caps and Pens had the #1 and #2 records at home. The Pens were a perfect 3-0 at home in the first round and the Caps were 2-1 (that loss was the double OT game).

My Prediction: This series is going to be a classic heavy weight battle between two power house teams. Usually, the Caps have alllll the pressure going into these series’. However this year they really are not. People are expecting them to fuck up. The Pens are the reigning champs. Last year people were not sure of the Pens because of Murray being a rookie, Malkin was banged up and they lived off a late season surge. I mean there is still heavy pressure on the Caps, but after finishing the Leafs off in back-to-back hard fought well played games, gives them more confidence. They had to play 5 OT games, they are sharp and ready to go. The Pens defense is banged up and stretched thin. I am not saying it will be a liability (it wasn’t at all against a high-powered Blue Jackets team), it will just give the Caps offense (that is loaded with elite talent) the edge they need in these close games. Both of their records when leading after 2 period shows how important late scores will be. The Pens speed on offense will cause problems for the Caps just like the Leafs did. But, I see the Caps offense finally getting over the hump and playing to their ability. In last years series, the Pens won all 3 games when they held the Caps to 2/1 goals. I think the Caps will be able to produce better than last year. During the regular season match ups they scored 2 goals then 7, 5, and 7. Justin Williams is the veteran x-factor they need. Holtby will out play Fluery. Caps in 7. I see every game being decided by 1-goal and at least 3 OT games.

Western Conference

St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

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The 8 seed in the west, Nashville Predators, are this years Cinderella story. Since 1994, only one 8 seed has won the Cup, Kings in 2012. However, being the lowest seed did not stop them from completely out playing the 3-time champs Blackhawks in every aspect of the game, resulting a 4-game sweep. A main reason for this domination was terrific neutral zone play by their elite defensive core. Subban, Josi, Ellis and Ekholm were all fantastic. They all finished +4 or +5. They made Chicago dump and chase, after dumping in the Preds won a majority of the battles along the boards. This defense also helped Rinne. He let up 3 goals (2 shutouts) on 126 shots against the Hawks, who are an elite scoring team. During the regular season, the Preds had the most short handed goals in the NHL (the Blues had the worst power play in the first round). The top line of the Preds, Foresberg-Arvidsson-Johansen, out played the top line of Chicago (who are all future hall of famers) by far. They scored 5 goals and combined for 15 points in the 4 games. The Preds got production from every line. 10 of their 13 goals came from 6 different players. They were playing with 4 lines throughout the entire series, while the Hawks stuck with just 3. Their depth proved to be problems for the Hawks. Subban must be happy. Right about now is when he would catch the heat in Montreal, but he is moving on. The Preds proved they are a legit contender in the first round. They even brought out some of the big guns to sing the national anthem with Carrie Underwood and Luke Bryan… I wonder who we will see this round… Bring back Carrie’s fine ass!

Here are some of their best plays in the first round…

Display of their vicious defense and Rinne’s talent…

HossachanceGM4

An example of them on offense wanting it more…

ScissionsGM4

The Blues were the hottest team coming into the playoffs (finishing 22-8-2) and they kept that rolling in the first round by winning three straight. They ripped the heart of the state of Minnesota by winning all three games there and 2 were in OT. They were good at home during the regular season 24-12-5. Their top line of Schwartz-Statsny-Tarasenko, scored 4 of their 11 goals. The Blues scored early and relied on the play of their goalie Allen. They led for more than 40% of game time in the first round. The Blues moved on because of their defense and goal tending. Allen let up 8 goals on 182 shots. Their top line scored 4 goals and defenders scored 3. Their other 3 lines only produced 4 goals in 5 games. They are going to need more production out of their other lines to match with the Preds who have been successful with all 4 lines. They were 1-15 on the power play, which was the worst of all playoff teams in the first round. Pietrangelo averaged the 2nd most ice time, so look for him to be out there most of the time the Preds top line is skating. Its all about their defense. They allowed 1/0 goals in 4 of the 5 games. They allowed the least goals since the all star break. They need that defense to show up against the Preds.

Here are some of their best plays in the first round…

Schwartz strong play…

SchwartzGM3

Tarasenko is a video game…

TarasenkoGM5

My Prediction: The Predators won the season series 3-2 over the Blues. They won both games at home but went 1-2 in St. Louis. However, since the Blues got hot (firing their coach) the only match up since was a 4-1 Blues win. They have never met in the playoffs before. The Blues won all three in Minnesota in the first round. The Preds were 24-9-8 at home during the regular season. It will be interesting to see games 3 and 4 (which will be critical games) in Nashville. If the Preds keep playing flawless in the neutral zone, the Blues will continue to struggle on offense. Both goalies had an impressive first round but I think Allen will break first. The Preds gave Chicago so much trouble being able to play with 4 different lines successfully. Where the Blues were just the opposite, only getting 4 goals in 5 games from their bottom 3 lines. Nashville looked really good. This series is going to be great seeing 2 of the hottest teams go at it. I think the Preds keep rolling with their depth and win one in St. Louis then sweep the home games (3, 4 and 6). Predators in 6.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers

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The Ducks got lucky in the first round because they got to play the Flames who they have dominated this year and in previous years. They are 26-0 at home vs. Flames since 2004. Now they didn’t dominate the Flames during the series, they just got all of the breaks. They won all 4 games by 1-goal, the first time this has happened in a sweep since 2003. The Flames out-shot and had more scoring chances than the Ducks. However, those stats don’t mean shit. The Ducks scored more, that’ all that matters. Their veteran players were a key role in the series win. Perry was +6 with 3 points. Getzlaf finished +5 with 3 goals and 2 assists. He also averaged the most ice time of any forward on a series winning team. The Ducks finished the season strong, not losing in regulation since March 10th (going 11-0-3 to end the regular season and 4-0 in the playoffs). During the regular season, the Ducks had the best face off percentage in the NHL (Oilers were 30th). They were also great at home, finishing 29-8-4. The Ducks did struggle on the penalty kill. They let up 6 PP goals in 16 attempts. They also gave up a short handed goal (Oilers scored 2). The Ducks are missing come key defenders which could be a factor in those penalty killing woes. Fowler and Vatanen are 2 of their top-4 defenders, and they are both banged up and may not play. This could be problematic. However, the Ducks do have plenty of experience. They have been a regular in the playoffs (going 11 times in past 14 years) and have 25 playoff wins since 2010. Late in close games, this veteran experience can prove to be YUGE (trump voice).

Here are some of their best plays in the first round…

An example of them getting a break… in OT….

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Speaking of experience, the Sharks were one of the most playoff experienced team in the NHL. The Oilers beat them in 6 and that veteran play was not a factor. The Oilers made “rookie mistakes” in the first 2 games by committing 12 penalties, however they would discipline themselves and only commit 4 in the last 4 games. First thing you should think of when you hear the Oilers is Connor McDavid, rightly so. He was fantastic in the first round. Edmonton scored 12 goals in the 6 games, and McDavid had 4 points. He contributed to 1/3 of their goals. During the regular season, he scored or assisted on 41.2% of the Oilers’ goals (100 of 243) which was the highest in the NHL. He is great and whenever he is on the ice anything can happen. Enough can’t be said so lets just move on to Zack fuckin Kassian. What a beast he is, definitely a new favorite in Edmonton. He got the physical play going in the series for Edmonton with two monster hits in game 2 (which really turned the momentum of the game) and scored the game winners in games 2 and 3. Goaltender, Cam Talbot, also played well in his first playoff series as the starter. He struggled in two games but was able to produce 2 shutouts. Edmonton had the 5th best power play during the regular season, but struggled in the first round finishing at the bottom of the league with a success rate of 2-16. The Oilers showed some resiliency in the critical game 5. Coming off of a 7-0 blowout in game 4, they were down 3-1 late in the 2nd period but did not give up and fought their way back to an OT winner. They are a team filled with plenty of young and skilled talent, it would be an amazing accomplishment to defeat 2 teams filled with veteran talent.

Here are some of their best plays in the first round…

Draisaitl with a great play shorthanded…

LeonGM6

Desjardins for the game winner in OT…

DesharnaisGM5

The season series between the Ducks and Oilers went to Edmonton who won 3 of 5. The Ducks won both their games in regulation and lost the two that went to OT. An important match up to watch will be Kessler vs. McDavid. Kessler is one of the best defensive forwards in the game. He has won the Selke (best defensive forward) and been nominated 5 times in his 10 full seasons. Kessler saw a lot of ice time when the Flames top center Sean Monahan was playing (Monahan did score 4 goal but they were on the power play). Shutting him down also kept Gaudreau and Monahan scoreless in 5-5 play. Look for him to be out there whenever McDavid is skating, should be a great match up. As a team, the Oilers were worst in the NHL in face off wins, while the Ducks were first. This may become a major problem for the Oilers if they constantly have to chase the puck. In the regular season Oiler’s centers did struggle against the Ducks, Nugent-Hopkins 39% / Draisaitl 55% / Letestu 48%/ McDavid 43%. Kessler was 59% and Vermette was 64% against the Oilers. In the first round the Oilers got to play the Sharks who were short at center with Thorton and Couture banged up. The Ducks are loaded there. However, the one main difference is the defense. The Ducks are very thin at D with the 2 major injuries.

My Prediction: As of right now, Fowler will come back but Vaatanen is still out for game 1. If they are hurt and not 100% this will be problematic. On their wings, the Oilers have good players who play a physical game. The physical play will wear the think Ducks defense down and allow the skilled Oilers centers to get in and make plays. In their 5 regular season match ups only one Ducks defender was positive in +/- (Manson +1). Meanwhile, four Edmonton defenders were at least +2. Draisaitl was a Duck killer this year. Finishing +5, 6 goals and 2 assists in the 5 games. One was a game winner. Anaheim was terrible on the penalty kill against the Flames. Monahan had 4 power play goals. Now, this will be McDavid instead (this will be veryyyy interesting). The Oilers had the 5th best power play during the regular season. I look for the Edmonton forwards to win the battles in the offensive zone along the boards (making up for the face off losses) which will allow the Edmonton skilled centers (McDavid and Draisaitl) to get open ice to make plays. The Ducks committed the 2nd most minor penalties during the regular season. If the get in penalty trouble, I look for McDavid to pick up right where Monahan left off. Oilers in 6.

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