NHL playoffs: off to Round 2

- April 27th, 2012

Well, that didn’t exactly go according to the script.

But that’s the beauty of the Stanley Cup playoffs, where upsets happen and Stanley Cup favourites get bounced (this spring, with a little more regularity).

Not proud of the 2-6 record we posted in the opening round but understood going in that both of my Stanley Cup picks could be in serious danger of not making it out of Round 1.

We’re going with the premise that the predictions can only get better from here.

Thanks at least in part to the miserable goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury, the Pittsburgh Penguins were indeed bounced. As were the Vancouver Canucks, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers, Ottawa Senators, Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings.

At least, our Stanley Cup winning pick (the Predators) remains alive and we’ll stick with them going forward.

With that in mind, here we go with our Round 2 picks:

Western Conference

St. Louis Blues (2) vs Los Angeles Kings (8)

The Blues got solid goaltending from Brian Elliott (forced into the series after an injury to Jaroslav Halak), played stifling team defence and got timely scoring from guys like Patrik Berglund and Andy MacDonald in the opening round. They’ll figure to need that and then some additional production from captain David Backes in order to move on to the next round. Facing Jonathan Quick is sure to be a challenge (just ask the Canucks), but we figure the Blues are up for it. T.J. Oshie is a guy who could have a big series and will need to get in on forecheck to make life miserable for Drew Doughty and company. Both teams have big centre’s who can put the puck in the net. Kings boast more experience with guys like Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Jarrett Stoll, Dustin Penner and Rob Scuderi but we just have a feeling that the Blues’ defence corps, led by Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shatenkirk are going to come up big in what figures to be a low-scoring series. Take the Blues in seven.

Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs Nashville Predators (4)

Mike Smith was brilliant in helping the Coyotes bounce the Blackhawks and move to the second round for the first time since the Winnipeg Jets moved to the desert. However, he might have met his match this round in Pekka Rinne, who was light’s-out against the Red Wings. The Coyotes are well-coached, check well and scored timely goals in tight games (five of which went to OT) but the defence corps of the Preds – led by captain Shea Weber and Ryan Suter – is going to be a lot for the Coyotes to handle. Alex Radulov got better as the first round went on and Mike Fisher looks poised for a big series. Take the Predators in five.

New York Rangers (1) vs Washington Capitals (7)

The inconsistency that plagued them during the regular season somehow vanished in the first round as the Caps eliminated the Boston Bruins in overtime of Game 7. They showed their mettle and head coach Dale Hunter did it his way, limiting the ice time of Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin at times, while leaning on grinders like Jay Beagle and Matt Hendricks when the situation called for it. Meanwhile, the Sens gave the Rangers all they could handle (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just ask the Bruins, who were pushed to seven games in three of four rounds last spring). In the end, the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist is sure to give the Rangers the edge, despite the strong showing of Braden Holtby. He’s a great story, but the Rangers are so good at blocking shots and if they can ever get Marian Gaborik going, look out. The Capitals have enough going for them to win a couple of games, but take the Rangers in six.

Philadelphia Flyers (5) vs New Jersey Devils (6)

The Flyers won the battle of Pennsylvania despite some tough goaltending moments for Ilya Bryzgalov. Claude Giroux showed the world his superstar status, while the support staff also came up big. The Flyers get more out of their young forwards than most teams and the defence corps continued to withstand injuries. Braydon Coburn has been excellent so far and he’ll be key in trying to contain the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. Full marks to the Devils for coming through in double overtime of Game 7 against the Panthers, but we think they’ll be in tough against the high-powered Flyers. Look for Scott Hartnell to get involved a bit more offensively and make life difficult on the Devils’ defence. Adam Henrique made a big contribution in Game 7 with his first two playoff goals (including the series clincher) and if the Devils are to pull off the upset, he and linemate David Clarkson will need to be big contributors. Bryzgalov made 30 saves in Game 6 vs the Penguins and if he brings that form (as I suspect he will), you can take the Flyers in five.

Categories: Hockey

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