Round 3 has arrived: Eastern Conference predictions

- May 17th, 2014

The second round is in the books after the Los Angeles Kings stepped into the elimination chamber for the sixth time of the post-season and came out with a 6-2 win that ended the NHL career of former Winnipeg Jets’ sniper Teemu Selanne.

I’ll turn my attention to the West a little later, after looking a little more closely at the conference final rematch between the Kings and Chicago Blackhawks.

For now, I’m happy to report I was 3-1 last round and improved to 10-2 overall in these playoffs in the prediction game. My miss was believing the Boston Bruins, my Stanley Cup pick going into the season and into the post-season, would defeat the Montreal Canadiens.

As mentioned before last round, while on the playoff trail covering the Rangers and Flyers in the first round, there was some chatter going around that the Canadiens were the type of team that had what it took to knock off the Bruins. Turns out they were right, guess I shouldn’t have ignored those beliefs but I wasn’t completely sold.

Turns out the Habs matched up well not only in the regular season but carried it over into the post-season and in the end, Carey Price was a big difference-maker, outplaying Tuukka Rask.

The Bruins didn’t get enough from David Krejci, who was the playoff points leader in two of the past three seasons, or several other key cogs.

And the Canadiens were the group that showcased more depth, surprisingly. Danny Briere continued his playoff magic and Winnipegger Dale Weise made an impact as well — and I’m not talking about driving Milan Lucic nuts either.

Weise scored the ice-breaking goal in Game 7 and did a nice job in a fourth-line role, playing a physical game.

Meanwhile, the Rangers found a way to rally from a 3-1 series deficit, much of which came on an emotional level after the passing of Marty St. Louis’ mother France. It was a heart-warming story, not to mention an impressive one, but it wouldn’t have been possible without goalie Henrik Lundqvist — who continued his Game 7 mastery, winning his fifth in a row, knocking the Pittsburgh Penguins out of the tournament and leading to the dismissal of Pens’ GM Ray Shero.

The Eastern Conference final features another Original Six match-up.

Montreal Canadiens (46-28-8, 100 points, 2nd in Atlantic Division) vs New York Rangers (45-31-6,96 points, 2nd in Metropolitan Division)
NUMBERS GAME: It’s the 15th playoff meeting for the two franchises, but first since 1996 so it could take a while for the hate meter to rise. In case you were wondering, both the Rangers and Canadiens have won seven series against one another. This year, the Canadiens won two of the three head-to-head meetings.

THE SKINNY: Surely, you’ve heard how Lundqvist struggles in Montreal, so much so that he’s served as the backup for the past four meetings at the Bell Centre and he hasn’t won there since 2009. Just so you know, Lundqvist is 4-5-2 with a 3.87 goals against average and .876 save percentage in his career in Montreal. But guess what? I’m here to tell you that doesn’t mean squat in this series. And neither does the fact Price is 4-1-0 with three shutouts and two goals allowed (149 saves on 151 shots) in his past five meetings with the Rangers. Yes, Price won the last head-to-head match-up at the Olympics as Canada defeated Sweden to win the gold medal in Sochi. But it says here the goalies will cancel each other out in this series. Both will play great. That’s why I think it comes down to depth. And while the Habs fourth line may have out-dueled the Bruins last round, Dominic Moore, Brian Boyle and either Derek Dorsett and/or Dan Carcillo could present a different challenge in this series. St. Louis will be further galvanized by the fact his teammates will attend his mother’s funeral on Sunday and he’ll help drive the offence. Derick Brassard got on the production train in Round 2 (four goals, including two game-winners) and if Rick Nash can start one of his scoring streaks after going without a goal in 14 games so far, look out. Brandon Prust gave the Canadiens a nice lift and will be motivated to face his former team, look for him to play well. I’m intrigued to see if Alex Galchenyuk could make an impact after being cleared to return to full practice and whether or not Max Pacioretty can keep it going after a strong finish to the series. Brendan Gallagher is going to play well, P.K. Subban will continue to contribute on the back end but at the end of day, I’m taking the Broadway Blueshirts in one more long series. Rangers in seven.

Categories: Hockey

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