Round Two, Fight!

The NHL isn’t giving it’s teams much time to rest between playoff rounds.

Last night we watched the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers both advance after their game seven victories, The Devils needing a second overtime to knock off the Panthers.

Tonight we will watch the Phoenix Coyotes host the Nashville Predators in the opening match of the second round. Neither team has ever been to a conference final.

Tomorrow the Rangers are back at it, taking on the Washington Capitals and St Louis hosts Los Angeles, two of the remaining four teams in the west, none of which has ever won a Stanley Cup.

So, without further ado, here are my picks for the second round of the playoffs:

1 New York Rangers vs 7 Washington Capitals

Although I correctly predicted the outcomes of both first round series between these two teams, in both cases, things went a little differently than I expected.

For the Rangers, although I expected Lundqvist to be brilliant, I did not expect he would need to be. But since someone forgot to tell the Rangers offense that the party had started  (only nine goals through the first five games; Marian Gaborik only one goal in the series), Ottawa was able to push the top seed in the Eastern conference to the brink of elimination. The Rangers fought back and forced a seventh game, at home, in which they built a 2-0 lead on strong play but almost lost to a desperate Sens team that threw wave after wave of pressure in the third period only to come up short against the aforementioned brilliant King Henrik (who, today, received a nomination for the Hart Trophy to go along with the Vezina nomination he received earlier this week).

In the case of the Capitals, for me anyway, the writing was on the wall for this upset. In recent years, Washington has taken a regular-season-successful, high powered offense into the playoffs and they fallen flat against a good goalie or tough defensive team. Stars like Ovechkin and Semin seem to crumble under the massive amount of pressure placed on them to bring DC it’s first championship in anything, ever. That’s right, the Wizards, Redskins and Nationals all stink, I said it. At least the Orioles are off to a good start? Anyhoo, this year, facing the defending champions after backdooring into a playoff spot, with a rookie goalie and rookie coach, I figured, hey, maybe the pressure is off. Maybe Ovi can cruise under the radar and lead the team. Maybe the Bruins gave everything last spring and just made the playoffs this year as a courtesy. So I picked Washington to advance. And then Ovechkin floated around, accomplishing little other than having his ice-time reduced to career lows, the Bruins fought hard and looked like a team with the will to go deep again and the rookie goalie and coach both defied their critics. I got everything wrong and in the end, somehow, I still got it right. Yay me.

I think the Capitals have proven that they are a plucky, determined team, with a solid young goaltender that they believe in, who can play against anyone on any given day and come out the victor. The Rangers, however, are a deep, balanced, tough, well coached team with the right mix of veteran leaders and youthful exuberance, as well as an all-world goaltender and they are just coming off a first round scare that nearly every eventual cup champion faces. Think back to the Bruins last season, needing overtime in game seven to advance against the Habs and the Blackhwaks, who in the previous year, looked down and out against a Nashville team that let their guard down for a moment and saw the Hawks rally and not look back (they lost only four games the rest of the way).

I’m not saying I think the Rangers will win the Cup this year (but they probably will), but they will definitely get past Washington and it will not likely be a long series.

Rangers in five

5 Philadelphia Flyers vs 6 New Jersey Devils

We won’t see it again. Probably ever. I am referring to the first round series between the Flyers and Penguins. Nothing that insane (45 goals in the first four games! Sidney Crosby acting like Cartman from South Park!) will likely ever take place again. So what can we take from it? Other than the sheer joy of watching hockey brutality and brutal goaltending combine to produce something as magical as a Cadbury Creme Egg.

I think that Ilya Bryzgalov, while providing, luckily, for the Flyers, only the second worst goaltending performance of the first round, is not as bad as he appeared. If one thing could be said in his defense, by someone other than himself, obviously, is that the Flyers defense was absolutely porous. So was Breezy, mind you, but he can’t take all the blame here. He’s sort of like Luongo, in my opinion. Yes, he occasionally gives up a bad goal and says dumb things to the media, but he is also under immense pressure to win, and win now. The difference between Vancouver and Philadelphia though is that when Bryzgalov lets in a softie the team hardens and goes the other way to get it back for him. In the Canucks case, they crumple up and give up the ghost.

New Jersey may have been the Flyers best hope as a second round opponent. Other than the Flyers, they are the only team left with a questionable netminder, and the Flyers forwards have a lot of questions to ask of him. Brodeur, while managing to win the series against Florida, looked every bit as shaky as a nearly forty-year old goalie with a hip replacement might. Every time he went down I expected him to press his life-alert button. The Flyers have enough weapons in their offense to provide Marty with a serious challenge. New Jersey also has some weapons, but Kovalchuk seemed to fade as the series against Florida grew longer and speculation has been made that he could be playing hurt. I think if New Jersey has a chance they have to force the Flyers into a defensive game. If these two teams trade chances, we will see some good hockey, but the Flyers will run away with it, just like against Pittsburgh.

Flyers in five

2 St Louis Blues vs 8 Los Angeles Kings

By losing to the San Jose Sharks in their final game of the regular season, the Los Angeles Kings set themselves up for a first round date with the Vancouver Canucks, a team they were almost designed to beat, and avoided a match-up with the defensive juggernaut in St Louis. Both teams won their first round series in five games and now they face each other.

At no point in their first round series, even after losing game one, did the Blues look like they might drop the set against the Sharks. They were a dominant, controlling team that led the Sharks wherever they wanted them to go. Which, in retrospect, is pretty much what you would expect from a good team playing against Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. The only thing that might have guaranteed a sweep would have been Dany Heatley still playing for the Sharks.

While Los Angeles is probably a stronger team than San Jose, I expect this series will go much the same way for them. Where Quick was a challenge for the Canucks to score on, and probably this years Vezina winner, Elliott is every bit his equal in the net, and were his stats based on slightly more games played, he would be taking the Vezina in a walk. LA still has to find a way to score consistently. They managed only four goals in the final three games against Vancouver and if they don’t improve on that total they will not win.

LA plays a hard working grinding type of game, much like that of the Darryl Sutter coached Calgary Flames in 2004, who made it to the Cup Finals, only to lose to a John Tortarella coached Tampa Bay Lightning team. Um… can I change my pick please?

Nevermind, history is bunk.

Blues in six

3 Phoenix Coyotes vs 4 Nashville Predators

For the second consecutive year, and second year ever, the Nashville Predators advanced to the second round. They will be looking to make their first third round appearance, ever. So will the Phoenix Coyotes, who this year made their very first second round appearance, ever. Dating back to the days of the Winnipeg Jets (Good riddance! JK), this franchise hadn’t won a playoff series in 25 years! 1987! Reagan was still President! It might be Reagan’s ghost in office the next time the Coyotes win a series, though.

I think this Nashville team is the real deal. They took out Detroit in five games. Sure, Detroit were terrible and old and probably smelly, but they are still the Detroit Mother-Effin’ Red Wings, and no one beats the Detroit Mother-Effin’ Red Wings in only five games.

The main issue for the Predators will be whether or not they can solve Mike Smith. There were a number of fantastic goaltender performances in the first round. In fact, I would say this years playoffs have managed to do for goalies what Justin Timberlake once did for sexy. But Mike Smith was about as sexy as JT himself in leading the Coyotes past the Chicago Blackhawks. He will need to be as good or better against Nashville and I don’t think that is possible.

Predators in six

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One thought on “Round Two, Fight!

  1. Pingback: Why the New York Rangers won’t win the Cup and Rick’s Picks – Round Two « Rick Keene ' s Le Forum de Montreal

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