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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Second Round Analysis

The second round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs gets underway tonight and I couldn't be happier about it.

We had a couple of surprises in the first round that are worth mentioning. First off congrats to the Boston Bruins for showing some fight and forcing a Game 7 after bing down 3-1 in the series. There seems to be a bright future in Boston and they have nothing to hang their heads about.

Secondly, what was up with the Anaheim Ducks? Of course it's harder than ever to repeat as champs now, but the effort just didn't seem to consistently be there against the Stars. The two games they actually showed up for they won and the second of which they were still badly outshot.

Lastly, we learned that assembling a Stanley Cup champion team from several years ago might actually be a good move after all. The Colorado Avalanche looked pretty good against the defensive minded Minnesota Wild and Jose Theodore was brilliant between the pipes.

With that said, let's take a look at how my predictions from the first round went.

I nailed the Eastern Conference dead on and even hit the exact amount of games correctly in the Philadelphia/Washington series. Out west was a different story where I went 2/4 giving me a grand total of 6 out of 8 correct picks. Not too shabby I suppose. Since I hit the East dead on, I feel obligated to defend the playoff pool picks, so without further ado here's my analysis and predictions for the second round in both conferences.

Eastern Conference

#1 Montreal Canadiens vs. #6 Philadelphia Flyers

Rather than use the old format of why each wins and such I'll just do this quick hitter style.

The Flyers will be without veteran leader and one of their top scorers in Mike Knuble who went down in Game 5 against the Caps with a partially torn hamstring. According to, Knuble is working to get back on the ice for this series, but it's going to depend on how quickly he heals. Without him it's going to be tough for the Flyers to knock off the top team in the East.

Carey Price nearly made me look like a genius. If you'll recall, in the Eastern Conference breakdown I did I said the reason the Habs wouldn't win would be because of this kid. He nearly proved me right too. He looked solid in net for the first four games of the series. Then Games 5 and 6 he might not have been able to stop a beachball as he gave up 10 goals in two games. As a Pens fan I started cheering for Boston to win Game 7 so we'd play them in the next round. Price settled down and the Habs won 5-0 in a game where the scoreboard doesn't reflect how close the game was.

The key for the Habs in this series is that Price cannot have a funk like this again if the Habs are going to make a deep run. They should win this series rather easily as they are a more deep team than the Caps were and are just as fast if not faster.

For the Flyers, they are going to have to suffocate their opponent in the defensive end. They did a good job of limiting the damage Alexander Ovechkin and Co. did against them and that's why they prevailed in the series. They have a decisive edge when you look at physicality and will have to jump on the Habs early by hitting anything that moves to make their forwards think twice about touching the puck. If they can do that the Flyers might have a chance at the upset.

Bottom Line: The Canadiens looked vulnerable at times against the Bruins, but I don't think the Flyers are the team who can exploit those weaknesses and win four games from it. If Price stays sharp this is over quick. Canadiens win in 5.

#2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. #5 New York Rangers

Did I predict this would happen? Yes. Am I happy it turned out this way? I don't know. As a Pens fan I much rather would have seen the Caps or Bruins who played very tough and demanding seven game series and I think we could have easily skated past both of them as we're well rested after a quick sweep of the Sens.

The Rangers looked impressive against the Devils in their first round series, but I question just how good they were. I really think it would have been a much longer series than five games had Martin Brodeur not allowed about 7 soft goals that come to mind. Specifically Game 1 where he inexplicably left a puck sitting a foot from the goal-line in his crease thinking that the Rangers' player skating by was a teammate only to see it end up in the back of his net. Brodeur looked awful for most of this series and awful goaltending does not win you games in the playoffs.

The Devils aside, the Rangers have been a much improved team down th stretch and so far in the playoffs than they were for most of the season. Henrik Lundqvist appears to have returned to the Vezina Trophy form we all knew he was capable of, but the big question that looms in this series is can their defense slow down the speedy Penguins? If they can the Rangers could win this series.

For the Penguins this comes down to one key. Don't let Sean Avery have his way on the ice. This guy should be inducted into the Pests In Sports Hall Of Fame. The Penguins cannot take stupid penalties because they are frustrated with Sean Avery. The Devils did it and were gone in five games.

The Pens have a much deeper team on offense and have a much different team than the one the Rangers saw throughout the season eight times. They are a healthy bunch with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin scoring points at will it seems like. Marian Hossa was amazing in the first round even if he doesn't have the point total to show that. He's been buzzing around the net and eventually that will pay off. Also, Marc-Andre Fleury looks like an entirely different goalie than he did even before he had the high-ankle sprain. He's been fantastic down the stretch and so far in the playoffs. He will need to keep it up and know that JAGR ONLY SHOOTS FROM THE RIGHT FACE-OFF DOT. THAT'S IT! THAT'S THE ONLY PLACE HE EVER SHOOTS FROM! BE AWARE OF IT!

I honestly don't know how the scouting report on Jagr doesn't say that exact same thing. It boggles my mind how teams let him shoot from there all day long. He did it in Pittsburgh too. It's always been his "spot."

Bottom line: Jagr returns to Pittsburgh for the first time in the playoffs and will see his arch enemy Hal Gill. Think I'm joking? Few years back Jagr publicly admitted that he hates playing against Gill because his big frame shuts him down. There will be no rust factor that will give either side an edge. Both sides have had long layoffs and are anxious to get back on the ice. To me, the Penguins have too much firepower and are playing their best hockey of the season. There's a reason they're the division champs and it will show in this series. This next line is for Gopher. Pray Marek Malik doesn't make an appearance in this series or you and your Rangers will be weeping. Penguins win in 7.

Western Conference

#1 Detroit Red Wings vs. #6 Colorado Avalanche

A month or so ago I did up a post on first round nightmare scenarios. This is the series I picked involving the Red Wings. Granted it didn't happen in the first round, but even if you're not a fan of these teams you have to be jacked up about this series.

This series will get nasty and get nasty very quick. To say these two teams loathe each other would be an understatement. I don't particularly think either side has as much physical presence as they did for their first few playoff match-ups, but the Wings have guys like Chris Chelios who like to bring the pain so everyone is going to have to keep their head on a swivel.

For the Avalanche to pull off the upset, they are going to need Jose Theodore to steal a couple games. He did it against the Wild and might just be playing the best hockey we've seen him play since his days in Montreal. Guys like Milan Hejduk and Paul Stastny are going to need to step up big time in this series and the Avs d-corps is going to have to figure out a way to slow down Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.

For the Wings it starts and ends in net. Hasek was brutal in Games 3 and 4 and Mike Babcock wasted no time in going to Chris Osgood who played well in the final two games of the series. I haven't trusted this goaltending duo since day one this year and I'm still suspect of how those old bones are holding up after a total of 88 games so far this season.

The only way I see the Wings losing this series is if they beat themselves or get too wrapped up in the rivalry and start taking unnecessary shots at the Avs.

Bottom Line The Wings are too good of a team for the Avs to handle. As much as I'd like to pick the Avalanche to win this series to further fuel the rivalry, I just can't do it. The Wings have more firepower up front and have a veteran defensive corps led by Nick Lidstrom who's once again up for the Norris Trophy. Wings win in 6.

#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #5 Dallas Stars

Now I'm torn on this one. On the one hand I picked San Jose to win the Stanley Cup this year. On the other you have a team that dispatched the defending champs in rather easy fashion. This is a tough one.

The Stars finally snapped out of whatever funk they were in down the stretch and made the Ducks look silly in their series. I will say this though, had they lost Game 6 at home, I wouldn't be sitting here typing about the Stars. There is no way they win Game 7 in Anaheim. None.

Anyway, Marty Turco wasn't brilliant in net, but he didn't have to be. When your team puts up 4-5 goals a game you can afford to give up a goal or two. He will have to be spectacular against the Sharks or the Stars will ride off into the Texas sunset.

For the Sharks it's very simple. Take the lessons learned against Calgary and apply them to the Stars. The big wake-up call in this series was Game 3. San Jose chased Kipper from the net with three goals in under four minutes of play only to see the Flames storm back and win.

Going down 2-1 in the series right then and there and then coming back to eventually win in seven games is the kind of adversity championship teams have to overcome. They earned the right to be in the second round and it's time to prove that they belong.

Jonathan Cheechoo may not have even combined over the last two years to equal his single season goal mark of 56 in 2005-06 and if he has it's gotta be real close, but he showed signs of life against the Flames. The big question for the Stars is can they contain Joe Thornton. San Jose's offense more or less starts and stops with Big Joe. If the Stars limit his chances and get sticks and bodies in his passing lanes, they could pull this off.

Bottom Line: If I hadn't taken the Sharks to win the cup I'd be picking the Stars in this series. The Sharks have underachieved every time they are a favorite or a Cup contender and eventually that will come back to haunt them and me. Sharks win in 6.


Matt said...

HOW CAN YOU SAY THE PENS ARE DEEPER OFFENSIVELY!?!? No one can deny that Sid, Geno, and Hossa are scary good, and Sykora and Malone have to have an eye kept on them because they are pesky and can pick up the loose trash at the net and bang one home from time to time. BUT THAT IS IT. Jordan Staal had 10 less points than Michal Rozsival and Pascual Dupuis is awful... which is why he lasted only a week on the Rangers.

We have the Jagr, Duby, Avery line; Shanny, Gomez, Straka; and Drury, Callahan, and Dawes line. Those are 9 guys who can all put the puck in the back of the net at any given time. Rangers in 6... write it down.

Side note: Habs have more trouble than you think in the rejuvenated hockey city of Philly and they win in 7 not 5. Wings goalies applications for AARP have been signed, Avs in 6. Sharks and Stars goes 7... whoever gets two goals 1st in that game wins.

Gopher said...

I couldn't agree more with what Matt said. LET'S GO RANGERS.

(Rangers Goal song)
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