NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2nd Round Preview
The second round begins with the 1,2,3,5 seeds left in both conferences. We are also treated to a couple of 2nd round rematches from last year.
1 Washington Capitals vs. 5 Tampa Bay Lightning
Season Series: 4-2 Capitals
Playoff Series History: 1-0 Lightning. The only meeting was in the 1st round in 2003.
What We Learned: Being eliminated early can be a good lesson, ask the Capitals.
Star to Watch: Steven Stamkos played well in Gamer 5 and that was about it. He will definitely need to elevate his game in order for the Lightning to have a chance. He hasn’t played exceptionally well against the Capitals this season, scoring just 3 points in 6 games.
X-Factor: Mike Green should be returning from his injury in Game 1. He played fairly well against the Rangers erasing much of his poor play last year against the Canadiens. He will need to grind it out with Gagne, Downie and St Louis. How he plays against them could tip the series.
Goalie Problem: The 42 year old Roloson has played much better than anyone probably thought he would. I know I was skeptical. You have to wonder how much longer he can keep his high level of play going. He is tops in playoff SV% and 2nd in GAA for those goalies that started more than two 2 games. On the other end Michael Neuvirth has played well for the Capitals. He actually leads the league in GAA for those playoff goalies that started more than two games. I thought they would go with Varlamov but unless he struggles, that doesn’t appear like it will happen.
Fun Fact: This is only the 2nd time Southeast rivals have met in a playoff series. The 1st time being when these two teams met in 2003.
Prediction: The Capitals new defensive system, and their previous playoff lessons they have learned, should do them wonders in this series. The Lightning had a tough series with the Penguins and I don’t think they are ready to go to the next level yet. The Capitals should win in around 6 games.
2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. 3 Boston Bruins
Season Series: 3-1 Bruins, their only loss in OT
Playoff Series History: 3-2 Flyers. Everyone knows what happens last year with the Flyers being the 4th team in NHL history to come back from a 0-3 series deficit.
What We Learned: Three goalies are better than one
Star to Watch: Nathan Horton is playing in his 1st ever postseason. He only scored two goals but the two goals were pretty important including the Game 7 winger. At certain times he was a non-factor and he let his emotions get the best of him. How will need to be even more effective in this series as will the whole Bruins’ top line.
X-Factor: Will Chris Pronger continue to see his minutes rise? Pronger is obviously a dominating defensive force and an asset on the back-end for the power play. It seems likely he will hit the 20 minute mark in Game 1 of this series but one never knows. The Flyers will need him healthy and effective to contain the Bruins depth.
Goalie Problem: Well it looks like Boucher will probably be the goalie for the Flyers for the rest of the way. Of course that doesn’t really guarantee anything but it’s unlikely the Flyers will take the goalie carousel for a spin again. Other than 1 start against Buffalo, he has played fairly well. On the other side Tim Thomas hasn’t always been sharp at times but other times he has played really well. How well he plays will probably tip the series. My personal opinion is Thomas tends to overplay shots. He needs to scale that back.
Fun Fact: The Bruins are the first team to win a series despite not scoring a goal on the power play (0-33).
Prediction: Tough one to predict but I will have to go with Boston. Why you ask? Well mostly the theme of this year’s playoffs is redemption. Boston is looking to get revenge for last year’s collapse against the Flyers. Plus something about the Flyers just seems off to me. They had way more problems eliminating the Sabres then they should have. Being without Jeff Carter also doesn’t help. Bruins in 7.
1 Vancouver Canucks vs. 5 Nashville Predators
Season Series: 2-2 split
Playoff Series History: None
What We Learned: The Canucks have heart and Luongo can play well when needed.
Star to Watch: Well that’s simple the Sedin Twins. They started off real well and then they had a combined -13 in the last four games. Clearly that won’t work in the next few rounds. Now that the Blackhawks have finally been passed, perhaps the Sedins can rework their magic that has proven to be so successful in the past.
X-Factor: The Predators had 7 players score two or more goals in the 1st round. Can they get that kind of scoring depth against the number 1 defensive team in the regular season?
Goalie Problem: Luongo passed a major hurdle by beating the Blackhawks and quite frankly I think the Olympic Gold medal win gave him a lot more confidence. As long as he doesn’t have bodies in front of him, blocking his view, he can play pretty good. Pekka Rinne had a phenomenal regular season but not so much in the 1st round against the Ducks. Of course playing against all of that Duck’s top talent isn’t easy. Then again the Canucks are almost as talented upfront, so it won’t get any easier.
Fun Fact: Mike Fisher had played in 75 playoff games before this season. More than the whole Predators starting five combined.
Prediction: This should be a hard hitting affair. Both teams hit well in the 1st round. The experience edge in this series clearly goes to the Canucks. I really don’t think you can stop the Canucks after their big series win against Chicago. Canucks in 5.
2 San Jose Sharks vs. 3 Detroit Red Wings
Season Series: 3-1 Sharks
Playoff Series History: 2-2 split. The Sharks won the match-up last season in this round.
What We Learned: Joe Thornton can actually score important goals.
Star to Watch: Joe Pavelski had three goals in the 1st round but it just didn’t seem like he did. Mr. Playoffs last year will need to step up his game. This season in four games against Detroit he didn’t score a goal. Zetterberg hasn’t played in three weeks for the Wings but he should be back in this series. They will need him and for his ankle to be at 100%.
X-Factor: Whose hungrier? These are two teams that have been their done that. Last year was kind of disappointing for the Red Wings as they struggled in the 1st round and basically got annihilated in the 2nd round by these Sharks. The Sharks advanced past the 2nd round finally but didn’t go as far as they wanted to. The team that wants it more will get it.
Goalie Problem: Antti Niemi had a few decent games and a few brutal ones against the Kings. However, he has played fairly well (1.97GAA, .932SV%) against the Wings as a Hawk and Shark. Jimmy Howard wasn’t tested much against the Coyotes but the Sharks average a high number of shots a game, just ask Quick. It will be interesting to see how he reacts.
Fun Fact: These two teams were 1st and 2nd in shots on goals in the regular season so expect that to continue. They were also 2nd and 3rd in face-off percentage.
Prediction: This will be a tough and more even series than last season. It should also be pretty high scoring. Expect it to go the distance but for the Sharks to prevail in Game 7.
Author: Alex Mueller
Alex Mueller graduated from Temple University with a minor in journalism over a decade ago. He’s been writing about NHL hockey, on and off, since the Fall of 2009. He’s written for Pucking Awesome, the Checking Line and now Hockey Recaps. He played goalie at San Diego Ice Arena. His first novel, Bobby Sterling vs Truth, is available on Amazon now.