2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Round 2 Preview – Western Conference
I’m not surprised the Anaheim Ducks lost another Game 7 at home. Nothing on their team changed. After they started out really badly and the coach was not fired, I knew the season would end this way. They are now 0-8 in Game 6 and 7 the last four series they were eliminated in after being up 3-2. Their coach is 1-7 in Game 7’s now. Of course I wrote about all of this last year. I could literally just write the same article again now because it all still applies. Even Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf not doing anything was the same. I had predicted them to beat the Predators but not if it went long because I didn’t think they would win a Game 7. I just didn’t think it would get there, because the Predators aren’t that good. But on to teams that don’t choke.
C1 Dallas Stars vs. C2 St. Louis Blues
Season Series: 4-1 Blues, but three of those wins were in overtime or the shootout
Playoff Series History: 6-6
What We Learned: The Blues showed they weren’t the same pushovers that exited early, previously. Beating the defending champs in a 7th game is a big deal. The Stars mostly dominated the Wild but had a few spirts were they looked bad. Basically a microcosm of their whole season.
Stars to Watch: It was the Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza show for the Stars. They are 1st and 2nd in playoff scoring so far. Patrick Eaves and Patrick Sharp provided additional scoring balance. For the Blues it was Vladimir Tarasenko and Jason Schwartz, coming out of nowhere, to pace the Blues. Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk delivered from the blueline. And of course who could forget Troy Brouwer’s third times a charm game winning goal. He might have another one of those in him.
X-Factor: Tyler Seguin looks unable to go to start this series. If he can play at all, and be effective, it will be a huge boost to the Stars. For the Blues, it’s how much did going to a Game 7 to get their first playoff series win in forever against the defending Stanley Cup champs take out of them? That wasn’t an easy series and it was quite emotional. This could be a letdown series and against the team with the best record in the conference, which wouldn’t be good.
Goalie Problem: After giving Ryan Miller, Jaroslav Halak and Jake Allen all chances, Ken Hitchcock finally went with his most consistent and best goalie in Brian Elliott. And wouldn’t you know it, that finally enabled them to win a series. What took him so long, I’ll never know. But starting Jake Allen last year was just the definition of the wrong thing to do. Elliott was decent when he needed to be. Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen both played but Lehtonen was better so he will get the nod moving forward. But don’t be surprised if he’s pulled. Just like in the regular season, this was their weakest link against the Wild. If the Stars hope to beat the Blues the goalies for the Stars will need to step it up.
Fun Fact: The Blues actually scored one less goal, overall, than the Blackhawks did in the 1st round. The Stars scored four more goals, overall, than the Wild.
Prediction: I’m still baffled as to how the Blues beat the Blackhawks but things happen. It would be quite an impressive feet for them to beat the Stars as well. But the Stars have home ice and a better cast of skilled players. I think the Blues will have a letdown and Seguin will come back and be effective. Plus the Blues lost three times in a row in the first round, many times with series leads, for a reason. They aren’t very good. Not to mention they almost lost to the Blackhawks after having a 3-1 lead. Plus I think the Blackhawks doomed themselves with some really bad plays more than the Blues beat them. The Stars are on the rise. Stars in six or seven.
P3 San Jose Sharks vs. W1 Nashville Predators
Season Series: 2-1 Predators
Playoff Series History: 2-0 Sharks
What We Learned: The Sharks learned a thing or two from their past playoff disappointments and they don’t forget. The Predators lost the middle three games but won the first two and the last two games, despite not looking all that great in some of them.
Stars to Watch: The combination of Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski were all you really needed from the Sharks in the 1st round. Expect big things from both in this series. I expect more from Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. Joel Ward also hasn’t scored a goal yet. Shea Weber leads the team in points, which isn’t surprising, but more people need to step up. It’s true that a defenseman also leads the Sharks in points (Burns), currently, but someone else will probably overtake him. For the Predators, that’s probably not the case. Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen were okay for the Predators but they need to be more than okay. James Neal also had a few key goals but he needs to score more.
X-Factor: Can the Sharks win more than a game at home? Probably not but they might not need to. More importantly, how can a normally strong home team be so bad there this season? For the Predators, can they score more goals? They are only scoring 2 goals a game so far in the playoffs. All the teams below them are eliminated. They need someone else to step up, since I think their “Stars” are doing as well as they can.
Goalie Problem: Pekka Rinne didn’t have that great of a series until Game 7, when he couldn’t have played any better. That worked for the 1st round but it’s not the best long term strategy. But if he can play like he did in Game 7 the rest of the way, this team will be really hard to beat. Martin Jones did well in his first playoff series. He out-shined his former teammate Jonathan Quick, although not by much. I still think he has some work to do to bring his game up to the next level but he seems like he has the skills to do so. This will be an interesting goaltending dual because you aren’t 100% sure what these guys will give you.
Fun Fact: In the Sharks previous 17 times in the playoffs they have gone out in the 2nd round eight times, five in the 1st round and three times in the 3rd round. The Predators have gone out in the 1st round six times and the 2nd round twice.
Prediction: The Predators are by far the weakest team in the 2nd round. But don’t get me wrong, they do have some good players. But I don’t think Rinne will play like he did in Game 7 all series long. The Sharks just have more experience, more skill, more firepower and, more importantly, something to prove. I feel the Sharks will win just one home game but win all the road games, again. Sharks in six.