2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 2 Preview
What a first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Surprisingly there were only three game sevens. It was surprising given the parity of the league and the fact that we had three series with teams both over 100 points facing each other. However, every series went six or seven games except for in the Northeast division where those teams moved on quickly. We had 14 overtimes which is a lot but not quite as many as the 17 we had in 2013. I got six of eight series correct and I never would have guessed the two I got wrong would turn out that way. But on to the second round which started with a double overtime classic in Boston. This is the firs time I have ever done a preview after a series has started. O well.
A1 Boston Bruins vs. A3 Montreal Canadiens
Season Series: 3-1 Canadiens
Playoff Series History: 24-9 Canadiens, the last time was in 2011
What We Learned: The Bruins can wake up in a hurry. The Canadiens can also wake up in a hurry. After close Game 1’s for both, they just outplayed their opponents.
Stars to Watch: Max Pacioretty had only one goal all series against the Lightning and it wasn’t until the final minutes of the last game. It will be interesting to see if that will springboard him or not. Thomas Vanek was brought on board to help in the playoffs but he keeps getting pushed further down the lines. It’ll be interesting to see how he reacts to it. David Krejci is usually one of Boston’s top performers in the postseason but so far he hasn’t done much. He’ll need to get it going to give the Bruins more depth.
X-Factor: By the time Game one starts it will have been nine days since the Canadiens last played hockey. That’s a long time. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the longest playoff layoff. Will the Canadiens have any rust? This was answered in Game 1 and the answer was no. So we look to the special teams. Will the Bruins be able to keep up their, surprisingly, top ranked postseason powerplay and 2nd ranked penalty killing?
Goalie Problem: Tuukka Rask was sensational against the Red Wings only allowing six goals in five games with a blistering SV% of .961. Carey Price was just as impressive, only his numbers don’t look as good so I won’t write them. Price has finally shown he can make the key saves when he has to and win a series on his own, if needed. Both of these goalies should continue their stellar play so don’t expect many goals scored. Any goal scored will be earned.
Fun Fact: The Bruins and Canadiens have gone to seven games in eight of their 33 playoff series.
Prediction: This has the opportunity to be the best series of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. These teams know each other well and they don’t like each other. The Canadiens have improved but they still don’t have the depth or offensive skill the Bruins have. Goaltending and defense are even though. The Bruins have four lines that can score, the Canadiens don’t have that. Bruins in 7 in a tight series.
M1 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. M2 New York Rangers
Season Series: 2-2
Playoff Series History: 4-0
What We Learned: The Penguins sure like to make it interesting against teams with a lot less talent. The Rangers survived a scare against the Flyers but, for the most part, played better than the Flyers in those losses.
Stars to Watch: Sidney Crosby hasn’t scored a goal so far in the playoffs. It’s not like he hasn’t been doing much but in a series against a top goalie, he will need to play better and do more. Not taking anything away from Sergei Bobrovsky but Henrik Lundqvist is better. The ex-Lightning duo of Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards are leading the Lightning in postseason scoring. They’ll need to continue to use their playoff experience to lead the Rangers. I still think St. Louis has a lot more he is capable of.
X-Factor: The Rangers had eight players score at least two goals in the first series which is extremely good balance. If they can keep it up, that will cause lots of problems for a Penguins team that isn’t know for their defensive abilities and force them to spend less time in the Rangers end of the ice.
Goalie Problem: Except for his Game 4 debacle Marc-Andre Fleury played well. I’m more impressed with the fact that he had that poor ending but then bounced back in the next two games. That’s something he couldn’t do in any of the previous postseasons. Which tells me he may have finally recovered and could actually help lead the Penguins to a Stanley Cup. But don’t hold your breath. Henrik Lundqvist is King Henrik. He’s generally gets tougher to score against in the playoffs and that still holds true this postseason.
Fun Fact: The series win against the Blue Jackets was the first playoff series win for Fleury since 2010.
Prediction: As much as I sometimes just wonder about the Penguins, it’s hard to argue that they aren’t a more talented team than the Rangers. However, if the Rangers continue scoring from all lines and Lundqvist shuts the door, I can see the Rangers winning. But something tells me we are due for a Penguins vs Bruins conference finals rematch. Plus Fleury showed me he is capable of playing better. Penguins in 6.
C3 Chicago Blackhawks vs.WC2 Minnesota Wild
Season Series: Minnesota 3-1-1
Playoff Series History: 1-0 Blackhawks, just last year in fact
What We Learned: The Blackhawks showed that they can get it done when it matters. The Wild have vastly improved from last season and can apparently win with any goalie.
Stars to Watch: Zach Parise is finally earning the big bucks the Wild spent on him. But I’m more interested in Dany Heatley. His scoring has gone down every season since coming to Minnesota, on the tail end of his career, but he has risen his game this postseason. If he can continue his play, that will give a huge boost to the Wild. Patrick Sharp has only one point this postseason, which is obviously low. Marian Hossa isn’t that much better with only two. As they go deeper into the playoffs these two will need to produce. Part of the problem is the Blackhawks keep jumbling the lines. They should just pick some line combinations and stick with it.
X-Factor: As some point the goaltending carousel has to catch up to the Wild. If it does the Wild won’t be around for long. The Wild also have revenge on their mind from last year’s playoffs. They can’t get caught up in that too much or they’ll lose sight of the bigger picture.
Goalie Problem: It’s unlikely Darcy Kuemper will be able to start the series against the Blackhawks so Ilya Bryzgalov and his lovely numbers will get the starting nod. He really just needs to hold down the fort against the Blackhawks until Kuemper gets back. I think he can do it. Corey Crawford played really well against the Blues and he seems comfortable in net. Expect more from him this series.
Fun Fact: Both of these teams had four games in each of their respective series go to overtime. They were both 2-2 in the overtime games.
Prediction: It’s amusing to me that we are left with the 3rd and 4th place teams in the Midwest division. While the Avalanche and Blues were very good teams they weren’t very consistent and lacked the playoff experience. That’s something the Blackhawks excel at and will give them the edge over the Wild. I’d be shocked if we didn’t have at least two overtime games. Blackhawks in 6.
P1 Anaheim Ducks vs. P3 Los Angeles Kings
Season Series: 4-0-1 Ducks
Playoff Series History: Never
What We Learned: The Ducks regular season comeback magic transferred to the playoffs. The Kings, well, they are just magical becoming only the 4th team to comeback from an 0-3 series deficit.
Stars to Watch: Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty raised their game against the Sharks and will need to continue to play at the level. Dustin Brown just needs to do the same and the Kings are back in business. Brown is at least hitting people like he used to. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are clicking and the Ducks have their usually scoring depth. The good thing for Ducks fan is that Perry wasn’t frustrated against the Stars like he was against the Red Wings last playoffs. It’s possible he could be against Quick though. Although they are getting old, Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu have a lot of experience and can do more and will need to do so.
X-Factor: Will the players get caught up in all the hoopla surrounding the series? Do the Kings have anything left in the tank after using everything they had to comeback against the Sharks? Will Bruce Boudreau keep making ill advised line changes? Why does Justin Williams only play like a superstar in the playoffs and can he continue?
Goalie Problem: It’s hard to say who will start for the Ducks. But I’m going to go with Jonas Hiller but don’t be surprised if Frederik Andersen plays a little bit. Hiller seems like the logical start because has more playoff experience and help key the Game 6 comeback. Jonathan Quick played really bad in the beginning of the series and he knew it. He bounced back really well though and was phenomenal in Game 7. He should be able to outplay Hiller in the series and he will need to.
Fun Fact: Justin Williams is now 5-0 in Game 7’s and has scored at least one goal in each.
Prediction: A lot of people, mostly in Southern California, have been wanting a Ducks vs Kings playoff series. Well they finally got their wish. This should be a great series between two teams that know each other well. I still feel the Ducks are the more complete team and are on a season of destiny with Teemu Selanne’s last season. Although regular seasons records don’t mean much in the playoffs, the Ducks did get the better of the Kings this season and, more importantly, really dominated the big outdoor game in Dodger Stadium. That game will come closest to the level of this series and proves that the Ducks have the edge. Expect a few overtime games. Ducks in 7.