2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 2 Preview
The 1st round of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs didn’t disappoint. We only had two Game 7’s which was low. But sixes were wild, as half of the series ended in Game 6. There weren’t any big upsets, unless you count the Wild beating the Blues but I don’t. In this round, I think all the series will go the distance, which would really be something. Generally, the further the rounds go the shorter they get but I think in this case they will go longer. All the teams are fairly evenly matched in one way or another. For those counting at home, I went 6-2 with my picks for the 1st round. The Capitals and Islanders series was really a coin toss and I underestimated the Flames, again.
Normally I do a halfway series recap for the 1st round but I didn’t have time. I will do it for the 2nd round and beyond though.
A1 Montreal Canadiens vs. A2 Tampa Lightning
Season Series: 5-0 Lightning
Playoff Series History: 1-1 tied
What We Learned: The Lightning really made everyone sweat out their Eastern Conference Finalist pick. But the wins they needed to grind/eek out will really help them moving forward. The Canadiens did it the old fashioned way, tight low scoring games.
Stars to Watch: Steven Stamkos had no goals. Yup, a big old goose egg. That won’t cut it against Carey Price so he better bring his A game. He wasn’t invisible in the Red Wings series but he wasn’t really a presence either. Tyler Johnson, in his best Martin St. Louis impression of size and skill, led the Lightning in goals and points in Round 1. He was also the single reason the Lightning won half their of games. Nobody really stood out for me in the 1st round for the Canadiens. PK Subban led them in points and everything else, as usual. Lars Eller seemed to be involved in a lot and Max Pacioretty had two goals. But Pacioretty needs to show he can elevate his game in the postseason.
X-Factor: This pits the team that gave up the fewest goals (Montreal) versus the team that scored the most goals (Tampa Bay). Can Montreal impose their defensive will on the Lighting? Detroit laid out a good defensive blueprint of how to be the Lightning. For the most part it worked but the Lightning still scored when it mattered and they even scored five goals twice. This will be good battle of wills.
Goalie Problem: Carey Price was fairly decent, stopping literally everything. He had his best work in Game 6, where he was under siege for most of the game. It won’t get an easier for him. Ben Bishop played well too, pitching a shutout and only having one bad game. The Canadiens aren’t really an explosive team but they were last year against the Lightning in the playoffs. Price will get more shots but Bishop will need to be alert and not act crazy like he did in a few instances this series.
Fun Fact: In 29 playoff games, Steven Stamkos has eight goals. The Canadiens are the second lowest scoring team in the playoffs.
Prediction: Sometimes it’s not a good thing when a team sweeps the season series in the regular season because it means the other team is due. But this isn’t football, it’s a best of seven. The Lightning showed they could beat the Canadiens in any type of game in the regular season. From a 1-0 win in overtime to a 7-1 beating. There’s also that little sweep, that happened last year in the playoffs, they’d like to atone for. The Canadiens also, year after year, never have that guy that can just win a game for them. They still don’t have that guy, as nobody scored more than two goals in the 1st round. Lightning in 7.
M1 New York Rangers vs. M2 Washington Capitals
Season Series: 3-1 Rangers
Playoff Series History: 4-4 tied
What We Learned: The Rangers like beating teams 2-1, in fact all four of their wins over the Penguins were just that. The Capitals penalty killing is good (the Islanders powerplay is also terrible) and they were lucky they got the home ice tiebreaker.
Stars to Watch: Evgeny Kuznetsov had the beautiful game winner in Game 7 and is tied for the lead in Capitals playoff goals. Joel Ward’s only goal was a big one of course, as he scored the first goal in Game 7. Alex Ovechkin had five points but he really needs to do more if he is to advance to the Conference Championship for the first time in his career. For the Rangers Rick Nash, Derick Brassard and, surprisingly, Carl Hagelin are who you want to keep an eye out for. Hagelin was seemingly everywhere against the Penguins, especially in all the key moments. Martin St. Louis only had one point. He’ll need to do more against the Capitals.
X-Factor: This might be the round that fatigue starts showing up for the Rangers. They’ve played a lot of hockey the past two seasons. I think this series will come down to coaching though. Alain Vigneault and Barry Trotz are two of the best coaches in the league. Let the chess match begin.
Goalie Problem: Although I thought Jaroslav Halak played better Braden Holtby was up to his past level of stingy playoff performances. He has the second best SV% of the playoffs, behind only Craig Anderson. He will need to continue his play to match the man in the other net. Henrik Lundqvist is right behind Holtby in playoff SV%. He goes from having to shut down Sidney Crosby to having to shut down Alex Ovechkin. All in a days work for the King. Should be a great goaltending dual.
Fun Fact: The Capitals penalty killing was perfect, killing 14 powerplays against the Islanders. Of the nine lowest scoring teams in the playoffs, only 3 remain. One is Montreal, the other two are in this series. Don’t expect a lot of goals.
Prediction: Three of the last four playoff meetings between these teams went to seven games. I see no reason for that trend to not continue. But the edge has to be to the Rangers, who have home ice and are better rested. The Capitals have the best coach they’ve ever had but there’s nothing about their team that screams, this is a team that can go deep in the playoffs. If Ovechkin, doesn’t show up, this series will end quicker. Rangers in 7.
C3 Chicago Blackhawks vs. W1 Minnesota Wild
Season Series: 3-2 Blackhawks
Playoff Series History: 2-0 Blackhawks
What We Learned: Central seeding doesn’t matter. As this is the second year the Blackhawks have been the 3rd seed and the Wild the 4th and they have met each other in the 2nd round.
Stars to Watch: Who would have thunk it but Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith paced the Blackhawks and scored key goals. Keith had two game winners. Keep an eye on him. Marian Hossa had five points but no goals so he’s due for one. Zach Parise really delivered in Game 6 and played well overall. He leads the team with seven points so far. The Wild have a really balanced attack as 11 Wild scored at least one goal. Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter will need to continue to push their games.
X-Factor: Other than Ryan Suter, the Wild are very young on defense. Against a veteran team with lots of playoff experience, that might be a problem. We know it was a little bit last year. In the first four games last playoff meeting, the home team scored at least four goals in mostly easy wins. Let’s see what home ice does this time around.
Goalie Problem: Devan Dubnyk had only one bad game against the Blues but the whole team didn’t play well in that game. His SV% took a beating because of it but he was one of only four goalies to post a shutout in the 1st round. He was stellar when he needed to be though. Corey Crawford started out playing like he did against the Phoenix Coyotes in 2012. Which got him the yank in favor of unknown Scott Darling. Darling played exceptionally well until struggling in Game 6, where Crawford came back in and played excellent. Leading the Blackhawks with two great goalies that don’t play consistently and a bit of a quandary. It’s likely that Crawford will get the nod, on a short leash. I think he will play better knowing that Darling is there to take his spot if he doesn’t.
Fun Fact: Duncan Keith has played the most playoff minutes, at just over 32 a game. He has the most shifts as well, with 40 a game.
Prediction: The Wild haven’t been able to get past the Blackhawks the past two seasons and it seems like they will suffer the same fate this time around. Their goaltending is better but it’s not like it was all that bad in the past. Chicago just has more talent and experience, which is really what it comes down to in a playoff series. They also have home ice again. Blackhawks in 7.
P1 Anaheim Ducks vs. P3 Calgary Flames
Season Series: 3-1-1 Ducks
Playoff Series History: 1-0 Ducks
What We Learned: The Flames made a fool of me again and the Ducks played exactly like they did in the regular season in the 1st round.
Stars to Watch: I told you to keep an eye on Jakob Silfverberg and Sami Vatanen and they both delivered. Both should play key parts in the 2nd round. Ryan Kesler delivered crucial goals in key moments. Keep an eye on him against the Flames. The Flames top line of Jiri Hudler, Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan paced them against the Canucks. But they only accounted for seven goals. Which is decent, but they will need to produce even more if they are to beat the Ducks. Michael Ferland likes to stir things up and will probably try his hardest against the Ducks.
X-Factor: Whatever you do, make sure you are watching in the 3rd period. Both of these teams have made late comeback wins an art form. They both score goals in droves in the 3rd and have mastered coming back from deficits in the 3rd period to win the game. Both teams did it to win a couple of games in the 1st round. It might actually be an advantage to be losing going into the 3rd. Whoever wins this battle, will win the series.
Goalie Problem: Jonas Hiller gets to play against his former team, which is always fun. Since he practiced with most of the current Ducks, they both know each others tendencies which should make for a fun chess match. Hiller played well against the Canucks but he did get the hook twice. He’ll start but he will remain on a short leash. Frederik Andersen also played decent against the Jets. He played in his first full playoff series, where he gained some much needed confidence. I expect a lot of goals in this series so both goalies will really need to bring their A games.
Fun Fact: Corey Perry led all 1st round scorers in points per game (1.75 ppg) with seven points in only four games. The Ducks and Flames are the only two teams in the playoffs averaging at least 3 goal a game.
Prediction: This will be a fun and high scoring series. The Flames and their unpredictability will make it a good series to watch. This series will probably be the most entertaining of all the 2nd round series. It will also feature the most travel distance. Having said all that, the Ducks are on a mission and just have more talent and experience. Where did I type that before… Ducks in 7, in a dandy.