Thursday, April 28, 2011

NHL Second Round Predictions

As a review, here are my predictions from the first round. The results are in parentheses, bolded if I got the winner correct.

Western Conference
Vancouver over Chicago in 6 games (Vancouver in 7 games)
San Jose over Los Angeles in 7 games (San Jose in 6 games)
Phoenix over Detroit in 7 games (Detroit in 4 games)
Nashville over Anaheim in 6 games (Nashville in 6 games)

Eastern Conference
Washington over New York Rangers in 5 games (Washington in 5 games)
Philadelphia over Buffalo in 5 games (Philadelphia in 7 games)
Boston over Montreal in 5 games (Boston in 7 games)
Pittsburgh over Tampa Bay in 7 games (Tampa Bay in 7 games)

So I got three out of four right on each side. Not bad, though that Detroit/Phoenix series was a slap in the balls.

Both conferences in one post from here on out.

Western Conference Semifinals

#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #5 Nashville Predators

Vancouver had a rough time closing out the Blackhawks in the first round. Chicago has been a thorn in the Canucks' side for years, and you knew they weren't going to go away easily, but they were a lucky bounce away from ousting the President's Trophy winners and making everyone forget about the Caps' collapse last season.

But Vancouver did pull out the victory, and they're still the most skilled offensive team in the country. The thing that concerns me about this series for Vancouver is the state of Roberto Luongo, both physically and mentally. He got benched for game 6 (then came in as an injury replacement), and barely won in game 7. He wasn't on top of his game at the end of the series, and he knew it. Does that carry over?

I think it does. My "gutsy" pick last round didn't pan out at all, with my underdog Coyotes not winning a single game, but I'm going back to the well again. I'm taking the brutal Predators, led by their outstanding goalie Pekka Rinne, to grind the Canucks to a halt and move on to the conference finals.

Prediction: Predators in 7

#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #3 Detroit Red Wings

Every time I start to write something on this matchup, I delete it. These two teams are just so dynamic that it's impossible to pick against either of them. The Sharks are peaking at the right time, and with Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau, Ryan Clowe, and phenom Logan Couture, their offense is as talented as anybody's. But Detroit's got a couple of legitimate megastars in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, and a lineup riddled with winners like Niklas Lidstrom, Kris Draper, and Mike Modano. So how do you pick between them?

Goalies. The Sharks have got a goalie who showed last year that he's got the skills and the head to win a Cup. The Red Wings have a young goalie who keeps pushing the envelope to show how amazingly inconsistent a goalie can be. In a matchup between two juggernauts, you take the one that has the goalie who can turn in consistent, effective performances.

Prediction: Sharks in 6

Eastern Conference Semifinals

#1 Washington Capitals vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning

If the Capitals go deep into this postseason, I have to think we'll look back at game four against the Rangers as a turning point. Down three goals coming into the third period and hearing it from the rowdy Madison Square Garden crowd, the Capitals hunkered down, played aggressive and responsible hockey, equalized the game in regulation, then won on a decidedly non-Capitals-style goal by Jason Chimera in double-overtime.

That goal, and in fact that whole game, is a sign that this isn't last year's Capitals team. The mid-season course correction that Bruce Boudreau undertook to rededicate the team to defense and puck control has been completely embraced, and you can't understate the importance of Jason Arnott's addition to this team. While I was sad to see David Steckel go in the trade, the Caps needed a playmaking second-line center, and Arnott has been all that and more. His presence has been tremendous in helping the Capitals find goals that they couldn't before.

Tampa Bay had to come back from three games to one to beat Pittsburgh in the first round, and it was impressive that they were able to turn things around. They also flashed some of their vaunted offense, outscoring the Penguins 13-4 in those last three games. But you can't forget that they got down 3-1 in the first place. Against this Capitals team, the Lightning don't overcome that deficit. Let's hope the Verizon Center remains friendly for Washington this weekend.

Prediction: Washington in 5

#2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #3 Boston Bruins

We were a game away from booting both of these teams in the first round, but the Sabres and Canadiens (respectively) couldn't close the deal. Now we've got a matchup between two very talented and downright ornery teams that should end up being very entertaining.

Boston holds the advantage at goalie, as Tim Thomas actually deserves a little bit of consideration for the MVP. While he didn't play every game (and in fact came into the season as the #2 goalie behind Tuukka Rask), he turned in one of the best statistical seasons a goalie has ever had. Ever. A 2.00 goals-against-average is simply unheard of. The Flyers, meanwhile, started three different goalies during their series against Buffalo, and while it seems clear that Brian Boucher should start, none of them is a game-changer.

But that's okay, they don't need to be. Philadelphia's strength is the depth of their skaters, both at forward and defense, and their rough and tumble attitude. They had ten different guys register at least 9 hits during the series, and their top two scorers (Claude Giroux and Danny Briere) were both also in the top three of hits on the team. That tells me that the whole team has a commitment to being physical, not just the fourth-liners. In the end, I think that physical nature and the offensive skill players for the Flyers will help them outlast the Bruins in what figures to be a nasty affair.

Prediction: Flyers in 7


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