Friday, April 27, 2012

2012 NHL Second Round Playoff Preview

Since I'm a fan of accountability, let's look back at how I did with my first round predictions. My "off by _ games" math accounts for both missed wins and missed losses. For example, I predicted the Penguins to win 4-3, but they lost 4-2. So I got one Penguins win wrong (3 vs 4) and two Flyers wins wrong (4 vs 2), making me off by 3 games total.

My predictions
Rangers over Senators (correct, off by 2 games)
Capitals over Bruins (correct)
Devils over Panthers (correct, off by 1 game)
Penguins over Flyers (incorrect, off by 3 games)

Canucks over Kings (incorrect, off by 3 games)
Blues over Sharks (correct, off by 2 games)
Blackhawks over Coyotes (incorrect, off by 4 games)
Predators over Red Wings (correct, off by 1 game)

Generally not too bad, I vastly under-estimated the Coyotes, and the Flyers/Penguins series was a bloodbath on all counts.  The nice thing is, I really don't like the Canucks or Blackhawks, so even where I was wrong, I was able to take some pleasure out of the result.

Now, on to round two.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

#7 Washington Capitals over #1 New York Rangers, 6 games

(separate preview forthcoming)

#5 Philadelphia Flyers over #6 New Jersey Devils, 6 games

Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise are two of the more underrated scorers in hockey, and certainly Martin Brodeur has the potential to shut down anybody on any given night. But the Flyers have better scoring depth than the Devils, and while the Devils seemed to act like a physical team against Florida, they're going to run into a real deal physical squad in Philadelphia.

If this series were starting immediately after the Pens/Flyers series concluded, I'd have it as a toss-up.  But I think the time off has given Philadelphia a chance to gather themselves, both physically and mentally, and I have a hard time not seeing them overwhelm New Jersey with three strong scoring lines.  We'll be seeing Scott Hartnell's golden locks in the conference finals.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

#8 Los Angeles Kings over #2 St. Louis Blues, 7 games

This is a matchup between two of my favorite Western Conference teams, and yet two very different teams.  The Blues are a gritty, defense-first team that had low expectations coming into this year and could, in fact, already view the season as a success.  The Kings, meanwhile, made a huge splash in the offseason by trading for Mike Richards, then followed that with a similarly impressive splash mid-season, trading for Richards' former Flyer teammate Jeff Carter.  They've got a dynamic set of scorers who'll give St. Louis' stout defense all it can handle.

It's going to be an epic struggle of offense versus defense, but I think the X-factor is Vezina finalist Jonathan Quick.  The Blues have a nice tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, but neither of them is on the same level as Quick.  He'll end up stealing a game that the Blues should win, and that'll be the difference in the series.

And I have no idea who I'm rooting for.

#4 Nashville Predators over #3 Phoenix Coyotes, 6 games

What kind of sucks is that I decided sometime last week that I like the Coyotes enough to root for them against most teams.  I've been a big Shane Doan fan ever since my Xbox 360 NHL '09 Dallas Stars team traded for him in our playoff surge.  And the fact that the Lightning cast aside Mike Smith only to see him flourish elsewhere makes me smile (after last year's sweep at the hands of Tampa Bay, I severely dislike the Lightning).

But the reality is that Nashville is an extremely strong team.  They had the fifth-most points in all of hockey in 2011-2012, and they boast absolutely, unequivocally the best defensive pairing in the sport with Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.  Both teams are responsible defensively, and have strong goaltenders.  This is going to be an Big Ten kind of matchup, with plenty of low-scoring, tight games, and multiple overtime games.  It's really either team's series to lose, and it's going to come down to a couple of small mistakes deciding this series.  Which is what playoff hockey should be all about, right?  There's nothing like the utter disappointment of losing to a team you know you're just as good as, simply because of a bad bounce or some chipped ice or a flash bulb.

God, the playoffs are nerve-wracking.

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