Sunday, May 13, 2012

2012 NHL Playoffs - Conference Finals


#8 Los Angeles Kings over #3 Phoenix Coyotes, 7 games

This is a matchup of the two hottest playoff goalies this year, which is actually pretty common come playoff time. A hot goalie is going to win most games, and a team that wins most of their games usually progresses deeply into the playoffs.

Jonathan Quick might be the best goalie in the world right now, and he's got a team in front of him that's hitting stride at exactly the right time. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, and especially Dustin Brown are showing a lot of chemistry, and grit, and skill, and that combination is deadly. Drew Doughty had a rough regular season, but finally looks comfortable again at the point. But perhaps the most noteworthy point to make about the Kings is that they've beaten the #1 seed Canucks and #2 seed Blues, and lost a total of one game in those two series. They obviously know how to handle top-end talent.

Then again, the Coyotes don't have a ton of top end talent. Keith Yandle is an elite defenseman, and Shane Doan is skilled and tough, but outside of them, most of the Coyotes big-minute guys are guys past their prime, not yet in their prime, or quiet, shut-down players.

I've become a big fan of the way the Coyotes play, and every interview I see with Doan or their blossoming goalie Mike Smith makes me like the guys personally. I've been a Kings fan for a while, too, so I'm torn on who I'd like to see win this series. In the end, I'll have to actually watch some games to see who I find myself cheering for, but as far as predictions, I think the Kings will be too much for the 'Yotes to handle. They can counter every strength of Phoenix, and then they've got dynamic young playmakers that Phoenix just doesn't have an answer for.

Mostly I just hope whoever wins this series is able to bludgeon the Eastern Conference representative in the Stanley Cup Finals.


#6 New Jersey Devils over #1 New York Rangers, 6 games

I'll admit, I haven't seen a ton of Devils games during these playoffs. I caught a couple half-games from their first-round series against the Panthers, and I saw maybe 5 total periods between the Devils and Flyers. But from what I saw, the Devils seem like a pretty complete team. They've got the ability and the dedication to commit to shutting down an opposing team's top offensive players, particularly on the penalty kill. They've got a few high-caliber scorers in Patrick Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk, and Zach Parise. And they've got the winningest goalie in NHL history in Martin Brodeur.

The Rangers, meanwhile...well, it's tough to say exactly what they have. Brad Richards is a veteran who's playing like a kid; it seems like he's in on every scoring play, and he's both responsible and talented, a combination that made him the highest-paid free agent from hockey's last offseason. Marian Gaborik is an elite goal-scorer, but he goes through droughts as long as Alex Semin on the ice, or me at bars. The rest of their team is built to funnel easy shots to all-world goalie Henrik Lundqvist and grind the opposition on both ends of the ice.

The Rangers were able to disrupt Washington last round, but Washington was a team with a strong-minded midseason replacement coach, coming into a team that was built for a completely different style of hockey. New Jersey is all pulling in the same direction, and when that kind of talent and experience gets all their momentum together, they're tough to stop.

I won't dismiss the idea that after watching 9 hours of Rangers hockey over the past two weeks, I may have simply been exposed to a more complete picture of the team than I have of the Devils, but after watching New York, I'm just not convinced they're very good. And although I'm not at all a fan of New Jersey, between these two teams, you'd better believe I'm rooting against the Rangers.

Maybe I'll write a season debriefing for the Capitals sometime in the next couple weeks...if I can find a way to clean up all these tears.

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