NHL Playoffs Second Round Preview
by Matt Ederer(NHL)
Posted on April 30, 2009, 10:22 AM
Though there is no physical documentation of it (aside from the whiteboard on my refrigerator) I had a fairly successful first round, going 6-2. My mistake was that, for my big Western upset, I went with the Blue Jackets instead of the Ducks. I can only assume that the San Jose Sharks are still waiting for the limo to take them from the hotel to game one, because at no time in the series vs the Ducks did any of them show up to play.
Meanwhile, the Jackets were happy just to be in the dance until their fourth game, when they put forth maybe their hardest working and most courageous effort of the season, in a losing effort to the defending champions of the world.
But I digress.
We have hit the elite eight in the NHL's playoff, and all four of the matchups we have been afforded have the potential to become classics. Let get a prognosticating, shall we?
#1. BOSTON BRUINS vs #6. CAROLINA HURRICANES
The Carolina Hurricanes are coming off of the heels of one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the sport, scoring two goals in the final 80 seconds of game seven against one of the top two goaltenders of all time. They have, out of the four eastern teams left, the most Stanley Cup experience. They've got a former Conn Smythe winning goaltender who has looked absolutely dynamic in his first trip to the post season since he won the trophy. Since Paul Maurice took over, they are 34-19-6. They are capable of scoring with punches in bunches (see: end of game seven), and they have more than a few guys who can bump, bruise, and batter you.
The Boston Bruins are a young team. Worse, they are an untested young team. Between locking up the east early, and playing a Montreal team that was far and away the weakest out of the 16 that qualified for the playoffs, I would guess that the Bruins have not been tested like they will be by the Hurricanes since about February. They are absolutely not used to playing a team with this kind of fire.
Since the lockout, history has shown us that young teams have to lose before they can win. It is my belief that young teams need three years of seasoning before they can truly contend for a championship. I use the Pittsburgh Penguins as the model for this theory. Two years ago, in Sidney Crosby's first trip to the post season, the Penguins bowed out in the first round. Last year, after steamrolling through a weak eastern conference, they lost in the finals to the first team that truly tested them, the Red Wings.
I see a lot of last year's Penguins in this Bruins team. They've played weak opposition. They're spoiled with talent 25 years of age and under. Of course, I'll grant you that the Bruins are more physical and have better goaltending, but the flip-side of that is that the Penguins offensive juggernauts were far more dangerous.
This comes down to whether or not you think Boston is for real. I think they're still a year away. Carolina will ride the wave of their game 7 heroics, and stun the top seeded Bruins, who will not be ready for Cam Ward, Eric Staal, and the boys.
PICK: CAROLINA HURRICANES, 6 games
#2. WASHINGTON CAPITALS vs #4. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
Somewhere, Gary Bettman has an erection.
Forget about all of the Ovechkin vs Crosby, Ovechkin vs Malkin, Crosby vs Semin talk. The Capitals will go as far as Simeon Varlamov takes them. Yes, Varlamov made the New York Rangers look like chumps. Let's get one thing clear. The New York Rangers are not the Pittsburgh Penguins. There are no less than five Pittsburgh Penguins who are more dangerous offensively than any single skater the Rangers have.
So how real is this kid? Is he Cam Ward? Is he Steve Penny? Is he somewhere in between? He's gonna have to be great just to keep from letting four goals in a game. Of course, you could say the same for Marc-Andre Fleury, but he's got a Prince of Wales trophy under his belt. Simeon Varlamov has played 12 NHL games in his career.
This is going to be nasty, it will be hard-fought, and it will be entertaining. This is going to sell tickets, push merchandise, and get the NHL back on ESPN, maybe as soon as next year. This will get people talking, and I can't wait.
I'm going to throw out a few quick predictions here:
- Pittsburgh wins a long series
- We'll see at least one hat trick from Ovechkin, one four-point game from Malkin, and no less than 10 total points from Sidney Crosby.
- There will be more than just a few fights. Alex Semin may even channel his pugilistic past and try to nibble on Hal Gill's ankles.
- Donald Brashear will come back from suspension and promptly earn a lifetime ban for taking it to the streets and shanking Chris Kunitz in game seven.
Ok, maybe not that last one. Expect a dynamite bit of hockey. Pens in 7.
PICK: PITTSBURGH PENGUINS, 7 games
#2. DETROIT RED WINGS vs #8. ANAHEIM DUCKS
The San Jose Sharks are a team with weaknesses. They're soft, they don't battle, and they are not built for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Ducks feasted on their weaknesses and ousted them early.
The Red Wings are an entirely different beast. Aside from a few hiccups in the middle part of this decade, Detroit has been the NHL's most intimidating franchise for about 15 years. They will not be bullied. I would say that the only place on the ice where Anaheim is better than Detroit is the blue line. On pure name value alone, Anaheim's top 6 defencemen (Pronger, Niedermayer, Whitney, Beauchemin, Wisniewski, Brookbank) are superior to those of the Winged Wheel (Lidstrom, Rafalski, Ericsson, Lebda, Stuart, Kronwall).
Of course, that point seems to matter less when you factor in that Detroit has the best defensive forward corps in the league. Three years ago, Marian Hossa scored 100 points and was anointed the best two way player in the game, after discovering the defensive part of his game. Last season, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk were both nominated for the Frank J. Selke award as best defensive forward, and this season, Datsyuk has been nominated again. And that's just their superstars. Don't forget that Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby have won eight Stanley Cups (and a pair of Gold Medals in 2002 for Canada) cementing their reputation as two of the best shut-down-line guys of all time.
The Red Wings are just too good. Too deep. Too much. It will go longer than some people in Hockeytown are comfortable with, but at the end of the day, the Wings will be back in the final four, where they belong.
PICK: DETROIT RED WINGS, 6 games
#3. VANCOUVER CANUCKS vs #4. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
Remember my Young Team Theory from about 10 minutes ago? That applies here. The Blackhawks are in their first season of cup contention. They've already won a playoff round. That's plenty to build off of going forward.
The Canucks are rolling. They played one young upstart already, in the St. Louis Blues, and wasted no time in sending to the golf course. They seem to have the perfect mix of wily veterans (Mats Sundin), studs entering their prime (Henny and Danny), and young kids relishing in the spotlight (Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows).
Of course, some people think that the argument begins and ends with Roberto Luongo. Those people are known as hockey fans.
I think Vancouver will make quick work of the Blackhawks. Don't forget that two of Chicago's four playoff wins came after Calgary blew 2-goal leads. Vancouver won't be doing any of that in this series.
Be sure to read Colin Van Osch's running coverage of this series, on the www.sportsoratory.com website. It should be a barnburner, while it lasts.
PICK: VANCOUVER CANUCKS, 5 games
This could very realistically be the most entertaining second round in the recent history of the NHL. Every single matchup should provide incredible excitement. I, for one, can't wait.
For the record, I'm forecasting a Canucks/Penguins final, with the Penguins taking it in 7 games. We'll see how that pick looks after this round.
Thanks for reading, and tell your friends to do the same.