Thursday, April 29, 2010

NHL Playoffs: Round 2 Predictions

So in the first round I went4 for 8 in my predictions, not very good Rhe Vancouver LA series based partly on wishful thinking, and the rest because of a combination of one team either playing far better than I suspected (Philadelphia, Boston) or the other team playing far worse (New Jersey, Buffalo – why the hell couldn’t they score?). As for Montreal vs. Washington, I did say that Halak had to play with superhuman ability for Montreal to win – I just didn’t think he would. Just a weird note – did anyone else notice that all three Vezina trophy candidates – Miller, Brodeur and Bryzgalov – got eliminated in round 1? Not to say they were bad, but you expect the teams with the best goalies to win in the playoffs.

Western Conference
I honestly thought we would see at least one upset here in the Western conference in Round 1, but we didn’t really. I did pick LA to beat Vancouver, but I was predicting the upset there, so the result was probably to be expected. But just like last round – where all four series were wonderful – I think the two series this round will also be great

(1) San Jose vs. (5) Detroit
San Jose has got to be happy with the way their series against Colorado ended. After getting off to a rocky start, where they seemed unable to beat Craig Anderson, and then going down 2-1 after that horribly unlucky overtime goal that Dan Boyle scored on his own net, the Sharks buckled down and got the job done in three straight games. Boyle rebounded and became their best defensemen again, and although he struggled early in the series, Evengi Nabokov tightened up as the series went along. The line of Pavelski, Clowe and Setoguchi had a great Round 1 as well. What has to worry the Sharks a little is that their top line of Thornton, Marleau and Heatley never really got things going in Round 1. The Sharks are a deep enough offenseive team that against a weak opponent like Colorado, it didn’t matter. It will against Detroit. For their part, the Red Wings had a hard fought battle against the Coyotes, being the only series to go to seven games in the West. Their experience ended up being too much for the upstart Coyotes in Game 7 though where they turned up the heat, and even Bryzgalov couldn’t help them too much. Rookie Jimmy Howard did a good job in net, despite a few understandable shaky moments – but he will need to be better against the superior offense of San Jose. Detroit’s best players were their best when it mattered most, but I did notice that at times during the series, they started to show their age as they were slowing down a bit. The key for Detroit in winning this series against San Jose will be to do it quickly – another long series, and I think their veterans won’t be able to keep up. Because I do think that San Jose will make this a battle, I have to give the advantage to them. Prediction: San Jose in 7.

(2) Chicago vs. (3) Vancouver
Strangely, both of these teams had a very similar round 1, falling behind two games to one to teams everyone thought they would beat, and then having to fight back and win the series in six. For Chicago, they were ground down by the defense and goaltending of Nashville, but once they broke through – and their scorers Toews, Sharp, Kane and Hossa broke through, Nashville just didn’t have an answer for them. Their quick, puck moving defensemen – Keith, Seabrook, Sopel and Campbell – look to make things miserable on Vancouver this series, just like Doughty, Scuderi and Johnson did at times in the LA series. As well, I think Chicago has a slight advantage in their checking line being a little younger and faster than LA’s was. The big question for Chicago will be in net. Annti Niemi was fine against Nashville, but nothing more. His team outshot the Predators in every game, but the scores were tight – I don’t think the more offensively minded Canucks will allow that to happen this series, so he needs to step up his game. For Vancouver, they have to be happy with the ways things went in the final three games against LA. The Sedins, along with Samuelson, stepped up big offensively (although they have to work on playing an entire 60 minute game, and not continually hope they can come up big in the third period), and they got support from the likes of previous underachievers Demitra and Bernier. Their defense and penalty, which looked weak early on, got much better as they went along, as did their power play. The biggest factor though is Luongo, who in those first three games was outmatched by Quick, before he buckled down and came up HUGE in the last three games. Against the more offensive Blackhawks, he will have to step up even more in Round 2. This is going to be a great series – a rivalry has formed since the Blackhawks ousted the Canucks in Round 2 last year, and they look to repeat. I think though that Lunogo has found his comfort zone, and is determined. Prediction: Vancouver in 7.

Eastern Conference
The East had tons of upsets in round 1, so I'm interested to see what happens in round 2. Perhaps Montreal has another shocker in store for us.

(4) Pittsburgh vs. (8) Montreal
Pittsburgh has got to feel pretty good coming into this series. Sidney Crosby seems more determined even than last year for the Pens to win the cup – he was easily the best non-goaltender in any first round series. Malkin has come along nicely as well after a disappointing season. Their defense is doing good, and Fleury looks confident in net. They are now the top ranked team left in the East, and also the most complete package. Montreal on the other hand is feeling fantastic after their historic first round win against Washington – especially since they went down 3-1, and then came back with three great games in a row, backstopped by Halak who was easily the best goaltender in Round 1. They got scoring at key times from key players and their defense looks strong – blocking all kinds of shots. However, I don’t think Montreal is going to be able to sustain their momentum against the Pens. The Pens are a much more complete team, with better goaltending and defense than the Caps had – so I doubt that Montreal will be able to continue to win if they get outshot 50-20 as they did even in their wins against Washington. As well, the Pens have a more varied offense – Washington never changed their game plan, they just kept rifling the puck at the net and hoped they’d score. Plus, the Pens know how to close out a series. The Pens won’t do that. Montreal is determined, but they are up against too formible of an opponent this time. Prediction: Pittsburgh in Six.

(6)Boston vs. (7) Philadelphia
Both of these teams have got to feel like they hit the jackpot with their round 2 matchup. Boston beat the third ranked Buffalo, and Philly beat the second ranked Devils, and normally when you pull off an upset like that in round 1, you have to face another high ranked team. But because of all the upsets in Round 1, that didn’t happen. Boston played well in the first round – getting their key players to score big goals, their defense to shut down Buffalo’s offense, and when all else failed, Tukka Rask backstopped them with a great performance in net. Getting Marc Savard back will help – not just because of his ability, but also as a morale booster. As for Philly, they were impressive in knocking off the Devils – the only series that went only 5 games. Their big forwards made it hard on the Devils defense, their defensemen moved the puck well, and Boucher came up big when he needed to. As for a head to head matchup, I’m giving the edge to Boston. With Carter and Gagne out for a least a few games for Philly, it gives Boston a little bit of an advatntage, and I still remain unconvinced that Boucher will be able to sustain his play. After all, if he was that great, Philly would not have spent the last decade looking for another goalie. Prediction: Boston in 7.

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