NHL Round Two Review, Round Three Preview

Posted: 05/17/2014 by levcohen in Hockey

What a refreshing round that was. At least in the Eastern Conference. The only thing I didn’t want to see in the Conference finals were the four teams we have seen again and again and again: Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Boston. And in the East, we got two upsets. The Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers, both in game seven on the road, defeated the Bruins and Penguins, respectively. It’s really interesting that while it would make sense that home teams would have the edge in game seven, and that’s what has happened in basketball, the opposite has been true in these NHL playoffs. Five of 12 series over the first and second round have now gone seven games, and the road team has won four of those five, including all three in round two. That’s something to look out for as we get closer to crowning the next champion. In the end, goalkeeping is usually the difference. It definitely was in the New York-Pittsburgh series. After the Penguins took a three games to one lead, Henrik Lundqvist shut the door over the last three games, allowing just three goals on 105 total shots. Meanwhile, while Marc Andre-Fleury played well in goal, the Pittsburgh defense did not, and neither did their third and fourth lines. In the end, the lack of depth and defense has been caused by some questionable decisions in free agency and the draft, which has eventually led to the demise of general manager Ray Shero, who has generally been considered one of the best GMs in the NHL. He should get another job soon, but he wasn’t doing a good job surrounding Sidney Crosby, who scored just one goal in the playoffs and generally struggled, with quality players. That’s why the Rangers won. In Boston, just too many of the star players that made this team the best bet to win the Stanley Cup disappeared. Carl Soderberg, a 16 goal scorer in the regular season, scored one goal in 12 playoff games. Brad Marchand, a 25 goal scorer, didn’t even score a goal. Neither did former playoff hero David Krejci. And Carey Price, Montreal’s goalie, just flat-out outplayed Tuukka Rask, especially from when the Canadiens went down 3-2 and seemed on the way out. He allowed just one goal on 56 shots in the last two games, while Rask allowed seven on 46 shots. Refreshingly, the final two teams in the East aren’t Boston and Pittsburgh but Montreal and New York.
Over in the West, though, the favorites did end up making it through. Chicago’s series against the Minnesota Wild was never in doubt, although Ilya Bryzgalov played surprisingly well and the Wild won two games at home. Chicago was always going to win that series, though (cough cough Jonathan Toews Patrick Kane cough cough). Meanwhile, Los Angeles did LA Kings things again, especially in game seven. After going down 3-2, they won back to back games, and in doing so improved to 6-0 this postseason in elimination games. That’s incredible. And Jonathan Quick has saved nearly 97% of the shots that have come his way in those six games. Wow. The Kings are simply a big game team, and have scored 11 goals in their two game sevens. Players like Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Justin Williams are simply big game players. Williams now has six goals and six assists in six career game sevens. On the other side, the Anaheim Ducks tried to surprise everyone, and nearly did. It was a spirited effort, but in the end it wasn’t enough against the Kings. On to the Conference finals.

Montreal Canadiens vs New York Rangers: In a match between two evenly matched teams, it’s going to be the goalies who decide it. Who’s going to play better: Carey Price or Henrik Lundqvist? It’s tough, because they are probably the two best goalies in hockey. In terms of non-goalie play, Montreal has been very good on the power play, with a 26% success rate. Meanwhile, New York has not. They’ve converted just six of a playoff-high 55 power play opportunities, which falls a little under 11%. Usually, a good power play goes a long way toward determining the winner of a playoff series, but the Rangers have proven that it’s not always the case. Mainly because of Henrik Lundqvist. I could go on and talk about P.K. Subban (a great player) or others, but there’s no need. I can say that Montreal looks like the better team on paper, but it all comes down to the goalie play. I think this could go seven, and I would generally take the team with home ice in a game seven, but again, that has been a bad strategy this postseason. Who is the better goalie? Which team is more calm in close games? Can the Rangers get it going on the power play? Those are the three essential questions in this series. In the end, I just trust Lundqvist and his previous playoff success slightly more than Price. I like the Rangers in seven.

Chicago Blackhawks vs Los Angeles Kings: I don’t really want to talk about this series, simply because it’s the carbon copy of last year. The Blackhawks won that one in five games, but I think this one will be a lot closer. It’s simply a coin flip. Jonathan Quick is probably the better goalie, but Corey Crawford has been playing as well as any netminder this postseason, with a .931 save percentage that is equaled by only Lundqvist of remaining goalies. Los Angeles has the slight edge on the powerplay, but the Blackhawks have been much better on the penalty kill. The Chicago Blackhawks have killed 91.3% of their penalties!! The next highest of remaining teams is the Kings… at 83.9%. The Blackhawks are simply the better team, just as they were last season. But then again, the Kings have come back twice in a row and have Jonathan Quick and that “team of destiny” look. I’m waffling here, so I’d better just make a pick here. If it goes seven, I can’t pick against the Kings, but let’s go with the Blackhawks closing it in six.

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