Friday, April 29, 2011

Eastern Conference Semi-Finals

Tampa Bay vs. Washington

Preview: Washington won 4 of the 6 regular season meetings which was the difference in the Capitals SouthEast Division title over the Lightning by 4 points. Since the Lightning acquired Dwayne Roloson, the teams met 4 times splitting those 4 games. Can the Capitals newer defensive style slow down the Lightning's offense? And can Tampa's defense and 41 year old Dwayne Roloson keep back Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals offense? Let's take a look.

Forwards: World class forwards on each team could make this matchup very exciting to watch. However, with the Capitals changing their style mid-season, we could see low scoring games between these two teams. Ovechkin and Stamkos are two of the games most prolific goal scorers and are complemented by fantastic supporting casts. Semin, Laich, Backstrom, Lecavalier, St. Louis just to name a few.
Advantage: Even

Defense: Mike Green has struggled in previous postseasons, but he was a standout in the first round, totaling 5 points and logging plenty of big minutes. He also took a shot off his helmet in Game 5 but proclaimed himself ready for the next round. His partner, Jeff Schultz , has played more (23:15 per game) without being on the ice for a goal-against than any other defenseman in these playoffs.

The young duo of Karl Alzner and John Carlson were on the ice for two goals seven seconds apart in Game 4 and rebounded to be two of the team's best players during the comeback.

Scott Hannan and John Erskine were steady, while Wideman is back practicing and could be an option toward the end of the round.

The Lightning have done a 180 in the playoffs -- after finishing 22nd in the League during the regular season with a 2.84 goals-against average, Tampa finished the first round second in the postseason with a 2.00 GAA. Leading the way against the Penguins were Eric Brewer and Mike Lundin. Brewer not only averages a team-leading 25:43 of ice time per game, but also tops all defenders on the team with 5 points. Hedman (22:14) and Ohlund (20:27) also averaged more than 20 minutes per game on the blue line. (

In 5 games vs. Caps this season, one with Isles, Dwayne Roloson is 2-2-1 with a 2 shutouts, 1.37 GAA and .953 save percentage. He also leads the playoffs in Save Percentage with .949. The 41 year old has carried teams on his back in the playoffs before, leading Edmonton to the Stanley Cup Finals as an 8 seed just a few short years ago. Micheal Neuvirth is the next goalie the Capitals have pinned their faith on. Each season someone new has been the man but Neuvirth has shown signs that he could be the real deal. He was terrific against the Rangers going 4-1 with a .946 save percentage and 1.38 GAA. With Roloson's experience and play as of late, we give the advantage here to the Lightning.
Advantage: Lightning

Coaching: Bruce Boudreau fooled us all when he changed the the Capitals to a defense first style. The Capitals were marred in a brutal slump that we all saw on HBO's 24/7 series. Since then, the Capitals glaring weakness has become their strength and they won their 3rd straight SouthEast Division. Guy Boucher has done a terrific job with the Lightning but more impressive was Steve Yzerman making two key moves that in our opinion make the Lightning dangerous in the playoffs. Additions of Dwayne Roloson and Eric Brewer were key to making this team successful.
Advantage: Capitals

Pick: Capitals in 7

Boston vs. Philadelphia


Well, we've seen this before.

Last year the Flyers and Bruins met in one of the most memorable Stanley Cup Playoff series in NHL history. The Bruins won the first three games, including Marc's Savard's dramatic overtime goal in Game 1 in his first game back after a serious concussion nearly two months earlier. Then, the Flyers came storming back becoming the 3rd team in NHL history to win a 7 games series after losing the first 3 games.

Forwards: The Flyers got at least 1 goal from eight different forwards during their seven-game first-round win against Buffalo and Kris Versteeg or Mike Richards didn't score 1. The scoring depth of the Flyers is vast and it would be tough to shut down the entire team. The Bruins also had 8 forwards that scored at least one goal in their first round series and were the only team in history to win a playoff series without scoring a power play goal.

Defense: The Bruins led the Eastern Conference in goals against during the regular season. The Bruins play team defense better than anyone in the NHL and move the puck out of their zone as quick as anyone as well. Chara seems to be 100 % and the Bruins are capable of keeping the Flyers off the score board. The Flyers defense is almost as impressive except the fact that Pronger isn't 100%. Can the Flyers defense hold up another long series without him?
Advantage: Bruins

Goaltending: Tim Thomas is a lock to win the Vezina trophy this year and had another solid effort in the playoffs. We still aren't sure who the goalie is for the Flyers as they used 3 in their first round series against Buffalo. If Ryan Miller played to his ability, the Flyers would have lost the series due to their goaltending.

Coaching: Peter Laviolette has been successful wherever he has been. He briefly brought the Islanders out of the basement of the NHL, won a cup in Carolina and brought the Flyers all the way to the Cup last season. He is on path to be the next all time great. Claude Julien has for the 2nd straight year had the Eastern Conference goals against leading defense. As good of a coach as he is, Laviolette brought his team back from a 3-0 deficit in last year's series.

Pick: Bruins in 6. They get their revenge as Tim Thomas outplays the trio of Flyers goalies.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Western Conference Round Two Predictions

Vancouver Canucks (1) vs. Nashville Predators (5)

It will be interesting to see how Vancouver responds from one of the most emotional first round series in a long time. The Canucks were stretched to the limit by the Chicago Blackhawks in a Game 7 overtime and return quickly to face the Nashville Predators. Nashville won it's first ever playoff series in six games over the Ducks. The Predators surprisingly scored 22 goals that series and Pekka Rinne was solid in goal as usual. This series pits two Vezina trophy candidates, Rinne and Roberto Luongo, against each other.

Why the Canucks will win: Maybe a first round scare is exactly what Vancouver needed. The fact that they blew a 3-0 series lead to Chicago and ultimately prevailed in a Game 7 overtime may make this team stronger. The Canucks defense played much better the final two games of the Chicago series and they will difficult offensively for Nashville. The Predators exposed Anaheim's weak defense in round one but will have trouble scoring on the much deeper Canucks blueline.

How Nashville could win: The Nashville Predators proved that they can score goals this postseason and have a very solid third line in Smithson-Spaling-Tootoo which gave the Ducks fits. These forwards among others may be able to disrupt the Sedin twins and Pekka Rinne is capable of stealing a game. Martin Erat will return from injury for Game 1 and Mike Fisher is coming off a series where he registered six points in six games. The Predators have two shutdown defensemen in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter which will log heavy minutes against the Canucks top line.

Prediction: Vancouver in 7

The Canucks are deeper than Nashville on defense and have a couple more playmakers on offense which will make the difference in a very tight series that could go either way. The Canucks may have gotten their wake up call against Chicago and should ride that momentum to the Conference Finals.

San Jose Sharks (2) vs. Detroit Red Wings (3)

This will be the second consecutive season that these two teams have played in round two. Last year the Sharks won in five games with three of those games that the Sharks won being decided by one goal. Last season the Red Wings came into the series after an exhausting seven game battle with Phoenix. They enter this series on a nine day break after sweeping the Coyotes this time. San Jose needed three overtime victories to get by Los Angeles in six games. The Sharks won that series by winning three games on the road where they scored 16 of their 20 goals.

Why the Sharks will win: The San Jose Sharks have more offensive depth than any team in the postseason right now. The Sharks roll out three lines that all have speed and grit which are difficult to stop for 60 minutes. The defense was not particularly strong in the LA series, especially Dan Boyle, but it is a better unit than it showed. Antti Niemi is coming of a series in which he was pulled twice so he will need to rebound and outplay Jimmy Howard if the Sharks are to advance.

How Detroit could win: The Red Wings are battle tested and may have learned something from losing to the Sharks last season. The Wings are also getting healthy and expecting Henrik Zetterburg in the lineup for Game 1. In order to contain the speed of the Sharks the Red Wings will need a big series from Niklas Kronwall and Ruslan Salei, two of the bigger Wings defensemen. The Sharks penalty kill was weak all regular season so Detroit will look to expolit that when they have the man advantage.

Prediction: Sharks in six

San Jose handled the Red Wings easily this regular season and we're still not sold on Detroit's defense being able to contain the Sharks offensively. Look for Niemi to rebound and be the difference in another close series.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tuesday Timeout

We are almost through the first round of the playoffs and it's hard to even begin to explain the NHL playoffs so far? Most unheard of is the fact that home teams have a 19-25 record thus far. What about the vast amount of three goal leads that have evaporated on almost a nightly basis? LA, Montreal, Buffalo, and the NY Rangers all coughed up big leads. Or maybe even a 3-0 series lead that the Vancouver Canucks are on the verge of choking up. Here are a few thoughts of what we noticed in the playoffs thus far:

- Detroit needed a quick first round and was fortunate to draw the Coyotes who probably could not handle the off ice issues any longer. Valuable rest time make the Red Wings look to be in the drivers seat in the West.

- Vancouver GM Mike Gillis can complain about the officiating all he wants, and is probably smart by deflecting the pressure on him, but how does a team lose 7-2 in Game 4 and then 5-0 at home in game 5? We thought Chicago played well the first two games, and could of won Game 3 with better luck. Dave Bolland has been stellar for the Hawks since returning from injury. It's amazing how much confidence the Hawks are playing with now. We thought it wasn't a bad idea to go to Schneider in goal for the Canucks in game 6. Now that he is hurt and Luongo is starting Canuck fans need to cross their fingers tonight.

- Watched every minute of the Kings-Sharks series, and even watched some of the games twice. I'll say this, San Jose better pick it up the next round if they think they'll advance. Dan Boyle, Antti Niemi, and the Sharks power play struggled this series. The Kings scored 20 goals in the six games, which is a lot since the Kings struggled to score all regular season and especially when Kopitar went down. Both teams were very sloppy at times and the Sharks depth on offense proved to be the reason why they won. If San Jose turns the puck over like they did against LA versus Detroit or Chicago it might be a quick exit for them. However, it is a good sign for the Sharks that Joe Thronton scored two huge goals in this series.

- For the bits and pieces that I watched of the Nashville-Anaheim series it was the most entertaining of all. In the end, it appeared that the speedy Nashville forwards gave the Ducks defense too much trouble at times. Bobby Ryan scored the highlight goal of the playoffs and the Ducks hung in without Jonas Hiller and with Lubomir Visnovsky playing hurt. Hard to believe that the defensive minded Predators have scored the most goals(22) of any team this postseason.

- The three ring circus that is the Philadelphia Flyers goaltending is back again. Game 5 Boucher gets pulled. Game 6 Leighton pulled. Sergei Bobrovsky began the series as the starter but was pulled in Game 2 and has been the press box since. Brian Boucher gets the start tonight.

- The NY Rangers mustered only eight goals in their series against Washington. Think they missed Ryan Callahan?

- The defensively minded Capitals seem to have the best home ice advantage in the playoffs at the Verizon Center. Plus we're realizing how good of a goalie Michal Neuvirth really is.

- Teemu Selanne scoring six goals in the playoffs is remarkable. Can't say enough about him doing what he does at the age of 40.

- Having trouble getting into the Pittsburgh-Tampa Bay series but it's going to a Game 7 and the Penguins power play is 1-30. Speaking of players in their 40's, Dwayne Roloson deserves lot's of credit for keeping the Lightning in that series.

- Game six tonight in Montreal and we don't expect the Canadiens to go down easy. Tim Thomas made the save of the playoffs in double overtime to deprive Montreal of a win in Game 5. The Canadiens have yet to give up a power play goal to Boston and are getting stellar goaltending from Carey Price. We predict this series goes to a Game 7 tomorrow.

- Speaking of predictions, We'll take last seasons' cup finalists the Flyers and Blackhawks to win crucial Game 7's tonight.

- We will also mute the Versus network during intermission when Keith Jones or Jeremy Roenick attempt to analyze the game of hockey.

Enjoy the games tonight!