North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

NHL Round Three Predictions

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There’s a few things I’m going to wake away from the second round of the NHL playoffs

  • Dale Hunter did a pretty alright job and his exit isn’t a good thing for the Capitols. They went into the playoffs as a low seed and upset Boston in the opening round, in a pretty good seven game series. And then they took the Rangers – arguably the best team still in the playoffs – to seven games, including a gutty win in game six. They played a wildly different style of hockey than they had under Bruce Boudreau, a much slower game that kept Alex Ovechkin on the bench. An article I read over the weekend asked if this was the start of a new style of hockey: keeping the scorer on the bench until you need a goal. I’m leaning towards no, but I wonder of Ovechkin’s name will be tied to Hunter’s abrupt leave. Were there problems behind closed doors? Did Ovechkin pull a Dwight Howard – it’s either him or me, chief? I have no idea. But I’m curious to see what happens next for the Caps, and if they’ll go back to what worked for them in the regular season, if not the postseason.
  • The Devils continue to surprise me. Not just in a “now they play fast” sense, but in a “who saw this coming?” kind of way. And this is from someone who picked them to roar past the Flyers. Marty Brodeur is ancient at this point, but is putting up some of his best postseason numbers. His GAA of 2.04 is the lowest it’s been since before the lockout (and since the Devils championship run of 2003, actually) while his Save Percentage of .920 is better than it’s been in a while. Meanwhile Ilya Kovalchuk’s 12 points is second-best among all active playoff scorers. This isn’t a team to sleep on.
  • Speaking of goalies, Kings netminder Jonathan Quick is putting together one hell of a Conn Smythe resume: he leads all goalies with a 1.59 GAA, a .947 Save Percentage (not to mention nine wins, a product of me not posting this in time). These Kings are in interesting team to watch: they’ve blown away two very good teams in St. Louis and Vancouver, lead Phoenix one game to zip and remind me a lot of the 2006 Oilers, a team all but carried by Dwayne Roloson and Fernando Pisani to the seventh game of the finals (and would have won, I think, if Roloson didn’t get hurt).
There’s more I could write about: Phoenix looking really good against Nashville (does this mean Chicago was much better than I thought?; the Blues folding like a cheap card table; the Rangers were lucky to gut out a tough series; etc. It’s a testament to how good these playoffs have been that I could write more words than you’d want to read. I’ve certainly been enjoying them. Picks follow the jump.Eastern Conference Finals
(1) New York Rangers v. (6) New Jersey Devils
One thing I like about this series is how at least two games will be played in Madison Square Garden and tight playoffs games seem like they mean more there, maybe because New York is such a big media market stage. Other than that, there’s not a lot I like. The Rangers have not been an especially overpowering first seed, having gone seven games against both the Capitols and Senators. In the first round, they won two win-or-go-home games and their last round came with lucky OT wins (the three OT game three and the much-shorter OT game five), not to mention dropping a chance to close the series out in game six. Their goal differential of +3 isn’t inspiring, especially considering their opposition. 
But, as I wrote above, the Devils have looked very good. They’ve upset two teams, seen Brodeur play better than he has in years and have in Kovalchuk a top-notch scorer for the first time in a long time. I don’t think this series will be over in a hurry, but I don’t see the Devils slowing down, either. New Jersey in six.

Western Conference Finals
(3) Phoenix Coyotes v. (8) Los Angeles Kings
The Coyotes feel like two teams this postseason. They were a shaky and lucky team in the first round: late goals by the Blackhawks sent a few of their games to overtime, but Phoenix won three of their five OT matches. In the second round, they settled down, overpowering the Predators in five games. Only one overtime here, a game one win, but this was also a close series. Three of the five games were decided by a single goal and the remaining two were decided by two goals. As a team, they’ve scored just as many playoff goals as the Kings (31) but the difference lies in their goaltending: their differential is +6. The Kings is +15, by a wide margin the best among all playoff teams.
Part of that is from Quick’s goaltending, part is from timely scoring by Dustin Brown: his seven goals and 13 points are best among still-active players. Another part comes from collapses by teams that sank like a lead balloon: the Canucks fell apart pretty quickly (suddenly enough that Luongo seems like he’ll be traded) while the Blues just couldn’t score: six goals across all four games. The Kings, meanwhile, dropped five in game two alone. Is it asking a lot to assume Quick will continue playing at this pace? Maybe, but I’ve got this feeling in my gut that the Kings are just the better of the two teams here. Los Angeles in five
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Written by M.

May 14, 2012 at 6:02 pm

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