The greatest two months in sports continues with the NHL’s 2nd round.It’s time for round #2. But first, Connor McDavid just before the revelation of first pick in the NHL draft, and just after the revelation of first pick in the NHL draft.
As is our custom on the BW’s, let us hand out some apologies.
Team I owe an apology: Chicago
While I still am claiming ignorance for Kane’s return and ridiculous immediate impact, I have to give the ‘Hawks credit for not only winning the series, but doing it with Darling in net. The team truly rallied around the guy and took it right to Nashville. Not having to deal with Weber for three games helped a lot as well.
Team that owes an apology to me: Ottawa
I also owe an apology to myself for believing in the false god Hammond. Ben Affleck as Batman………whatever. I rarely buy into hype, but I believe Montreal to be flawed and I thought that the Sens just might have enough momentum on their side to expose them. But my hopes were dashed immediately following game 1. Montreal was without their best forward Pacioretty, and their best defenseman Subban, after being ejected from delivering a ridiculous B.C. Two Hander. Yet Ottawa still lost, mostly because of some horrible goal tending by Hammond, and their inability to take advantage of their man advantages. This set the tone for the series and while Anderson tried to rally them back, you got the feeling Montreal was in no real threat to lose after the incarceration, errrr, benching of the Hamburgler.
Team that owes the world an apology: St. Louis
What else should I have expected for the St.
Jose Louis Blues? I certainly didn’t expect a Stanley Cup run, nobody should with this franchise, but I wasn’t prepared for a first round exit to Minnesota who, to their credit, played a little bit (I STRESS LITTLE) better than I thought they would. Still, this series was more about what St. Louis didn’t do as opposed to what Minnesota did do. Their early bounce more than likely means the end of the Hitchcock era in St. Louis as well. Hitchcock has always had a reputation for under achieving in the playoffs, yet he’s still considered to be among the upper echelon of NHL coaches and will more than likely find a new job in even less time than Rob Ryan thought he would be after getting canned by the Cowboys. That is unless he decides to sit in a small chair, in front of an all red background and sadly contemplate his future in the game.
So let’s take a look at this second round. Remember, as was the case before, only my original prediction counts as a correct one.
Tampa Bay vs Montreal
HOW WE GOT HERE
This might sound hard to believe, but the Lightning were undefeated against Montreal this year, the latter posting a 0-4-1 record. In those 5 games, Tampa scored an average of over 4 goals per game and Price was in net for all 5 losses! I know, hard to fathom. Ahh, late 60’s sex symbols, at least I keep everything current with this blog. Anyway, it may sound as if I’m bringing up ancient history by mentioning the regular season records, and you will recall that Tampa was embarrassed by Montreal last post season, but that in it’s self might be the reason for the lopsided regular season scenario. The Lightning remember last year’s debacle and have been fueled by it. It might be easy to chalk up the Tampa game 1 win as simply momentum coming off a game 7 win and perhaps some rink rust on the part of Montreal, then game 2 happened. Absolutely embarrassed on their own ice, Montreal wasted little time leaving the building, lest they run into some angry fans and get their asses kicked twice in one night.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
On the one hand the Canadiens have 10 players with a goal. On the other hand Max Pacioretty, the team leader in goals during the regular season, lead the team in goals with an astounding 2 before notching his 3rd in game 1. This while also missing the first game of the playoffs. I tend to focus my attention upon the second hand, and while I’m distracted the Habs might very well continue to pull out rabbits with the other, but I’m kinda doubting it. By the way, I loved that show. The masked magician is awesome. Consistent scoring beyond Mad Max was an issue during the regular season and especially it would seem against Tampa Bay. If Montreal can’t get a few more forwards going on a regular basis, they might very well be the one of the teams that enters this Thuderdome, but unlikely the team that leaves.
Ummm, can somebody make one of these for Steven Stamkos? With only 3 assists to his credit in the opening round, Stamkos seems to have woken up 7 games late for the playoffs. To finish the season as one of the league’s premiere scorers, but have no tallies through a full 7 game series is unacceptable yet the Bolts find themselves up 2-0. Stamkos does seem to enjoy playing against the Habs though, in their 5 games this season he has 5 goals and 2 assists. Maybe playing against them will be the breakfast machine he needs to start producing in the playoffs.
WHAT TO EXPECT
In many ways Ben Bishop was a liability for Tampa in round 1. When he wasn’t mishandling pucks behind his net, he was often batting them into it. Still he was able to assemble himself and make 31 saves in game 7. Clearly though he can be bothered and Montreal is gonna have to find a way to do it. Oh, and no, sending Brandon Prust out to get 31 penalty minutes and act like an idiot isn’t going to be enough. I believed the Canadiens to be a flawed team powered mostly by the prowess of Price. However, I certainly thought that given their 7 game struggle against Detroit, the Habs would have a great opportunity to jump on the tired Bolts early. I never would have imagined them losing both opening games at home. Now that Stamkos has finally lit the lamp Montreal is in serious jeopardy, especially considering how much better Tampa seems to play at home. I went against Montreal in the first round and paid the Carey Price, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that they rely too much on their goaltender and after the first two games I seem to have been proven right. Original prediction: Tampa in 7 —– Prediction after 2 games: Tampa in 6
Washington vs NY Rangers
HOW WE GOT HERE
I may have underestimated Brayden Holtby. I mean I knew he was good, but he’s been rock solid for Washington thus far, posting a 1.73 gaa and that number through 9 games! He was the biggest reason Washington got the jump on NYR in game 1 and was staunch as his team tried to make a comeback in game 2. At the other end Lundqvist has been equally as impressive, owning an even slightly lower gaa and bouncing back nicely from his late season injury and literal last second loss in game 1. Nice finish by Boyle, but what a pass by Ovie.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
The Rangers responded well in game 2. Their third period left something to be desired, but for 40 minutes they mostly dominated play while receiving accustomed goaltending from King Henrik. Rick Nash was solid during the opening round, but if he doesn’t start to put the puck in the net he might have to start fighting off those playoff under achiever labels again. Martin St. Louis also needs to find the score sheet. 2 assists isn’t nearly good enough from him.
There’s been no scoring drought for Ovie. He’s been lighting the lamp with amazing goals such as this, but more impressive has been his work ethic and dedication to being the best player on the ice each and every time his skates touch it. He really looks as if he’s trying to lead by example and erase some of those Capital playoff criticisms, many of which resurfaced as recently as the last round. After scoring with this wrist shot in game 1, Ovie skated past Lundqvist and said, “All series long.” He followed that tally with the previously mentioned goal. If he lives up to that promise to Lundqvist, the Caps have a real shot in this series.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Losing Mats Zuccarello (he’s so good his name is plural. I wonder how that would affect the no Mats club?) to what appeared to be a concussion is unnerving news for any blue-shirt fan. He’s an important part of the Ranger top line, therefore putting even more pressure on St. Louis. The Caps are an admitted enigma to me. On the one hand they’re rather notorious for choking in the playoffs, and they did show signs of that in the first round, yet they also showed signs of maturity. As mentioned above, Holtby has been very good and Ovie’s play has been inspiring. With a banged up group of Rangers, Yandle and Boyle are both hurt, can Barry Trotz get just enough out of his crew to move on to the conference finals? A big win in front of the home crowd in game 3 will go a long way, but until they show that they can finish off a solidly built playoff team, a serious cup contending Cap team might remain a thing of shhhhhh legend. Prediction before series: Rangers in 6 —- Prediction after 2 game: Rangers in 7
Minnesota vs Chicago
HOW WE GOT HERE
The Blackhawks have scored at least 4 goals in all but one of their 6 playoff wins this season and that includes 4 goals in each of their 2nd round contests. The Wild have managed a total of 4 goals in those same games. The Wild showed resiliency in clawing back from a 3 goal deficit in game 1, but they still couldn’t put Chicago away. They followed that gutty performance up with a rough game 2 in which they tried to fight back, but ended up buried by the Chicago all stars Toews/Kane/Sharp, all of which have 4 goals a piece. And it’s 3, and that’s the magic number. Or, 4 is the magic number. 4 doesn’t have a catchy song about it okay, get off my back. Learn how to pass a bill.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
So what’s the deal ‘Hawk fans, is Corey Crawford your hero again or just being tolerated while he’s making stops right now? Because that second part is kind of an encompassment of his career. How quickly you push aside your home town “Darling” for the steady hand of the now seasoned playoff vet. If I was coaching against Chicago I would issue an all out assault on Crawford, the likes of which even the fiercest Zergling rush you have ever seen couldn’t match. Crash the net every chance you get, rough him up a bit, frustrate him and get into his head. He’s proven vulnerable in the past. And while you might say, but what if Darling is just as good as he was in round 1, I say it’s a risk you should certainly take.
Dubnyk needs to steal a couple for the Wild if they have any prayer of advancing in this series. He hasn’t played poorly, but he’ll have to be the anchor that steadies any comeback against the Chicago scoring threats. Speaking of those threats, I mentioned before how Sharp…Kane and Toews have been (that’s a little play on words), so the Minnesota D will have to desperately find a way to slow them down. One guy that has been kept in check for most of these playoffs is Marion Hossa. He’s got a nice assist total with 7, but he’s yet to light the lamp and, not counting Andrew Shaw, is tied for the team lead in penalty minutes with 8. The Wild have been unable to contain all of the other ‘Hawk weapons, I can’t even imagine what will happen if Hossa comes to life.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Occasionally a series breaks down to simple talent and Chicago just has a lot more of it. Other times a series breaks down to which stars are playing better for their respective teams and, well, Chicago has more of them. Parise can’t do much more, he leads his team in goals, assists, points and is one of only 5 players on the playoff roster that is + for the Wild. Suter still leads in average ice time but is stuck at only 2 points, both assists, while tied for the team lead with a deplorable -7. He happens to be tied with forward Tomas Vanek who himself has 4 assists and Zero goals. That footage is far more exciting than his play thus far. Minnesota will push back though. Once they play in front of their home crowd they’ll be recharged and have their competitive fire rekindled. But if the Wild do take a game in Minnesota, that’s when the gloves will come off and we may be treated to a real show down. Hopefully the Wild can find a higher caliber of play and not end up DOA, still alive and Tekken. Sorry I couldn’t work in King of Fighters or Guilty Gear…….or Clay Fighter. Prediction before series: ‘Hawks in 6 —- Prediction after 2 games: ‘Hawks in 5
Calgary vs Anaheim
HOW WE GOT HERE
God bless the Calgary Flames. I don’t know why I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for them, but for whatever reason I have. Maybe it’s because out of all of the Canadian based franchises, Calgary is probably talked about the least. I mean Montreal and Toronto are historic, Ottawa is in the capital, Vancouver had a decent recent run (which had an unfortunate ending), and Edmonton at least had the Gretzky era. But what about the Flames? Well, they had Jerome Iginla for a long time. That’s something I guess…..maybe.
At any rate, the first 2 games of this series are exactly how expect this series to go. Anaheim is far more powerful than Calgary, but the flames have shown enough resourcefulness and resiliency to keep things close. Unfortunately, the Ducks look nearly unstoppable right now. They’ve averaged just over 4 goals per game thus far in the playoffs and their big time stars are playing a big time role in their success. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf both have double digit points and are a combined +15! Ryan Kessler looks like he just stepped out of a Lazarus Pit, or the pool from Cocoon (no more Diabetus for good ole Wilfred Brimley). Seriously though, he’s been an absolute beast. He’s got 3 goals, 4 assists and has played a major role on the pk as well as being a rock in the final minutes while protecting leads.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
The Flames need to get some scoring form outside their top line. Outplaying the Canucks top scorers is proving to be far easier than outscoring the Ducks and their plethora of offensive weapons. That never gets old by the way. If the Ducks do have one are you can exploit it’s their less than stellar D. If the Jets can put some behind Anderson, so can the Flames. In addition, I’d like to see My Name is Jonas Hiller (that never gets old either by the way) get another shot in goal. Much like his current team, I’ve always had a soft spot for him as well. He’s a quality goalie who was made the scapegoat in Anaheim for their recent lack of playoff success. That game is so damn stupid. Anyway, no offense to Karri Ramo, he hasn’t been bad, but I would love to think that Hiller has something to prove to his old squad. And, while he may have failed his initial test, perhaps he can capture some magic and finish with a fairy tale ending. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for happy underdog stories. Then again Disney doesn’t own the Ducks anymore. Oh well, we can all still hope.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The Calgary fans will be jacked and do their best to get the Flames back on track. While I most certainly expect the Flames to take at least one game at home, I just don’t see them winning 4 after spotting the Ducks two already. Then again, the Ducks do have this habit of playing down to or toying with their opponents as they did in the frist round. I like the Flames a lot more than the Jets, so that strategy would be ill advised against Calgary and if followed, might just open the door for a huge upset. Still, the Ducks look damn good right now, and after failing to take a single game out of 1 and 2, it just isn’t likely that they bounce back here. Maybe next year Flames fans. Prediction before the series: Ducks in 6 —- Prediction after 2 games: Ducks in 6
Well, that’s all for now folks. See you in the conference finals next week. Until then, you have been warmed.
(Note from the author: Sports incite great passion and emotion in all of us, which is why they are so popular the world over. I encourage you to share your opinions in the comments section, on Twitter or Facebook, but please do it responsibly. I have no agenda with Bench Warming other than to share my love of sports and perhaps get a few people to grin from time to time. Thank you for stopping by and I hope you enjoy reading this column as much as I enjoy writing it.)