Can the second round match the intensity of the first? After 3 game sevens, it’s gonna be tough.
Sooooooo, up until around 10:30 pm eastern time this past week, I was a perfect 6 for 6 with my picks. Then Colorado lost in over time and I seem to remember something else happening during the late game on that same night. Can’t exactly recall, did somebody complete an epic choke or something? Oh well maybe I will recall after the bump during the apologies.
Ahhhh, if only it were that easy.
As is our custom here at BW, let us hand out some apologies from the 1st round.
Team I owe an apology: Minnesota
I don’t want to say that I was overly impressed by Minnesota during their 7 game ot victory, because I wasn’t. Still, there is something to say about poise and the Wild seemed to stay that way the entire series. Minny could have folded after going down 2-0, but they didn’t. Instead they fought back to tie the series 2-2. They could have packed it in when they lost a pivotal game 5, but they didn’t. Instead, they won another game at home and forced a game 7. They could have given up when they lost the lead several times during that game 7, but they didn’t. Instead they just kept tying it, eventually taking their only lead of the game when it mattered most, in overtime.
Team that owes me an apology: Colorado
I believed in you guys despite your inexperience both on the ice and behind the bench. A lot of people said that you were frauds who were the recipients of some wonderful breaks this season, but as my buddy Optimus Prime once so boldly stated, I thought you were made of sterner stuff. I’m not particularly upset about a game 7 loss, but you did have a 2-0 lead and had to lose 2 game sin a row to eventually lose the series. Many have already predicted you coming back down to Earth hard next season. We’ll have to see how it plays out.
Team that owes the world an apology: San Jose
One word, contraction. Just when you thought SJ couldn’t choke any more during the playoffs, they become only the 4th team in NHL history to be up on a team 3-0 and lose in 7. I can’t tell you how badly your fan base must feel, so why not let them do it themselves. Whoa guy, worse than Clipper owner Donald Sterling? Yea, I’m pissed, but let’s not go overboard here. On the bright side, at least you finally made NHL playoff history. Oh yeah, the last team to lose after being up 3-0 were the 2010 Bruins and they won the cup the following year. Unfortunately, that won’t happen for you because your San Jose and their Boston. You know, one franchise has had post season success while the other is you.
Good news San Jose, I have developed a maneuver!
Montreal vs Boston
Is it just me, or do the B’s and Habs play each other in every playoffs? Both of these teams look very, very strong right now. The Bruins avoided another first round scare by rather easily handling Detroit, while Montreal embarrassed a Tampa Bay team that finished just ahead of them during the regular season, with a 4 game sweep. The only sweep of the 1st round. Add to this mix the absolute hate each of these franchises feel for one another, and you have a recipe for a fast, physical and emotional conference semi final series.
Tuukka Rask leads all playoff goalies with a ridiculous 1.16 gaa and .961 save %. But as much as Rask deserves all kinds of praise, the entire Boston defense should be credited. The Bruins stifled Detroit in round #1, limiting quality scoring opportunities and holding the Wings to just 6 goals in 5 games. Going back to Rask, another important factor which lead to Detroit scoring even less than this guy, was his excellent rebound control. Almost never was any of the opposition given an second opportunity from a scoring chance and, on the rare occasions in which Rask did kick one out, it seemed as if the Boston defenders were always there to clear the puck from harm. I would only be more impressed with the Boston D, if Chara could do this……
I wouldn’t have thought that Montreal would be leading the playoffs in goals per game average, but here they stand with a solid 4. The Habs scored 16 times in 4 games against the Bolts and all but two Montreal skaters, who saw at least 9 minutes of playing time in the first round, have at least 1 point. In fact, the spreading around of the scoring has been rather impressive for Montreal. 10 players have a goal or more, and 15 players have at least 1 assist. It’s not surprising that PK Subban has 5 assists and is tied for the team points lead, but who would have thought he would be tied with sophomore Brendan Gallagher (3g, 2a) and Lars Eller (2g, 3a), who have at least 1 point in every playoff game the Canadiens have played thus far. Look out if Pacioretty, Gionta and Deharnais, who haven’t played badly by any stretch of the imagination, begin to find the net more regularly.
For the 2nd straight round, the Bruins will face a team that they lost the season series too. Like Detroit, Montreal beat Boston 3-1 during the season, outscoring them by a thin 7-9 margin. Rask was in net for every game as well. It hardly seemed to matter in the 1st round, but Montreal is healthier and had a much more successful season than Detroit.
The Lightning did manage to put up 10 goals in their four games, as well as 104 shots. Price was good against them, but his save %, while not horrible at 2.33, could have been helped immensely by some better Montreal defensive play. Too often were Tampa forwards allowed to drive the net or tee off at close range. Part of the reason Montreal had so much success scoring, had to do with their fortunate break of playing against back up goalies the entire 1st round. Rask is hardly that. Therefore, Montreal will have to lessen those scoring opportunities against, since they will most certainly be lessened for.
Milan Lucic is a dangerous player and not just because he’s become known for stuff like this. Or something similar like this. Both of those happened about a month apart by the way. But when he isn’t busy with his hobby of spearing the genitals of his opponents, he often finds time to put the puck in the net. Lucic finished the season with 59 points, and he was arguably the Bruins most effective forward during the 1st round, raking up 3 goals and 1 assist. He’ll be a marked man against Montreal, as the 2nd link should clearly display, so his challenge will be to keep his head in the game and his stick out of trouble. While he may have escaped suspension for the Dekeyser incident, I have to think that the league will not give him a 2nd free pass.
The Canadiens and Bruins HATE each other. Yes hate is a strong word, but since its all in caps, you know I’m serious. The rivalry between these two great original six franchises has been well documented and is often referred to as the most intense rivalry in hockey. So my question is, do the Habs hate the Bruins enough to will themselves past this round? Lord knows they have enough incentive, people in Montreal are still talking about this hit. But sometimes when we’re faced with our mortal enemy, we allow ourselves to be taken out of our normal way of thinking. Hell, it even happened to Batman. Montreal has to play their style of game. That’s not to say they aren’t tough and can’t lay the body on Boston, but it does mean that they shouldn’t allow the Bruins under their skin. Don’t get into shoving matches after the whistle, don’t take unnecessary penalties, and above all, don’t get frustrated and pull yourself out of the game mentally. I hate to bring up last season again, but well, hey it happened.
I’ve been impressed by Montreal this season, they’ve been consistent all year, and I would like to think that they’ve learned some important lessons from their short stay in the post season last year. Yet, despite how easily they dispatched of Tampa, it’s difficult not to say that this is Boston’s series to lose. They did, after all, finish with the league’s best record and Montreal won’t have advantage of facing a back up in this series. The keys for the Canadiens will be to sure up their D a little and to stay out of the box. Price is good and certainly has the potential to steal a game or two. If he does, you never know what might happen between two heated rivals if Montreal can somehow et Boston off their game and frustrated. Still, the Bruins are just a very solid hockey club from top to bottom and, given how well they themselves played in round 1, I can’t see anybody toppling them just yet. B’s in 6
I was going to say Montreal in an upset. But then I got bat-slapped.
New York vs Pittsburgh
So I had each of these two series down to the game. Not that I’m tooting my own horn, but these teams looked to be exactly who I thought they were before the playoffs began. Just call me Dennis Green. Now the question is, who have they become after the 1st round? Both of these teams just completed a brutal 1st round in which bodies were flying in more directions than finned predators in a Sharknado. What do you know, that shark couldn’t finish the job either. So they all suck, meaning that it’s not just a clever name.
The Penguins finished the season with the 5th most goals per game in the NHL and they continued their scoring ways in round 1. 21 goals in 6 games is a pretty nice total to have. Currently Brandon Sutter, Jussi Jokinen and Evgeni Malkin have 3 goals a piece, while Matt Niskanen and Sidney Crosby each have 6 assists. Niskanen also has 2 goals, and I’ll spend some more time on Malkin and Crosby a little later. Incredibly, the Pens also have 8 other players with at least 1 goal! Perhaps the most impressive player for them though was D man Paul Martin. Martin didn’t score against Columbus, incredibly enough, but he does lead the team with 8 assists/points, finished +7 and played an average of over 27 minutes per game. That’s roughly 7 minutes more than any other player for Pitt. In short, if your doing a 2nd round fantasy league, maybe pick him up.
The Rangers finished the season with the leagues 4th best D and they continued their stingy ways in round 1. Well, at least 5 on 5 anyway. New York gave up only 6 5 0n 5 goals in 7 games to Philadelphia, the fewest of any team for a 7 game series, and finishing just behind Boston for best overall in the 1st round. Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh are both -, but mostly because they’ve both averaged well over 20 minutes per game and consistently faced Philly’s top scorers.
Time to talk about Fleury again. Hey, he’s been upgraded from x factor, to bad here in the 2nd round. That’s always a nice trend. Anyway, MAF was his usual, unusual self against the Blue Jackets. Such as this example, in which the Penguins were just over 20 seconds away from taking a 3-1 strangle hold on the series. In total, Fleury allowed 18 goals against in the 1st round, good enough (or really bad enough) for a nearly 3 goal per game average. The Rangers put up 19 goals against Philly and, as mentioned, having been giving up a plethora of even strength goals. Simply put, your gonna have to be better MAF. How about this, you do well in this round and I’ll have all the guys pitch in and buy you something special for your birthday. Yes, you should all know by now that I have to reference at least a second movie quote once I’ve linked one already.
The Ranger special team shave been somewhat underwhelming in these playoffs. While they might be nearly un-scorable upon at even strength, put them down a man and it’s a very different story. NY has given up 6 power play goals, ranking them just 4 from the bottom in terms of all playoff teams, and lowest amongst all playoff teams still competing. Worse than that is the power play which is currently clicking at a 9%. Hell, they only managed to score 1 more power play goal than Tampa (2), and the Bolts only played 4 games! The Penguins showed that they were vulnerable shot handed, their pk is only at 77%, but that percentage will surely get healthier if the Rangers can’t take advantage of penalties.
I had mentioned how Malkin had 3 goals earlier, but you might recall how he was in fact goalless until game 6 of the previous series. Yes, game 6 also happened to be the last game. Don’t misunderstand, of course a playoff hat trick is always a nice feather in your cap, but one solid game does not a productive playoffs make. Crosby had 6 assists in round 1, which is nice, but 0 goals. Thankfully Pitt was able to spread around so much of the scoring, but I can’t help but feel as if both of these guys have to start taking off if the Penguins are to move on. Both Crosby and especially Malkin, had some injury issues just before the playoffs, but both played in every game and averaged a decent share of ice time. They just have to start finding the back of the net. The Ranger D is too good to allow so many different goal scorers, and it’s always beneficial to have your top guys scoring like your top guys.
I have always felt as if Henrik Lundqvist doesn’t necessarily get the praise he deserves. The guy can simply be clutch when he needs to be, as evident by game 7 of the previous series. There he stopped 27 of 28 shots and had a .963 save%. His goals per game average in the 2014 playoffs is just over 2, and his career playoff average is 2.27. If there is one guy who could make the difference in this series, it’s King Henrik. Even ESPN, who hates hockey, used him in a commercial. That’s gotta count for something as well.
Ya know, there was one other guy from NY that I didn’t talk about, and that was Rick Nash. Nash had 0 goals an 4 assists in the 1st round, and it would be beneficial for the Rangers if he could get back to being the dominate power forward he can be. If you were to go down each roster I would say that overall, the Penguins are the more talented team. After all, even with their latest scoring problems, they do feature 2 of the best forwards in hockey today. Another factor working in their favor has to be the sad state of the NY special teams. But, where the puck stops in hockey, is literally at the goaltending position. Lundqvist is reliability, while Fleury is liability. If MAF can prove sound in this series, the advantage will go to Pittsburgh and I would say Pens in 6 or 7. However, I’m not at all convinced that Fleury nor his team have the mental toughness to survive this particular match up. The Rangers looked pretty good against a rather equal opponent in Philadelphia. The Penguins were somewhat lucky not to fall into a 3-1 death trap themselves to a #7 seed. Nash will need to step up and the special teams must improve, but I like the under dog in this series. NY in 6.
Lundqvist laments being put up against the one thing he can’t save, this kid’s career.
Los Angeles vs Anaheim
It’s a So. Cal. showdown in the conference semi final! Following their historic come from behind series win over San Jose, the Kings look nearly unbeatable. But let’s not count out the Ducks just yet. They might no longer have mighty in their name, but they still have a solid team. Hey, come to think of it, why do so many teams from Anaheim, I’m looking at you California/Los Angeles formally of Anaheim Angels, have this affinity for changing their titles? Let’s call them the no longer mighty, but still relatively strong Ducks of Anaheim. Okay, I’ll work on that name a bit more. While I do, enjoy a totally 90’s opening to an awful animated show featuring alien ducks who play hockey and fight an interstellar warlord. I’m telling you Mr. Eisner, this is gonna be bigger than the ninja turtles.
The Ducks had the #1 ranked O during the regular season and they continued their strong offensive play with a 20 goal effort in the 1st round against Dallas. Despite missing a game and taking a slap shot to the jaw, captain Ryan Getzlaf had an impressive 7 points in round 1, including 3 goals and 4 assists. Corey Perry was right behind with 2 goals and 5 assists of his own, while 6 other players have at least 3 points or more. Perhaps even more impressive, and thankfully so, was the Duck power play. Finishing in the bottom half during the season, Anaheim had 7 man advantage goals against the Stars, 4 of which occurred during game 6 alone, when they went 4/6.
Jonathan Quick’s overall playoff gpa is just under 3, but if you just count the final 4 games against San Jose, and I’m going to so deal with it, he has a gpa 1.25, a .963 save % and 1 shut out. I’m not sure who that guy was in net during the first 3 games of the series, nor am I sure what happened to the LA D as a whole. However, I am certain that the real Jonathan Quick has resurfaced and the NHL’s #1 defense is back, replacing the imposters that allowed 16 goals in 3 games.
I mentioned this during the 1st round, but it doesn’t seem as if this problem is going away anytime soon. Rookie goalie Frederik Andersen was terrific all season for Anaheim, but there were serious questions as to whether or not he could keep up that stellar play with the pressure of the post season. After an up and down opening 5 games, in which he allowed 14 goals, Andersen was pulled in favor of Jonas Hiller in game 6, after allowing 4 goals on just 12 shots. Hiller also faced 12 shots, but stopped them all in route to a 5-4 overtime, series clinching win. Sooooooo, what happens now? Does Bruce Boudreau go back with the young gun, or stay with the steady vet? I have to believe, given his experience and solid game 6, that the job becomes Hiller’s to lose, but isn’t that also a problem? I’ve said it time and time again, no goalie plays well during the playoffs when they’re constantly looking over their shoulder, and have to sweat every goal allowed perhaps being their last. Most goalies, and teams for that matter, just wanna be the guy. Did you ever play that game by the way? F’ing impossible.
You gotta grant a little leeway when your playing a heated rival, but the Kings are averaging over 20 minutes in penalties per game. 2nd worst of all remaining playoff teams just ahead of……….Anaheim? Huh, well I guess this isn’t a particularly good stat for either team. However, while the LA pk was pretty good against SJ and their pp gained steam as the series went on, I wouldn’t want to tempt the potentially explosive offense of Anaheim. Stay at even strength, allow Quick to do his thing, and frustrate the Ducks into perhaps becoming their own worst enemy. They have plenty of question marks still, as we will soon see.
I like Bruce Boudreau. He just seems like a nice guy. I also get this impression that for whatever reason, he was asked to do this a lot as a kid. I’m not sure why, I mean he had a very long minor league career, so I’m sure he was at least a little smaller and had a lot more hair, but the point is he just seems like a warmer and cuddly coach than you would see in most NHL locker rooms. But even if he might be a great candidate for the Big Brothers/Big Sisters, he’s had the unfortunate reputation of underachieving with his team in the playoffs. I think we can all agree that, despite having Ovie, the Caps were always kind of flawed. Yet, he probably should have taken them further than he did. Last season he did well with Anaheim, but was again bounced in the 1st round to a low seed. This year, he turned heads with his decision to sit Duck legend Teemu Selanne during game 4 of the opening round. A decision that raised the ire of not only Duck fans, but also Selanne’s son. Can coaches be assigned like that? Better check with my crack research department. Anyway, the point is I like Brucy and I would love nothing more than to see him do well. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it just hasn’t happened for him yet. Oh yeah, don’t forget about any goaltending decisions he still might have to make. Can’t over emphasis that.
What else can you say about my favorite King, Drew Doughty? He might be the most underrated defenseman in the entire NHL, finishing the 1st round 7 points (1 goal and 6 assists) and a +2 rating. He also had an iron man ice time average of over 27 minutes per game. His point total was 2nd on the team, trailing only leading scorer Anze Kopitar. Oh, and lets not forget Marion Gaborik who had 5 points. As I mentioned in the 1st round, these two guys together might just be the difference maker for the Kings and their usual lack of scoring.
The Ducks seemed to have learned a lot from their early playoff exit last season. Despite allowing Dallas back into the series, they rallied in games 5 and 6 and closed it out in enemy territory. I think Hiller is in net for good, but you just can’t keep from wondering how short the leash might be if he starts to struggle. Conversely, the Kings have no goalie issue and have just completed one of the greatest comebacks in NHL history. LA is that team that never seems to be out of a game, thanks to their D and goaltending, while finding a knack for scoring when you least expect it, thanks to their top offensive players. Given what we just saw, how could anyone pick against LA in this series? I think the Ducks will be in this series the whole way, but in the end, I question their mental toughness against a team that never seems to be bothered by anything. In true LA fashion, it will go the distance, but the Kings play on. LA in 7.
Might I suggest different sleepwear? I find stitched jerseys very uncomfortable in bed.
Minnesota vs Chicago
Even after two opening losses, Chicago looked very much like a true cup contending favorite. After rolling over a solid, yet ailing St. Louis, what will the ‘Hawks look like when they face Minnesota? For their part, the Wild never quit and improved upon last seasons quick ousting in round 1 with perhaps another quick ousting in round 2. They are facing the same team after all. But, have the Wild learned something from their match up last season?
Chicago has featured some of the most impressive defenseman these past two play off season. Leddy, Rozsival and Johnny “a little dab” Oduya, are all +, while averaging between 17 and 20 minutes per game. All star D-men Duncan Keith (2g and 5a) and Brent Seabrook (2g and 4a), despite his suspension, finished the series a combined +9. But the entire Blackhawks team deserve a lot of credit, for clamping down after game 2. Despite St. Louis scoring 4 goals in both opening contests, Chicago held them to just 6 in the remaining 4 games, allowing just 1 power play goal in that span. Not an easy feat for a team that was below average at penalty killing during the regular season, especially when facing a normally potent St. Louis power play.
Despite some troubles with scoring during the regular season, Minnesota seems to have found it’s mojo and have begun putting some pucks in the net. While games 3 and 4 may have been your more typical Wild (or really less than wild) wins, 1-0 and 2-1, the Wild managed to put up 19 in the other four games combined, including two 5 goal efforts in must win games 6 and 7. Minnesota features an astonishing 12 players with 3 points or more, not the least of which (literally) is leading scorer Zach Parise, who amounted 3 goals and 7 assists. Somebody must have changed their control settings off real control and replaced it with the always more enjoyable arcade mode. Seriously, some of the games in the previous series was like watching two of your friends play NHL Open Ice. Or maybe even Hit The Ice. But hey those were both fun. Maybe I’m starting to get a bit more wild myself. Well, not too wild. Remember, our old friend William Sessions says, “Winners don’t do drugs.”
While offense hasn’t been too much of an issue for Chicago, their power play has been rather sub par. While we all know a Ken Hitchcock coached team is gonna have a strong D and good penalty kill, going 3 for 20 doesn’t usually win you many games. With that being said, in 2 of those games they were actually .500 on the pp, because they only drew 2 penalties. That might be another area in need of improvement. Chicago was shorthanded 29 times during the 1st round, playing without a man 9 more times than they had a man advantage. The pk was stout for sure, but then again it pretty much had to be. The Wild seem to have found some offense. No point in giving them unnecessary opportunities to score.
Ahh, it’s the goalies again for Minnesota. Bryzgalov was yanked after allowing 9 goals in the 1st two playoff games, and replaced with Darcy Kuemper. Kuemper made 102 saves on 113 shots, but most importantly helped snatched the Wild a win in 4 of the 5 games he played. Then he got hurt and Bryzgalov had to take over again. Bryz managed to stave off the Avalanche attack and get his team the win in an emotional game 7 overtime victory, but how well will he fare against the much more lethal Chicago attack? His save % is just above .800 for the playoffs and it’s clear that the caching staff, and probably the players, have more faith in somebody else…….anybody else. Kuemper is currently listed as day to day, and if and when he becomes healthy enough to play, I wonder how quickly he gets placed back in net? Or perhaps will it just be too late to even matter?
Corey Crawford is often looked at as the Blackhawk Achilles heel, but I kinda think that’s because they’re just so talented across the board, you just have to throw somebody under the bus whenever they lose. Upon occasion that’s head coach Joel Quenneville, seen here doing his best Michael Jackson impression, but more often than not, it seem to be poor Corey. But to say that Crawford has been a liability in these playoffs, or even this season for that matter is rather absurd. He finished the season with admirable totals and, much like the rest of his team, woke up in a big way after game 2 of the St. Louis series. Still, for his sake, it would be worth his while to play solid in this round. If there is one guy that could lose this series for Chicago, it’s him. No matter how fair or unfair that sounds. Sound off! Just like on Kids Court………damn I’m old now.
The home team won every game in the Ave/Wild series except for the all important game 7. But beyond that, Minnesota looked like a far different team at home, surrendering only 4 goals. They also only allowed 57 total shots against at home (an average of only 19 per game), compared to 117 on the road (an average of over 29). Minnesota did also defeat Chicago in 2 of 3 home games this season. Chicago has home ice advantage, but if the Wild can stay perfect at home, they might just give themselves another shot an a game 7 shocker.
I’m impressed with the Minny scoring and their dominance over Colorado at home isn’t anything to simply dismiss. But it’s damn near impossible to get around the gaping hole they have in their net. Even if Kuemper comes back, how healthy will he be and will it even matter against the Blackhawk assault? There has been improvement in this Wild team, but not enough to dethrone the defending champs just yet. Chicago is just too impressive right now. Chi in 5.
Okay, so in the battle of the mascots, nobody wins. The Chicago mascot kinda looks like a cross between the beatnik rooster from the Looney Tunes crossed with the nerdy chicken with the glasses. What the hell is on the Wild mascot’s face? He looks like a cheap Star Trek alien. Crap, we’re out of money. Just get him some forehead paint.
Well, that’s all for now folks. Enjoy the 2nd round and may the best teams win. Until next time, 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.)