Playoff Preview Round #2

Sorry that we never did a Gameday on Game 6 of the Pens/Flyers series. We’ve both been super busy, and let’s be real there are a lot of mixed emotions to consider when your team goes from Cup favorite to out in the first round. I don’t want to go into depth at this time about the personnel changes that await the Penguins this offseason, but you have to feel that for all the money the Pens spent on defense, it just hasn’t worked. This is just my (Andrew’s) opinion, but to me both Michalek and Martin need to get shipped, neither have done enough for the Penguins and you’d be foolish to think that the Penguins couldn’t get a decent return despite their lack-luster years in Pittsburgh. Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik exemplify what type of defensemen you need to be to play in Pittsburgh. You either need to be an amazing skater, like Letang, and Gonchar before him, and to a slightly lesser degree, Niskanen, or you need to just be bad to the bone like Orpik. Both Martin and Michalek fit into the gray area between those skill sets and it just doesn’t work in Bylsma’s system. The other major cause for the Penguins demise has to be that, again, in my opinion alone, the Flyers have been built, above and beyond anything else, to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins. Laviolette pretty much stated as much, and it seems pretty obvious why the Flyers did spend so much on Max Talbot, not so much for his playing ability, but for his ability to divulge every last secret of Bylsma’s system.

When talking with friends I bring this statistic up all the time. The Flyers were 4-2 against the Pens (or 8-4 if you want to count the playoffs) and 0-6 against the Rangers this year. The Penguins went 5-1 against the Rangers. You really can’t convince me that the Flyers are a better team than the Penguins, it is just that the Flyers were built in the expressed interest of beating the Penguins and that’s what they did. And hey, maybe Philly deserves it, it’s not a secret that they have basically never won a championship in a salary capped, or as I like to call them, “competitive” sport (*cough* Phillies *cough*) in well, basically forever, so the blind squirrel catches a nut every once and while.

Now onto the Conference Semifinals Round of the playoffs. There’s going to be a lot of turnover in the NHL this year. None of the West teams that remain have ever won the Cup, and only three of the eight remaining teams have ever won the Cup before (Flyers, Rangers, Devils), only the Devils can claim to have won it in the last decade. And that could be good or bad. It is good because no matter what it will grow the game in some less-traditional markets, although it sounds really weird to say that with the Rangers and Flyers still in the playoffs. The bad news is what happens if the SCF comes down to Phoenix and New Jersey, literally no one will watch the games, which would be disastrous going into a collective bargaining offseason.

Anyway, a few thoughts on the matchups for this round after the jump.

Western Conference: the West was pretty blasé in the Quarterfinals. Only one series even made it to 6 games, and only one lower seeded team pulled off an upset, never mind that it was the 8th seeded Kings over the President’s Trophy winning Canucks. The four teams still vying for a shot from this Conference pretty much all focus on defense first, pretty much the converse of the East.

(2) St. Louis Blues v. (8) Los Angeles Kings

Going to be a lot of defense and goaltending in this matchup. The Blues might have the two best goalies in the playoffs this year with Jaroslav Halak riding the bench behind Vezina hopeful Brian Elliott. Of course in the opposite cage will be Jonathon Quick, the Vezina front-runner who carried a sub-2.00 GAA for the entire regular season, and so far in 5 games against Vancouver limited the Canucks to just 8 goals.

In my first round preview I didn’t care much for the Kings and in a lot of ways I still don’t. This is a team that had to fight tooth and nail until the last day of the season to even make it into the postseason despite having a goalie who allowed less than 2 goals per game over the course of an entire season. How are they possibly going to score at all against a team that has two goaltenders who both have save percentages .930 or above in this postseason.

I like the Blues, they are a talented young team, and I hope that they win, of course now that I’ve said that they will undoubtedly lose and I will have to eat crow for the third time on the Kings come Conference Finals.

(3) Phoenix Coyotes v. (4) Nashville Predators

Nothing quite says traditional, heated hockey rivalry like Phoenix v. Nashville. This will also feature two really impressive goalies, Mike Smith for Phoenix, and Pekka Rinne for Nashville. Nashville was the busiest team at the trade deadline and it showed pretty clearly that the purchases they made worked in their first round dismantling of Detroit, and that was even in the absence of Hal Gill, who has been out with an injury.

In the Preds series with the Red Wings there were exactly zero lead changes, something to keep in mind if Phoenix is able to get out to an early lead. Phoenix played nearly every game of their 6 game series against the Blackhawks to overtime, also an impressive statistic. Because I like to consider the NHL from the business perspective as much as from a competitive perspective, I’m pulling for Nashville here. They have a better fan base and it is still pretty much a foregone conclusion that Phoenix will move in the near future. I like Nashville, I’m very envious of their defense, maybe we can trade Martin and Michalek for Weber’s rights, even if we don’t sign him, that’s a lot of cap off of our roster. Hey, a kid can dream.

Eastern Conference: for all of the defensive and goaltending wizardry in the West, the East is pretty much all about the offense. With the exception of the Hart-nominated Henrik Lundqvist (really NHL? I don’t like Giroux either but it’s not even close who means more to their team, the Rangers are stout defensively whether Lundqvist is in net or not, the Flyers probably don’t even go to the playoffs without Giroux…). Also unlike the West, 3 of the 4 teams still in it played to seven games, and three of the four went in as the lower-seeded team.

(1) New York Rangers v. (7) Washington Capitals

Well the Rangers held off the Senators in 7 games and now they finally get the first round matchup that they wanted. Somehow the Capitals managed to beat the reigning Cup champs and for the first time in what seems forever, or at least since 09, they’re playing in the second round of the playoffs. Good for them.

Whereas the Bruins struggled with consistency for probably 75% of the regular season, and it showed in the postseason, the Rangers have not had that issue. Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards now get to matchup against a rookie goalie, and I really don’t doubt that the Rangers D along with King Henrik can cut short any arrival proclamations from Ted Leonsis this year.

(5) Philadelphia Flyers v. (6) New Jersey Devils

This could have been a really interesting series but given that the Devils needed two extra overtimes in game 7 to finally eliminate the Florida Panthers, who I believe to have been the worst team in the playoffs this year, I’m not so sure anymore. The Flyers are coming off a comprehensive win over the 4-1 Cup favorites, while the Devils had to play a lot of extra hockey just to make it to this round.

There are some factors that can sway this series. For the benefit of the Devils, it will continue to be business as usual, they can rest tonight and Saturday and be right back into game action on Sunday. The same thing could hurt the Flyers, who will have fully a week off from competitive action before playing game one on Sunday. We know they were busy listening to the worst rock band of all time, are they going to wish they were rockstars and forget to play? You never know, stranger things have happened.

Sid is an admitted country music fan. That's a hell of a lot better than liking Nickleback, amiright?

Anyway that’s about it. It sort of sucks because now I’m finally done with finals which means I would have plenty of time to write, however, when the Pens aren’t playing there isn’t much to write about. We’ll do our best though.

Also, how does anyone feel about the graphics for the matchups? Obviously since we have a little bit more time off than we expected we want to really make preparations for next season so we can be back and better than ever, hopefully like the Penguins will be. Leave us a comment or seek us out via Twitter or elsewhere. You can see our Twitter names in the sidebar to your right.

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