Playoff Preview Round #3

Wow time for the Conference Finals already. This postseason is really moving along quickly. If not for the Caps and Rangers we could probably be two or three games into the conference finals. The Western Conference has been set for a week and the Devils have been waiting since Tuesday. We’re getting down to crunch time now, there are only four teams left. One of them will end up winning the Stanley Cup. Who would’ve predicted these teams to be the last one’s standing at the start of the season.

Again we will start with the Western Conference…

(3) Phoenix Coyotes v. (8) Los Angeles Kings

A couple of days ago Mike gave a solid preview of the Western Conference Final. I don’t need to repeat what he said but trust that I do share his enthusiasm for this matchup. I’m really excited because no matter what, the Western Conference will have a new top dog, and no matter what, they’re going to be from an incredibly atypical hockey market.

Another epic goaltending showdown. Incredible goaltenders in Mike Smith and Jonathon Quick have really carried both of their teams and I see no reason to believe that either will drop the ball in this series. Neither of these teams have really played anywhere near the maximum number of games to this point. The Coyotes have played 11 games, after dispatching of the Blackhawks in 6, they were able to thoroughly trounce the Predators in 5. I’m impressed by what this team has accomplished, especially in the almost complete absence of top end talent.

As impressive as the Coyotes have been, the Kings have been better. The Kings have needed only 9 games to dispatch of the President’s Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks in 5 and the second seeded St. Louis Blues in a clean sweep. The Kings really perplex me. Twice now I have said that I’ve been unimpressed by the Kings, and here they are having played only one game over the minimum and looking like the most dominant team in the playoffs. Further, there are a lot of people that I do like on the Kings’ roster. Of course it’s impossible to start anywhere else than with Jonathon Quick. He’s literally completely insane. I would say he’s due for a letdown, but he’s been on the same pace for literally the entire season. From there you have to give mad respect to former Penguin Rob Scuderi. Completely instrumental in helping the Penguins to the Cup in 09, if there is one former Penguin who I miss wearing the Pens uniform, it has to be Scuds. Further its tough not to like long-time Kings players like Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Drew Doughty, all of whom I would love to see more of if not for the cursed NHL regular season schedule. Of course I can’t just support the Kings unconditionally. They do have both of the ultimate villains to Pens fans from the previous half decade, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. I understand that they do not wear the orange and black of the Flyers anymore, and trust me the amazing satisfaction I would feel if they did win the Cup in LA after getting traded away from Philly under the auspices that they “couldn’t get the Flyers over the hump,” would probably be more than I could bear. Nonetheless, Carter especially has to be one of the most embarrassing NHL players in recent memory and it’s still hard to get into the idea of cheering for the “Matrix of Leadership” Richards.

Yeah, just still can’t bring myself to like those guys, I don’t know why….

I’m really hoping for a vicious series between these two teams.

They played game one last night, and what a surprise, the Kings won 4-2, running their current winning streak to 6 games. Quick let in a soft one from center ice early in the game, however, the Kings were just too much for the Coyotes. Overall the Kings attempted a mind-bending 90 shots, and despite allowing 4, Mike Smith still made 44 saves. I literally don’t know what to say about that. I mean a save percentage of nearly .940 for Smith, and his defense still contributed more than 40 blocked shots, what the Kings are doing right now is just frightening.

 (1 ) New York Rangers v. (6) New Jersey Devils

The highest overall seed left in the playoffs is the New York Rangers, they had the second best record in the regular season and would have won the President’s Trophy if they had won their last regular season game. They have also played the most games this playoffs going to 7 in both of their first two series. They get to square off against the New Jersey Devils who demolished the Flyers in 5, taking the last four in a row. I think things work in the favor of both of these teams.

I mean there is no doubt that the Rangers are a really talented team, their goalie has been nominated for all of the top honors the league has to offer, they have a stout, shut-down defense from top to bottom, and they still have explosive high-end talent like Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards. On paper this might be the best team in the NHL right now.

I said in the first round previews that the Devils were a deceptively great team. After struggling a little bit in the first round against Florida they proved just how good they could be against Philadelphia in the second round. Admittedly, the Flyers decided to stop playing like a team and let their gigantic egos get in the way of playing hockey, but still taking four straight from any playoff team is really hard to do, yet that’s what the Devils did. Martin Brodeur didn’t have his best professional season this year, and he is pretty old, however, he does happen to hold just about every meaningful goaltending record, oh yeah and he’s got 3 rings. His defense is also very effective, let’s be real, how much would you kill to see Bryce Salvador or Andy Greene wearing a Penguins’ jersey right now. Finally, this has to be the most offensively talented Devils team ever. The top two lines for the Devils have to be the most offensive talent of any team still in the playoffs, between Kovalchuk and Parise, as well as 30-goal scorer David Clarkson, future superstar Adam Henrique, and the Silver Foxes Petr Sykora, and Patrick Elias, this team can definitely put up some goals too.

Another showdown between division rivals. If you’re looking for some guidance here, these teams split the regular season 3 games apiece. Whereas the Flyers’ extended rest definitely hurt them in their series against the Devils, I fully expect the Devils to be even better for the added rest (6 days). As I said above, Brodeur is not what anyone would call “young,” as he just turned 40, and Zach Parise is about 7 million times better as a team leader than Claude Giroux could even pretend to be, I expect the Devils to come out fresh and focused, instead of drunk and arrogant, like the Flyers did. On the other side, the Devils also proved that continuity can be a great asset in the playoffs and staying on a regular, every other day schedule can be beneficial, which is what the Rangers have going for them. Either way, this should be an epic series between two teams that really don’t care much for one another.

Go Hockey.

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