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Round 2 NHL Preview

By: John Galletley

We had a very exciting first round of playoff action with several series coming down to the wire including two that went to Game 7. There were only two series that had less than six games played. I went 4-4 predicting the first round of the playoffs, correctly predicting the Rangers, Ducks, Blackhawks, and Lightning to advance. Of those correct predictions, I got two of them right in number of games in the Rangers and Lightning which just goes to show you how tough it is to predict this crazy bracket. With that said, let’s see if I do any better this round.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild

hawks wild

The Blackhawks showed last round why they earned the benefit of the doubt going into the playoffs after looking like their old selves. Nashville played them tight but the Blackhawks’ stars came up big. Duncan Keith have two of the biggest goals of the series that won two pivotal games for them and Jonathon Toews was the top point-getter in the series with eight (three goals, five assists). The most important player to show up for them was by far Patrick Kane. His health was a concern going into the playoffs but he seems to be ok now which is huge for them down the road.

If there’s one thing the Blackhawks need to be concerned about going into this series, it’s the stability of their goalies. Last series, they got by with good coaching decisions on when to switch Crawford and Darling, especially in Game 1 when they trailed 3-0. They also relied on who had the hot hand but both Crawford and Darling had their cold moments. Crawford is looking like he will get the start going into this series so the pressure will be on to return to his past self.

Their opposition is the Wild who are looking for revenge after getting eliminated by the Blackhawks last year. This year they are led by Devin Dubnyk, who is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy and has given the Wild much more stability in the goalie position. Dubnyk gave up nine goals in two of the games against the Blues, but he played great in their four wins giving up just four goals in those games combined.

The real question for them will be is this less experienced team ready to take a leap to knock off a dynasty? They passed their first test upsetting one of the best teams in the league who came into the playoffs in the top five in scoring and goals allowed. They looked impressive knocking off the Blues and I expect them to give the Blackhawks an even tougher series than last year’s six-game affair as this is a team that has grown up and has much more solid goaltending.

Prediction: History favors the Blackhawks here but something tells me this Wild team is not going away easily. I believe they’re ready to make their move and despite all of the stars the Blackhawks have, the Wild have a bigger edge in goaltending which is key in the playoffs. Wild in 7.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Calgary Flames

Flames Ducks

If there’s any team that sent a message to the rest of the NHL in Round 1, that team would be the Ducks. A lot of experts (not myself of course) had the Ducks as a prime upset pick but the Ducks made them look foolish, easily taking care of the lowly Jets, who barely sneaked into the playoffs. Their stars showed up bigtime in this series with Perry having seven points and Ryan Kesler having three goals, two of which were in Game 4 that proved to be big momentum shifters.

The key for the Ducks will be getting production from their lower lines. They’re more of a top-heavy team that has some depth but it’s questionable if the lower lines can carry them through if Perry, Getzlaf and Kesler don’t produce. Anaheim’s third and fourth lines got two goals that weren’t empty netters combined in their series against Winnipeg. They certainly need to step up but if they do, this team will be nearly unbeatable.

The Flames escaped a very physical series with the Canucks while getting solid production from their young squad. One of their key players in Jiri Hudler produced with six points in the series to lead the team to victory. Jonas Hiller will get the start in net for the Flames and this will be an interesting moment for him as he faces his former team that he went on several deep playoff runs with. Hiller had a rough last year in Anaheim and went to Calgary looking for a fresh start. Now he gets a chance to lead his new team to victory over his old one.

One concern for Calgary is them missing their top defenceman Mark Giordano. They got by without him just fine against the Canucks, but this is a much tougher Anaheim team. Having him in the lineup would help slow down the stars on the Ducks who the Flames will need to figure out a way to either match them or shut them down. They played disciplined hockey but can get exposed defensively in which the Ducks thrive at. If the Flames can find a way to neutralize Perry, Getzlaf, and Kesler, then the advantage in this series definitely shifts towards them.

Prediction: The Flames have had a nice run this year but I think it ends against the Ducks. They look like a team on a mission that simply has stronger assets than the Flames. Ducks in 6.

New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals

Rangers Caps

The Rangers looked strong in their first round win over the Penguins. They played great defensive hockey allowing more than one goal just once. There is no doubt Henrik Lundquist is the man for the Rangers and will be the guy to lead them to the promise land if they get there. Ryan McDonagh did a great job of shutting down Sidney Crosby for the most part and now has Alex Ovechkin as his next task. The Rangers played smart hockey in the first round with the little things they did with their passing and shots for rebounds to get goals along with not falling for the Penguin’s tactics.

There’s two concerns for the Rangers going into this series. The first is that they only scored two goals in each game they won against the Penguins so you have to wonder if that will be enough production if that doesn’t improve this round. The second concern is the Rangers missing Mats Zuccarello in this series. He provides the Rangers with depth in the lower lines and was a big key in their run to the Cup Finals last year. If he doesn’t return, you have to wonder how the Rangers will respond.

The Capitals are coming off defeating one New York team to now go face the other. Niklas Backstrom came up big for the Capitals with six points and Ovechkin single-handedly won Game 2 against the Islanders but they did get the help they needed from their supporting cast such as Evgeny Kuznetsov and Karl Alzner. The Capitals also shut down the Islanders power-play not allowing one goal which most people would have to think can carry over against the Rangers. Braden Holtby was also a big key allowing 1.63 goals per game against the Islanders.

On paper, the Capitals look like a strong contender to upset the Rangers. The thing is, history just doesn’t favor them in this matchup. The Rangers have beaten the Capitals in the last three playoff series they have met and this Rangers team is arguably better than any of the prior teams. The question has to be are the Capitals any different than the recent teams that have fallen to the Rangers?

Prediction: While the Capitals had an impressive series against the Islanders, this seems to be the year the Rangers truly have an elite team. With too many weapons to overcome, I don’t think the Capitals will have the horses to keep up but should still give them a good fight as usual. Rangers in 6.

Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning

canadiens lightning

The Canadiens found themselves in an interesting first round series with the Senators. It was one that they started off well in when they went up 3-0 and cooled off Andrew Hammond for good. They scored nine goals against him and cost him his job while the Senators defense really didn’t do much better in helping out. Montreal proved they could beat a good defensive team and get production when they had to not necessarily from their stars Pacioretty and Subban. With Carey Price in goal, Montreal will always have an asset and most of the time, an advantage.

The concern for the Canadiens is how they played once the Senators changed goalies to Craig Anderson. Regular season weaknesses in scoring came back up as they only scored four goals in the last three games combined. This makes you wonder if the Canadiens really did have a good first three games or if they just happened to play a rattled Senators team. In those first three games, Montreal also had a ridiculous amount of time on the power-play, where they only took six penalties in two games to the Senators’ 14. The Lightning are a much better scoring team so you have to wonder if this will come back to haunt them.

The Lightning had a tougher series with Detroit than they might have expected, becoming the last team to clinch a spot into the second round yesterday. The biggest reason they’re here is because of Tyler Johnson. He was absolutely on fire against the Red Wings, scoring six goals which leads the league in the playoffs. The scary thing is he’s their second-line center and Stamkos really struggled in the first round. One of the keys in the playoffs is to have a good attack down the middle and the Lightning have definitely shown they have it.

This team is looking for revenge against the Canadiens who swept them out of the playoffs in the first round last year. They didn’t have a healthy Ben Bishop last year though who will need to come up big considering his opposition is a Vezina finalist in Carey Price. This year the Lightning were 5-0 in the regular season against the Canadiens. Usually that’s a good sign in the playoffs but they certainly can’t rely on past results this year to advance.

Prediction: The Canadiens have a strong team but they will struggle to score at the rate the Lightning can. It’s hard to contain this offense and with Ben Bishop being a solid goalie, their defense should hold up enough to advance. Lightning in 6.

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Want to talk sports? John Galletley is the man to go to. He has been following sports of all kinds since he was a child but had a first love for baseball being in a family of Yankees fans. He also loves to travel and has used sports in order to do this including taking several road trips to MLB stadiums and other sports venues. John has always dreamed of working in the sports world and wants to make his way there as a writer in order to follow the philosophy of never working a day in your life if you love what you do.

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