NHL Playoffs 2012: Predicting Second-Round Series and Their Outcomes
The first round of the 2012 NHL playoffs are nearly over and done with.
Needless to say, it's been an unbelievable week of hockey. Overtimes, fights, suspensions, hits, and saves, the playoffs have had everything this year.
Naturally, it's time to predict both the second round matchups and how they'll shake out.
Here's a look at which teams will survive the rest of the first round and how they will fare in the conference semifinals.
1. New York Rangers vs. 5. Philadelphia Flyers
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A Rangers-Flyers series would be great for players, fans and the league in several ways. The teams were featured in HBO's 24/7 series ahead of the Winter Classic and have a storied, if not vicious, rivalry.
Goaltending Matchup: Henrik Lundqvist vs. Ilya Bryzgalov
Lundqvist will likely be the Vezina Trophy winner and Bryzgalov has not looked comfortable in the Flyers' net since day one.
Defense: The Rangers' team defense has been infinitely more impressive than any individual effort of their defensemen. New York's commitment to blocking and altering shots is one of the reasons they have the edge over the porous and mistake-prone Flyers blue line.
Forwards: While the Rangers boast proven scorers like Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards, the Flyers' offense has been ridiculous in the postseason. They partly have Marc-Andre Fleury to thank, but the Flyers have averaged just under six goals a game so far.
The Bottom Line: The Rangers have shown that they can play effective playoff hockey. They get in the shooting lanes, finish their checks and kill penalties superbly. The Flyers have shown that they can win ugly. Personally, I think the Flyers' defensive liabilities will cost them in round two.
Rangers in six.
2. Boston Bruins vs. 3. Florida Panthers
The Bruins and Panthers both haven't played spectacular hockey in the first round, but both will likely close out their series against the Capitals and Devils, respectively. The Panthers simply want it more than the Devils, while the Bruins have experience on their side.
Goaltending: Tim Thomas vs. Jose Theodore
Theodore may not even be in the Panthers' net should they beat the Devils. Scott Clemmensen was brilliant in relief of him in game three and it wouldn't be surprising to see Kevin Dineen roll with Clemmensen going forward. Thomas, on the other hand, has looked like the Conn Smythe Trophy winner from last season.
Defense: The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 with outstanding collective defense. It doesn't hurt that they have Zdeno Chara quarterbacking their blue line, but the Panthers' Brian Campbell and Jason Garrison simply aren't on the same level.
Forwards: The Panthers have relied on consistent production from their defensemen but have tough, motivated forwards like Stephen Weiss who have been waiting for playoff hockey for a long time. The Bruins don't have a game-breaking forward, but rely more on incredible depth that gives them the edge over the patchwork Panthers.
The Bottom Line: The Bruins haven't looked exactly like the 2011 version, but they still have a highly-talented team that plays tough and has boatloads of experience.
Bruins in five.
2. St. Louis Blues vs. 8. Los Angeles Kings
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It's only a matter of time before the Kings pull off the upset and rid the hockey world of the Vancouver Canucks for another season. And the Blues have shown they are the tougher, grittier and better-coached team in their series against the Sharks.
Goaltending: Jonathan Quick vs. Jaroslav Halak / Brian Elliott
Who will start for the Blues is still uncertain as Halak has been sidelined with an ankle injury. Either way, this series has the potential to be a goalie-duel. Quick, Halak and Elliott are all deserving of Vezina consideration, and their play has only risen in the postseason.
Defense: Both teams pride themselves on their outstanding defensive play. The Blues and Kings are coached nearly to perfection, and were first and second in goals against in the regular season. Each have a young superstar defenseman: Alex Pietrangelo for St. Louis and Drew Doughty for Los Angeles.
Fowards: Both teams were in the bottom half of the NHL in goals scored but both have solid depth up front. Los Angeles certainly has more star power, with names like Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown. The Kings' offense has been buoyed by the acquisition of Carter and they have the potential to be absolutely lethal.
The Bottom Line: This will be a spectacular series. The teams match up very well and both play very similar styles, so it wouldn't be surprising to see it go seven games. The outcome will likely come down to which team is more effective on special teams.
Blues in seven.
4. Nashville Predators vs. 6. Chicago Blackhawks
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However, with Raffi Torres' hit on Marian Hossa in game three, the Hawks now have a rallying point. They also have Jonathan Toews who might be the best captain in the NHL. The Coyotes will now have to deal with an impassioned Chicago team.
Goaltending: Pekka Rinne vs. Corey Crawford
Rinne has been the backbone of every Predators win this season. He's incredibly consistent and his postseason numbers are excellent. Crawford, while effective, is in a different class to Rinne. He gives his team a chance to win, while Rinne can often steal games.
Defense: Nashville's big two of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter have been overshadowed in some ways by 27-year-old defenseman Kevin Kline. Kline has two goals and three points in four games in the playoffs and provides Nashville with solid depth. The Blackhawks have similar complimentary players like Nick Leddy and Johnny Oduya, but are a bit more mistake-prone than the Nashville D-corps.
Forwards: The Hawks have the clear advantage on paper, with players like Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patty Sharp, but the Preds have solid depth up front. It's undeniable that the Chicago attack is much more dangerous and dynamic, but the Hawks scored only nine more goals than Nashville during the regular season.
Bottom Line: The Predators play an effective defensive game, and have built a very deep lineup that can wear down volatile opponents like the Blackhawks.
Predators in six.