2012 NHL Playoffs: Second-Round Predictions
Now that the NHL quarterfinals are over and done with, just eight teams are left standing.
In the East, the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals have moved on. The St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes, Nashville Predators and L.A. Kings represent the Western Conference survivors.
The first round was certainly one to remember, but I think the semis can be just as (if not more) exciting.
Here's how I predict things to shake out.
Eastern Conference: New York Rangers (1) vs. Washington Capitals (7)
Prediction: New York Rangers win series, 4-3.
The Rangers narrowly escaped with a Game 7 victory over the Ottawa Senators, and by the looks of things, the next task at hand will be a daunting one as well.
This is a Washington team that just knocked out the mighty Boston Bruins and in the process showed that it's capable of playing grind-it-out, playoff-style hockey. It's also got a goaltender in Braden Holtby that's as good as anyone right now.
I think New York pulls this off in seven. The Rangers don't have as much firepower as the Caps, but they're a better defensive team. If they can keep Alex Ovechkin in check—something they have not done in playoffs past—they're going to have an excellent chance of winning here.
These two teams aren't the same as they were in their recent postseason meetings, and unlike in the past, the Rangers have the edge this time around.
I think Lundqvist will out-duel Holtby and that the Blueshirts' defense and forecheck will help neutralize Washington's offensive barrage.
This is also a better matchup for the Rangers because the Caps don't skate as well as the Senators. These games will be played at the kind of pace New York likes. The Rangers absolutely cannot take the Capitals lightly, but they have what it takes to knock 'em out.
Philadelphia Flyers (5) vs. New Jersey Devils (6)
Prediction: Philadelphia Flyers win series, 4-2.
The Flyers were able to tick the Penguins off to the extent that Sidney Crosby and Marc-Andre Fleury were completely off their games.
Despite a horrendous goaltending performance by Ilya Bryzgalov, Philly's offense propelled it into the second round. I will say that Bryz was very good in Game 7, and if you're the Flyers, you're hoping that's the start of a hot streak for the Russian netminder.
New Jersey's big guns were kept relatively silent in the first round, and unless that changes, the Devils could be in trouble. Conversely, Claude Giroux, Daniel Briere and several other Flyers forwards have made plenty of noise.
Marty Brodeur came up big when his team needed it most against Florida, but the Flyers have far too many weapons for Brodeur to face on his own. If he's the only line of defense, this could be a quick series. Andy Greene, Anton Volchenkov and Marek Zidlicky have to step up.
I like the Flyers in six...if Bryzgalov shows up for 'em. Everyone's firing on all cylinders, from the rookies to the vets, and I really like the way this team is playing. As long as the floodgates stay (relatively) shut, this is Philly's series to lose.
New Jersey needs to stay out of the box if it's going to have a shot at winning this series. Like Florida, the Flyers are lethal with the man advantage, and if you make those types of mistakes, you're going to get burned.
Western Conference: St. Louis Blues (2) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8)
Prediction: Los Angeles Kings win series, 4-3.
St. Louis dispatched the Sharks in five games, but if they think their next trip to California will be an easy one, they are sorely mistaken.
This is a Kings team that is far better than they finished in the standings, as they showed during a triumphant series victory over the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks. L.A.'s physical style is a lot for opposing teams to handle, and in my opinion they are better equipped on offense and between the pipes than the Blues.
Jonathan Quick has been absolutely phenomenal in these playoffs, and I'd expect more of the same in this series.
The Blues are a very good defensive team in their own right, and I think they've got more than enough talent to push this best-of-seven to the brink. But Quick and Co. have convinced me that they're the real deal.
Another thing to remember is that St. Louis does not have a game-changer like Drew Doughty in its lineup. As was true in the last series, don't underestimate his potential impact on this one. It could be huge.
I'm going with L.A. in seven.
Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Nashville Predators (4)
Prediction: Nashville Predators win series, 4-1.
In the first round, the Predators ousted the Red Wings in five games.
The Red Wings. In FIVE GAMES.
This team has everything you look for in a cup contender, and I think Nashville's really going to take it to the Coyotes in this series.
Phoenix showed a lot of heart in beating the Chicago Blackhawks, and Mike Smith continues to be a nightmare for opposing shooters. He'll be tough to beat here too, but I think the Preds have more than enough depth to overwhelm the 'Yotes.
I'm also interested to see how effective Phoenix's offense really is, because with all due respect to 'Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford, he's not exactly a difficult one to beat.
Pekka Rinne, on the other hand, is one of the best in the business, and I think that's going to be problematic for the opposition in this series. Can Mike Smith match him save-for-save? We're going to find out soon enough.
When Rinne's not the one snuffing out scoring chances, it's usually because Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are doing so. There's so much depth and firepower in this lineup, and I really don't see the Coyotes standing much of a chance in this series.
I like Nashville in five.