NHL Playoffs 2012: Previewing and Predicting Saturday's Games
Saturday, the second round will really take off as two more series begin. First, at 3:00 p.m. ET, the New York Rangers will begin their bout with the Washington Capitals on NBC. Later, the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues will break ground in their series. That game will begin in St. Louis at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Both games promise a lot of thrills. They both see top-tier teams—the Rangers and Blues—pitted against first-round upset teams that have great rosters but struggle to find consistency—the Caps and Kings.
With all four teams already battle-tested, the fans should be in for some top-notch playoff hockey.
(1) New York Rangers vs. (7) Washington Capitals
The afternoon promises some excitement, as these two teams already have history. Most recently, the Capitals ousted the Rangers in the first round of last year's playoffs. The Rangers were not in the postseason in 2010, but in 2009 they were also treated to a first-round defeat at the hands of Washington.
Nov. 25: NYR def. WSH 6-4 in Washington
Dec. 28: WSH def. NYR 4-1 in Washington
Feb. 12: NYR def. WSH 3-2 in New York
Apr. 7: WSH def. NYR 4-1 in New York
New York Rangers
Finished 1st in East
Defeated Ottawa in 7 games
The Rangers were the beasts of the East this season, and despite a slight hiccup in the form of a Canadian hockey team, they remain the strongest roster in the conference.
The Senators were able to stretch the Rangers into an extremely tight, physical, well-played series. On the one hand, it was more of a struggle than many expected of the Senators, and it caused some questions for the Rangers. On the other hand, it resulted in the Rangers playing some really good hockey.
Henrik Lundqvist has been his usual stellar self so far. Against the Senators, King Henrik posted a 1.70 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage, along with a shutout. Of course, he got a lot of help from his teammates.
Dan Girardi led the league with 30 blocked shots. Ryan McDonagh was close behind with 24, and Marc Staal, Anton Stralman and Michael Del Zotto added 15, 13 and 12, respectively—all within the league's top 25.
On the offensive end, Brad Richards is leading the way. A deep offense saw real production from Ryan Callahan, Stralman, Girardi, Derek Stepan, Marian Gaborik, Brian Boyle and Artem Anisimov, all of whom have at least three points.
Finished 7th in East
Defeated Boston in 7 games
Not too many people expected the Capitals to be here, but now that they are...well, it's still pretty unclear.
The Capitals progressed because of great play from a lot of unlikely heroes, most notably rookie netminder Braden Holtby. Holtby, along with his 2.0 GAA and .940 save percentage, anchored the Caps in their surprise victory over the defending-champion Bruins.
And this was not a case of Cup hangover. The Bruins did not lose this series; the Caps won it. Besides Holtby's superior play throughout the series, significant defensive contributions were made by Karl Alzner (17 blocked shots, 12 hits), John Carlson (17, 15), Roman Hamrlik (16,10) and Mike Green (12, 10).
Alex Ovechkin is leading the way offensively—though, not at the pace he'd like; the Russian has two goals and three assists so far. Alex Semin has contributed three goals, along with two from Troy Brouwer, and Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, Hamrlik, Joel Ward and Marcus Johansson have all chipped in on the attack.
(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings
Both teams in this series proved to be surprises this year, though, not in the same way. The St. Louis Blues went largely unnoticed before the season began, sporting a young and not particularly impressive roster. The Kings, meanwhile, had a pair of great young goalies and newly acquired offensive stud Mike Richard to help out Anze Kopitar and get things going in LA.
Obviously, neither of those scenarios lasted. After a slow start, the Blues fired their coach, hired Ken Hitchcock and immediately began looking like a dangerous team. They rose steadily all year, even leading the league at one point, backed by the strong play of goalies Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott.
Meanwhile, the Kings never really took off. The offense was stagnant, and the only thing that kept the team going much of the season was Jonathan Quick's superb play night after night. Now these two question marks will meet, and only one will move on.
Oct. 18: LAK def. STL 5-0 in Los Angeles
Nov. 22: LAK def. STL 3-2 in St. Louis
Feb 3: STL def. LAK 1-0 in St. Louis
Mar. 22: LAK def. STL 1-0 (SO) in Los Angeles
St. Louis Blues
Finished 2nd in West
Defeated San Jose in 5 games
The Blues quickly rebounded from a Game 1 loss with four straight wins against the Sharks.
Jaroslav Halak played quite well in net while he was healthy, but once Brian Elliott stepped in, the team got that much scarier. Now Elliott sits with a 3-0 record, a 1.37 GAA and a .949 save percentage.
These astonishing numbers may look familiar, as they're not really that far off from the regular-season stats of Brian Elliott. Both Blues goalies looked great all year, and they both looked good in the first round, so it doesn't appear that they should have too many problems moving forward.
Meanwhile, Andy McDonald and Patrik Berglund are tearing things up for the Blues, combing for 15 points. McDonald's four goals leads the team, and his four assists are tied with Berglund's. The real problem comes past them.
Those two put up 15 points; the entire rest of the team put up 24.
Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner each have only one goal; T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Alexander Steen, David Perron, Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo combine for three goals. While McDonald and Berglund have been crazy-good of late, others will need to step up to keep things going smoothly.
Los Angeles Kings
Finished 8th in West
Defeated Vancouver in 5 games
The Kings won over a lot of fans when they knocked out the league-best Vancouver Canucks in just five games. Not only did they beat a team that had more points than any other, they beat them conclusively.
It began and ended with Jonathan Quick, who was every bit the superstar he was in the regular season. Quick managed a .953 save percentage to go with a shutout and a 1.59 goals-against average.
After Quick, the most important player has to be Dustin Brown. The team's captain and perennial leader in hits is leading the way offensively, putting up four goals along with a helper. Two of his goals came in the same night, and were both shorthanded.
There was somewhat solid production across the board from the Kings: Justin Williams, Kopitar, Mike Richards, Willie Mitchell, Jarret Stoll, Jeff Carter, Trevor Lewis and Dustin Penner each put up at least two points—no huge feat, but not bad for a five-game series.
Now for the tough part.
Rangers vs. Capitals
The Caps have a deep and scary offense, but Lundqvist is just too skilled to get too overwhelmed. Anything Ovechkin and co. can throw at him, Gaborik and Richards can throw just as hard at Holtby, and he's the one I'd expect to break first.
Rangers win 3-1
Blues vs. Kings
This entire series seems to be building to a goalie's duel, and that should largely be the story in Game 1. Expect both teams to uncover a few weaknesses along the way, occasionally cashing in on the opportunities that arise. It's hard to think that Quick or Elliott would cost a game, but the Kings would seem to have the offensive edge. That, and the momentum from knocking out the No. 1 seed still driving them forward.
Kings win 2-1 (2OT)