2012 NHL Playoffs: Conference Semi-Finals Team Analysis and Predictions

Rob Greissinger@@Rob_Gsinger25Correspondent IIMay 11, 2012

2012 NHL Playoffs: Conference Semi-Finals Team Analysis and Predictions

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    The LA Kings shocked the hockey world when they swept the second seeded St. Louis Blues. 

    The Phoenix Coyotes won their first series in Phoenix. The franchise had not won a series since they moved to Phoenix from Winnipeg in 1996.

    Nobody expected the New Jersey Devils to be in the conference finals, but are we really surprised to see them there? They played vintage Devils hockey that was always successful—the trap.

    The New York Rangers have not had an easy time as they have played the maximum number of games possible to this point. Both series that they have played in have gone to a seventh game. The wear and tear has to have been mentally wearing on the Rangers' players and coaching staff. 

    Here is a look at each team's chances. 

Phoenix Coyotes

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    Even with home-ice advantage, the Phoenix Coyotes will be underdogs against the scorching LA Kings.  

    The Coyotes were looked down upon as always. That was because they came from the weakest division in the Western Conference. 

    Shane Doan has been with Coyotes for as long as they have been in Phoenix. The Coyotes captain has been through a lot with this team. He has seen the highest of highs and lowest of lows. Right now his leadership is crucial, even though he has never been this deep into the playoffs. 

    Goaltender Mike Smith has flown under the radar but is crucial to the Coyotes' success. The Coyotes will have to depend on Smith as the start of their defense. His rebound control will be extremely critical against the higher-powered offense the Kings have. 

    Seed: 3rd - West

Los Angeles Kings

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    The Staples Center has never been this busy at this time of year. All of its three occupants are in the playoffs and doing rather well. Of those LA teams, nobody expected the Kings to make it this deep. They surprised everybody by not only beating the Vancouver Canucks but also sweeping the St. Louis Blues. 

    The additions this year of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have added the scoring punch that complements Jonathan Quick's play in goal and the guys on the blue-line are contributing. Along with Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar, the Kings have the veterans they needed to push themselves forward.

    The Kings may have squeaked their way into the playoffs, but they proven that a hot goalie can take any team deep into the playoffs.

    They are as hot as the desert that they will be playing in. Should they continue to play with the confidence they had against St. Louis, they should have no problem beating the Coyotes. 

    Here's a look at Jonathan Quick's stats: 8W-1L, 1.55 GAA, .949 save percentage, one shutout in the playoffs.

    Seed: 8th - West

New Jersey Devils

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    When the Devils played the Panthers in the first round, the series went relatively unnoticed. They won it in spectacular fashion—an overtime goal in Game 7.

    The first round of this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs was full excitement in the Flyers-Penguins and Rangers-Senators series. The Bruins-Capitals series had attention because the Bruins were expected to be a serious contender to defend their cup title. 

    The Flyers found themselves overconfident and thought the series would be easy. But the vintage trap along with Marty Brodeur playing like his old self have made the Devils contenders. 

    The Devils may be a dark horse to some, but they are playing the style of hockey that made them so successful before the 2004-05 lockout. If they continue to play that way, the next opponent they face may be able to stay close, but not close enough. Brodeur will likely play a significant role in the Devils' fate. If he continues to play well and the Devils play the way they have, they should have no problem beating whomever they face in the Conference Finals. 

    Seed: 6th - East

New York Rangers

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    The Rangers are the lone top three team left in the quest for the Stanley Cup. 

    They have played 14 games so far in these playoffs. They lost the maximum number of games without being eliminated. They have won eight of those games. The wear and tear of the playoffs could get to them. 

    They will simply be too much for the Capitals. It will set up arguably the most bitter rivalry matchup in the NHL. The NHL better have hoped for what they got. It's a repeat of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals. The hockey world needs more rivalries that includes neither Sidney Crosby nor Alex Ovechkin.

    The Devils vs. Rangers is a subway series. Just below Madison Square Garden is Penn Station. If you get on the New Jersey Transit and go one stop, you will have a short walk to the Prudential Center.

Seeds Don't Matter

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    Seeds have never really mattered in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It all goes to the idea of "as long as you get in, you have a shot."

    The Flyers proved that in 2010 when they won the Eastern Conference Championship. The Bruins proved it last year in winning the whole thing. 

    It makes the Rangers-Capitals seventh game was hard to predict. It could have gone either way. It was tight and teams had to capitalize on their scoring chances. The Rangers hunkered down and got the job done regardless of the circumstances.  

    The NHL would like to have a New York vs. Los Angeles Final. Who wouldn't want the two biggest markets in the United States playing each other?

Series Predictions

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    Eastern Conference Finals

    Rangers (1) vs. Devils (6)

    A series of six against seven would not have been predicted by many. The Capitals' road to the Conference Finals would have never been seriously considered if they weren't playing defending cup champion Boston Bruins or the first-seeded Rangers. 

    Regardless of whom the Devils play, they are riding a very hot Marty Brodeur and should be able to beat whomever they play. 

    Winner: Devils in Six


    Western Conference Finals

    Coyotes (3) vs. Kings (8)

    This matchup was also probably the least predicted for the Western Conference. The eighth seed against a weak third seed that had better teams below it. 

    Winner: Kings in Five


    2012 Stanley Cup Finals 

    Devils (6) - Kings (8)

    Both of these teams have benefited from a hot goalie. The big difference is the experience of Marty Brodeur and the young Jonathan Quick. 

    Winner: Devils in Seven

    Brodeur will be able to contain the Kings. He will be the first goaltender who will be able to shut the Kings down. He has done that to teams in the past, and this time is no exception. It will be a back-and-fourth battle.

The Con Smythe Trophy

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    Jonathan Quick vs. Marty Brodeur

    Nobody has stood out more than the goalies. Brodeur has given the whole Devils team confidence in what they can achieve. Brodeur was a big part in why the Devils beat the Panthers and was the reason they beat the Flyers in the second round.

    Win or lose, depending on how Jonathan Quick performs in a Finals matchup against the Devils, he could be like Jean-Sebastian Giguere and win the Con Smythe while being on the losing team. 

    Should the Kings lose to the Coyotes, Broduer automatically becomes the front-runner should the Devils advance as predicted. 

    Here is a look at the stats of each goaltender:

    Jonathan Quick: 8W-1L, 1.55 GAA, .949 save percentage, one shutout in the playoffs

    Marty Brodeur:  8W-3L-1OT, 2.05 GAA, .920 percentage save, one shutout in the playoffs

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