NHL Playoffs 2013: Complete Preview and Prediction for Every 2nd-Round Series
One round, eight series and 47 hard-fought games are in the books for the 2013 NHL playoffs.
Only eight of the league's original 30 teams are still standing at the Tuesday kickoff of the conference semifinals.
Both regular-season conference champions and decisive Stanley Cup favorites remain in play, but the rest of the field consists of a dense, competitive group of dark horses and lower seeds. Of course, with six of the past seven Cup winners entering the playoffs seeded second or lower, those little numbers may be all but insignificant.
Will the revenge for Erik Karlsson's Achilles injury come at last? Will the Boston Bruins' incredible Monday night comeback carry over into the second round? Will the Chicago Blackhawks continue their dominance of their heated rivals from Detroit? Which California Cinderella will emerge from the Pacific Coast this spring?
A complete preview of all four second-round series, along with our far-from-scientific predictions, lies on the coming slides.
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (7) Ottawa Senators
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The Pittsburgh Penguins were dealt a wake-up call by the New York Islanders, making their first playoff appearance since 2007, in the first round.
After an as-predicted 5-0 Pens win in Game 1, the Isles pulled off 4-3 and 6-4 victori in Games 2 and 4 to tie the series at 2-2 entering Game 5. Although Pittsburgh pulled away with 4-0 and 4-3 wins to clinch the series, few were satisfied with their overall performance.
Moving forward, the Penguins will have to decide between their loyalty to franchise goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who is 4-6 with an .860 save percentage and 4.11 GAA over his last 10 playoff starts, and veteran Tomas Vokoun, who won the final two games of the Pens-Isles series with a .957 save percentage.
Offensively, however, Pittsburgh is in fine shape. They led all teams in the first round by averaging 4.17 goals per game, thanks to 22 combined assists from Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jarome Iginla and a team-leading five goals from Pascal Dupuis.
The Ottawa Senators were more than convincing in their first-round matchup with the second-seeded rival Montreal Canadiens.
The Sens beat the Habs 6-1 in Game 3 to take the series lead for good and then 6-1 yet again in the deciding Game 5 in the Bell Centre. Thanks to Craig Anderson's 1.80 GAA and .950 save percentage, Ottawa outscored Montreal by a whopping 20-9 margin over the course of the series.
Eight different Sens registered four or more points in the first round. Well-established stars Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Karlsson each had six points and a plus-five rating while young guns Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Cory Conacher (three goals each) helped put the puck in the back of the net.
Penguins won season series 3-0-0 (Senators 0-2-1)
Pittsburgh had a decisive edge over Ottawa in the regular season, beating them on all three occasions. The Pens pulled out of Canada's capital city with 2-1 and 3-1 victories while winning 4-2 in the one Pennsylvania meeting, which was highlighted by Karlsson's controversial Achilles tear.
The Penguins' dynamic offense, perhaps the best (on paper) that the NHL has seen in many years, will face a tremendous test in experienced and red-hot goaltender Anderson.
Although they probably won't put the ridiculously high scores they've become accustomed to in the past, the Pens are just too deep up front to be out-produced by a young and superstar-lacking Ottawa attack.
This series should be much closer than the seeds will suggest, but expect the Penguins to get their act together and pull it out in the end.
Penguins in Seven Games
(4) Boston Bruins vs. (6) New York Rangers
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The Boston Bruins will enter the second round as a result of perhaps the best comeback in the storied franchise's history.
The Bruins rallied from a 4-1 deficit to the Toronto Maple Leafs to score three times in the final 11 minutes and twice in the last 1:22 to force overtime. Patrice Bergeron, who had tied the game late, sent TD Garden into insanity with his series-winning goal 6:05 into the fourth frame.
David Krejci, who recorded a whopping 13 points in the Leafs series, heads the Boston offense as it prepares for the Rangers. Milan Lucic rebounded from a disappointing regular season to score nine points, while Zdeno Chara contributed seven assists and Nathan Horton racked up a plus-11 rating.
In goal, Tuukka Rask didn't have the most consistent first round, but he still held up even when young James Reimer crumbled on the opposite end. His 2.49 GAA and .923 save percentage were both quite respectable for his first playoff series as a full-time starter.
The Rangers routed the Washington Capitals 5-0 in Game 7 to advance in strange fashion from a generally tight-checking, low-scoring dogfight of a series.
Derick Brassard, a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets just two months ago, was the big headline scorer of the Blueshirts' first round—tallying seven assists and nine points. The impact of young forwards like Mats Zuccarello and Carl Hagelin also helped keep the Rangers offense rolling even without its usual stars' consistent production.
There's no doubt that Henrik Lundqvist was the real Rangers star of the first round, though. The Swedish veteran recorded a .937 save percentage through the series' first six games before capping it off with a 35-save shutout in Game 7.
Rangers won season series 2-1-0 (Bruins 1-0-2)
The Rangers recovered from a season-opening loss in Boston to top the Bruins twice in overtime as the winter wound on and take the season-series edge. The two squads haven't met since Feb. 12, though.
These two franchises go a long way back, and it would be difficult to argue that ratings-happy NBC executives would've preferred any second-round series more than this one.
In the end, expect the winner to be determined by the goaltending. If Rask can elevate his game to a Lundqvist-like level, then the Bruins' superior depth elsewhere can push Boston through. But that's highly unlikely—they call Lundqvist "The King" for a reason.
Rangers in Six Games
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings
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The Chicago Blackhawks, as expected, made short work of the slumping and inexperienced Minnesota Wild in the first round.
The 2013 Presidents' Trophy winners never trailed in the series, pulling out a Game 1 win in the fourth period and never losing that advantage. Despite falling only once to Minnesota in Game 3, the Hawks outscored the Wild 8-1 over the series' final two matches to cruise comfortably into a long weekend of rest.
Amazingly, though, Chicago won the series and averaged 3.4 goals per game despite franchise-face Patrick Kane and team captain Jonathan Toews both going oh-fer in the scoring column. Instead, the Blackhawks were led by Patrick Sharp's five goals, Marian Hossa's six points and Kane's five assists.
Goaltender Corey Crawford, meanwhile, proved some doubters wrong by posting the lowest GAA (1.40) of the first round. Crawford allowed a mere seven goals on 139 shots for a .950 save percentage and 4-1 record.
Red Wings' Outlook
As an aging former dynasty widely considered to be on the decline, the Red Wings had to win their last five regular-season games to avoid ending their incredible 21-season streak of postseason berths.
With a plethora of playoff-tested veterans on the roster for perhaps one final spring run, the Wings pulled off another last-second turnaround to defeat the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks. After blowing a 3-1 lead to fall within a mere goal of elimination, Henrik Zetterberg scored in overtime to give Detroit a Game 6 win and then again just 1:49 into Game 7 in an eventual 3-2 victory.
Zetterberg must continue to dominate if the Wings offense is to remain viable. The 32-year-old winger led the team with eight points in Round 1, trailed by flashy center Pavel Datsyuk's seven, up-and-coming rookie Damien Brunner's five and unheralded veteran Danny Cleary's five. In net, Jimmy Howard was serviceable but not spectacular, recording a 2.74 GAA and .911 save percentage.
Blackhawks won season series 4-0-0 (Red Wings 0-1-3)
The 'Hawks have won a shocking seven consecutive games against their rivals from across the state of Michigan—including all four meetings in 2013. Three of those came after 60 minutes, however, and this domination in one of America's best rivalries is bound to end sometime.
The Blackhawks, coming off one of the best regular-season campaigns in recent hockey history, outmatch the Wings in essentially every category on paper.
The only hope for Detroit is that their quickly disintegrating core of talented veterans can make one last hurrah to pull off the tremendous upset.
But the odds are certainly not in their favor.
Blackhawks in Five Games
(5) Los Angeles Kings vs. (6) San Jose Sharks
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After a rough start in Games 1 and 2, the defending champion Los Angeles Kings won four consecutive contests to defeat the St. Louis Blues in six games in the first round.
In a series where every single match was decided by a single goal and only 19 total goals were scored in 18 regulation periods, the Kings built upon their experience gained from last spring's title run and prevailed in pressure situation after pressure situation.
2012 Conn Smythe-winning netminder Jonathan Quick was stellar yet again, recording a 1.58 GAA and .944 save percentage. He's now won a stunning 20 of his last 26 postseason appearances.
On the other end of the ice, the Kings offense averaged just two goals per game. Their leading first-round point scorer, Mike Richards, didn't even light the lamp once in the series (he had five assists). Traditional impact players Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown were all factors, however, and Justin Williams continued to thrive in his increased role.
The only sweep of the first round belonged to the San Jose Sharks, who thumped the Northwest Division champion Vancouver Canucks four consecutive times to earn a week-long break entering Tuesday.
San Jose topped Vancouver twice in overtime—including the series-concluding Game 4—despite the Canucks' goaltender switch from Roberto Luongo to Cory Schneider after two home losses. Antti Niemi outdueled the 'Nucks duo by a wide margin, putting up an impressive .937 save percentage and letting his offense do the rest.
Joe Pavelski, always at his best in the postseason, tied youngster Logan Couture for the Sharks' first-round scoring lead at eight points. Captain Joe Thornton, meanwhile, registered six points of his own, while longtime club cornerstone Patrick Marleau chipped in with four goals.
Kings won season series 2-1-1 (Sharks 2-2-0)
The regular-season series between these two California rivals was well-matched, with both teams winning both home games (overall, Los Angeles and San Jose were a combined 36-6-6 at home during the regular season).
The Kings did, however, defeat the Sharks 3-2 in the final game of the regular season to earn the fifth seed and drop their northern foes to sixth.
Just like last year's Kings, who went 16-4 in the playoffs to become the first-ever eighth seed-turned-Cup champion, the Sharks are an extremely streaky team.
But, right now, they're on fire. And that's very dangerous for the rest of the NHL.
Loaded with an underrated blend of young and old on one of the league's best offenses and backed by a former Cup-winning netminder, 2013 might finally be the year the San Jose Sharks make their title campaign.
They face a stiff test in Round 2, but we foresee the surging Sharks knocking off the defending champs and marching their way into the Western Conference Final.
Sharks in Six Games