The second round of the 2013 NHL playoffs is heating up, with the Boston Bruins having already put the New York Rangers on the brink of elimination, the Detroit Red Wings taking a 2-1 series lead over an angry and flustered Chicago Blackhawks and the San Jose Sharks handing the L.A. Kings two straight losses to even their series at two games each.
The hits are frequent and the scrums are perpetual. Goals are tough to come by and bounces can make or break a series because the games are so tight.
Thursday features three games that have the potential to provide fans with some wholesome playoff hockey. Well, it'll be wholesome as long as John Tortorella is not given a live microphone.
Where Series Stands: Boston is leading the series 3-0.
Boston Strengths: Depth and momentum. The Bruins have received at least one point from all but two regulars so far in the playoffs. The bottom-six forwards are playing incredibly well while Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and David Krejci have been able to dominate with their size.
New York Strengths: Henrik Lundqvist is from another planet. The Rangers have been badly outplayed through long stretches of this series, and the difference between merely losing and getting embarrassed has been the man they call King.
Boston X-Factor: Tyler Seguin. He has only posted one assist so far in these playoffs. He's taken a ton of shots on net, but he just can't seem to get them to go. If he starts scoring it will give Boston yet another dangerous player to roll with as the series moves on.
New York X-Factor: Rick Nash and Brad Richards. New York's top players have been mediocre at best in the playoffs. Nash didn't score his first goal until Game 2 of this series and Richards hasn't hit the score sheet since Game 4 of the first round.
Prediction: New York hasn't looked like a dangerous team at any point during this series. There hasn't been a pressing feeling, and Boston has controlled almost all of the momentum. That isn't going to suddenly change in Game 4.
Lundqvist hasn't been able to steal a game yet despite playing out of his mind, and New York has given him almost no goal support.
Boston wins this game and the series in a surprising sweep of the Rangers on Thursday.
Where Series Stands: After losing the first game of the series, Detroit has stormed back to take a 2-1 series lead.
Chicago Strengths: Penalty killing and emotion. The Blackhawks have yet to give up a power-play goal in the playoffs, having killed off the last 29 power plays against. They are also fired up after a controversial Game 3 loss in which they had a goal waived off due to a man standing in the crease (h/t NHL.com).
Detroit Strengths: Physicality and youth (no, seriously). The Red Wings have never been accused of being a tough team to play against, or of being young. Right now they are both of these things and the results are hard to argue with. Detroit seems to have gotten under the skin of Chicago's skill guys and has a series lead because of it.
Chicago X-Factor: Jonathan Toews. He's been held to one assist in this series so far, and he's locked in a classic forward vs. defenseman playoff war with Niklas Kronwall. If he can find his scoring touch, Chicago is a much more dangerous team.
Detroit X-Factor: Gustav Nyquist. The ultra-talented youngster scored an impressive goal in Game 3 and has been downright impressive on a third line with Damien Brunner and Joakim Andersson. That line has been the difference so far in this series.
Prediction: If the Blackhawks were playing their game they'd have a much better chance of winning Game 4. Instead they seem to have allowed the Wings to knock them off of their track-meet style, forcing them to engage in physical and gritty battles.
The Blackhawks don't win this game if they are too wrapped up in battling with guys like Dan Cleary and Jonathan Ericsson. They don't win this game if they are focused on the officiating and not the play out on the ice. And they don't win this game if Jimmy Howard continues to stand on his head.
As such, Detroit wins this one at home to put the 'Hawks on the brink of elimination. Why start betting against the Wings now?
Where Series Stands: The Kings took the first two games of this series, only to have their lunch fed to them in San Jose, where the Sharks evened the series at two apiece.
Los Angeles Strengths: Goaltending. Jonathan Quick has once again turned into a beast in the playoffs. He's posted two shutouts, has a save percentage of .944 and has only given up 1.64 goals per game. Those are video game numbers. Ridiculous.
San Jose Strengths: The new guard is leading the charge, with some help from familiar faces. It'd be easy to overlook Patrick Marleau's impressive playoff run in light of the gutsy performances put on by Logan Couture. However, the 33-year-old has been outstanding for the Sharks.
Los Angeles X-Factor: The road game. L.A. went 10-1 away from home in 2012 as it charged to the Stanley Cup in dominating fashion. So far in 2013 that road warrior approach hasn't been there. The Kings have lost four of five games away from the Staples Center.
San Jose X-Factor: The power play. The Sharks didn't score a power-play goal in the first two games and lost each one. In Games 3 and 4 they scored three power-play goals total and won both games. San Jose has one of the best power plays in the playoffs, clicking 25 percent of the time—the Sharks will need to continue to victimize L.A. with the extra man to take this series.
Prediction: This is a tough one. Both teams have been able to impose their respective wills at points during this series, but there's always been a strong push back.
The Kings have been hard to beat at home, and Quick and the defending Stanley Cup champions aren't likely to lay down and lose three games in a row. They come up with a win here and put San Jose in a corner.