NHL Playoffs 2011: A Round One Recap and Predictions for the Second Round
After what many consider one of the most thrilling and exciting first rounds ever in the NHL, what does the second round have in store for the fans?
The playoffs are often where careers are defined, or for some, where some star careers are made legendary.
Who can forget how Jaroslav Halak carried the Montreal Canadiens to the Conference Finals last year eventually falling to the Philadelphia Flyers? Also last year, you saw a little known goalie carry a Blackhawks team on his back to a Stanley Cup title. To put this all into perspective, that is what has happened most recently, there's decades of heroics that have happened that were not mentioning here.
It doesn't matter what you do before the playoffs start, what matters is how you perform in that series that leads the team to the promise land.
As Round 1 drew to a close on Wednesday night, the Boston Bruins beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in overtime, on a game-winning snipe from Nathan Horton. Also, you saw a 41-year-old goalie rise to the occasion and backstop the Tampa Bay Lightning to a 1-0 victory over the Sidney Crosby- and Evgeni Malkin-less Pittsburgh Penguins squad.
Goalie Dwayne Roloson would deliver what many have called his "career-defining" performance as he shut the Penguins out, making a remarkable 36 saves. The Penguins ran into the two scariest words in the Stanley Cup Playoff dictionary—a "hot goalie".
So here's a recap of what I had for Round 1 for my predictions
The Eastern Conference
Washington Capitals vs New York Rangers
Prediction: Capitals in six.
The Capitals took this series in five games, pretty much handling the Rangers quickly and swiftly in the process. The Rangers' problem the entire series was solving goaltender Michal Neuvirth, as they only scored eight goals the entire series. Two games went to overtime, one also went to double overtime, so you could almost say they played an extra game's worth of periods, and still nobody lit the lamp.
Philadelphia Flyers vs Buffalo Sabres
Prediction: Sabres in seven.
I was definitely close here, but the Flyers ended up winning 5-2 in Game 7, and not the Sabres. I was banking on Ryan Miller backstopping the Sabres and stealing the series away from a Flyers squad that really lacked consistent goaltending, as three Flyers goalies would start games for them in Sergei Bobrovsky, Brian Boucher and lastly, blast from the past, Michael Leighton.
Boston Bruins vs Montreal Canadiens
Prediction: Bruins in six
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Prediction: Lightning in seven.
This series went exactly as scripted, the Bolts in seven. Again, one lonely goal separated these two clubs, as the Penguins fought hard, but eventually scoring depth hurt them. They only mustered an average of two regulation goals in the final four games, as yes, the loss of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby did play a pivotal role in the Penguins', can we say, "choke" job.
Up 3-1 against the Lightning, the Pens would not win another game, as their Stanley Cup hopes came to an abrupt end last night at the Consol Energy Center.
Vancouver Canucks vs Chicago Blackhawks
Prediction: Canucks in seven.
This series also went as scripted, going the full seven games, as Alex Burrows scored on a slapper from the faceoff circle, off of a sloppy turnover by defender Chris Campoli of the Blackhawks. Alex helped lead the Canucks to the series win, capping off a wonderful night by adding the game-winner halfway through overtime. Somewhere out there, fallen teammate and friend Luc Bourdon was watching over him that night.
Prediction: Sharks in five.
This series went an extra game, but the Sharks did prevail. Of all people to score the clinching goal was Joe Thornton. Often ridiculed and criticized for disappearing like Houdini in the playoffs, Thornton would put his name on the scoresheet, as he scored on a rebound to defeat the Los Angeles Kings, who played the series without superstar center Anze Kopitar, who was lost to injury.
Detroit Red Wings vs Phoenix Coyotes
Prediction: Wings in six.
This one was decided in a sweep, as the veteran Red Wings squad quickly disposed of the Coyotes, who may have just played their last game in Phoenix when they fell 6-3 on April 20. The best news about that for Wings fans was the extra rest Henrik Zetterberg received, as he got a full week to recover from injuries. Zetterberg, not surprisingly did not play a game in the series.
Anaheim Ducks vs Nashville Predators
Prediction: Ducks in seven.
This series went six games and not seven, as the Predators would eventually prevail over the Ducks. The Ducks lost Bobby Ryan for two games when he stepped, or what some called stomped, on rookie defender Jonathan Blum's foot in game two. Another major point here was the difference in goal, as Pekke Rinne outplayed Ray Emery and Dan Ellis in the net. Had the Ducks had their Swiss starter, Jonas Hiller, this series may of had a different finish to it.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Washington Capitals
Prediction: Capitals in seven
This would be the series most people are looking forward to if you love goal scoring. On one side you've got Alex Ovechkin, Alex Semin and the Washington Capitals. On the other side, we've got Steven Stamkos, Hart Trophy nominee Martin St. Louis and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Right now, due to sheer experience in goal, I see the Capitals having trouble with the Lightning, eventually winning the series in seven.
Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Prediction: Bruins in seven
This would be the series most people would look forward to if you love rock 'em sock 'em hockey. Hard hits and physical play will be front and center in this series, as two closely matched teams will do battle for seven games. Again this series will be close, but I feel goaltending again wins out here, as Tim Thomas out-duels the Flyers goaltending trio.
Prediction: Canucks in six
After a hard-earned series victory over the Blackhawks, the Canucks move on to face the Predators in round 2. I believe the Canucks are susceptible to a letdown in the first game and will likely lose that game, but should fight back to win the series in six games. The offensive firepower the Canucks boast will prove to be no match for the Predators.
San Jose Sharks vs Detroit Red Wings
Prediction: Red Wings in seven
All four of these series are tough to predict, but this series may be the toughest. Both teams have great goaltending, great coaching, superior depth and much more. One thing that the Wings have that many Sharks don't have is a wealth of Stanley Cup titles and some playoff confidence.
Questions still lurk about whether the Sharks will choke again, and if or when Thornton will again show up. Look for the Wings and their much deeper, stronger defence to take the series in seven, but the Sharks could surprise us still.
You can read Round 1 from me HERE.
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