The 2012 NHL playoffs are fully underway. The Philadelphia Flyers, Los Angeles Kings and Washington Capitals defeated three consensus Stanley Cup favorites. Let us take an in-depth look at the active teams in the second round to see which team has the best opportunity to win the Stanley Cup.
Ken Hitchcock and the St.Louis Blues finished the regular season as the second seed in the Western Conference standings. Many experts selected the Blues to battle the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference Finals. The Blues defeated the San Jose Sharks in five games and have shown very little struggle so far in the playoffs.
However, they now face probably their biggest adversity, trailing 0-2 in their second-round series against the Los Angeles Kings.
Dave Tippett and Shane Doan have been instrumental in building up the hockey team that is struggling financially in the Arizona desert. The NHL currently operates the Coyotes, and the team is making a statement that it belongs with the other playoff teams. With the veteran leadership of Shane Doan and Ray Whitney combined with the stellar goaltending of Mike Smith, the Coyotes defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.
Currently, the Coyotes are facing the Nashville Predators in the second round and have taken both home games to lead 2-0.
Barry Trots and GM David Poile have been the only head coach and general manager in the Predators' franchise history. Although this is a small-market team, the Predators seem to be a contender every year. This year, the Predators made acquisitions of C Paul Gaustad, Hal Gill and Andrei Kostitsyn prior to the NHL trade deadline to bolster their chances at winning the Stanley Cup. Before the NHL regular season ended, GM David Poile invited Russian-winger Alexander Radulov back to the team from the KHL overseas. The KHL scoring leader added another offensive weapon to their arsenal.
The Predators trail the Coyotes by two games in the series, but they remain the Stanley Cup favorites.
Darryl Sutter joined the LA Kings early in the season when the Kings struggled to win hockey games under the previous head coach, Terry Murray. Sutter coached with more aggressive fore-check and encouraged the skilled players to take their scoring opportunities. The Kings have been one of the best defensive hockey teams in the NHL. In the first round, they shut down the Presidents'-Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks and their second-ranked offense en route to a major playoff upset.
Many experts think the LA Kings are playing well enough to compete for the championship trophy in June.
John Tortorella and the New York Rangers play a blue-collar style of hockey. The team possesses less high-end offensive All-Stars, so they play a tight-checking and sacrificial team game. The Rangers are always in the shooting lanes to block shots, and they almost always put their sticks and bodies in front of shots—more than any other team. In the playoffs, the Rangers currently lead all teams with 116 shot blocks. With Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals threatening in the second round, the Rangers will need to do more of the same in order to have success.
Their current series is tied at 1-1 heading into Washington for Game 3.
Peter Laviolette and the Philadelphia Flyers surprised many NHL insiders with an easy 4-2 series-win in the first round against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. As it turns out, Flyers forward Claude Giroux finished the first series with a playoff-leading 14 points against the 2009 Stanley Cup champions. Offensively, the Flyers are loaded with talented scorers, and if they can improve their game defensively and get more consistent goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov, the team may find themselves representing the East in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals.
In the second round, they are playing Zach Parise and the New Jersey Devils. The series is tied at 1-1 going into New Jersey for Games 3 and 4.
Peter DeBoer and the New Jersey Devils advanced to the second round of the NHL Playoffs for the first time since 2007. The 39-year-old Martin Brodeur is nearing retirement age, but the future Hall of Fame goalie and the Devils are not done this year. As the sixth seed, the Devils defeated the third-seeded Florida Panthers 3-2 in double overtime in Game 7. Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk are getting secondary scoring from guys like Travis Zajac, Adam Henrique and Marek Zidlicky.
The Devils have a strong opponent in the second round, the Philadelphia Flyers. It should be a tough series to win.
Dale Hunter and the Washington Capitals entered the playoffs with a major task, matching up against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Boston Bruins. The Capitals received terrific goaltending from rookie Brayden Holtby and shocked the Bruins in Game 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin have played better of late, but Dale Hunter likes to play the hot hand.
Expect the Capitals to give the Rangers a big challenge in the second round. The series is tied 1-1.
This is Joseph Trenton reporting on the 2012 NHL playoffs.
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