The grueling marathon that is the NHL playoffs continues toward the third round (of four), and our intrepid team of Jay Kumar and Stephen Mapes once again provides some analysis of the past week’s action.
Jay: So…we’ve got another game 7. Washington beat the Rangers tonight to force it after losing a heartbreaker in game 5, which they led with 6 seconds to go in regulation. Do you think they can run the table and actually win game 7 (which is Saturday night)?
Stephen: I think they have as good a shot as the Rangers, as this has been another close series throughout. In fact, if I’m not correct, every game involving the Caps this post season (13 of them now) have been decided by a single goal. Holtby was solid tonight, even if his positioning looked shaky at times, and the Caps continue to play sound defense and get enough offensive pressure (or in tonight’s case, stupid Rangers penalties) to stay dangerous and keep Lundqvist on his toes.
That said, if the Rangers we expected to see decide to make an appearance at some point, it’s going to be tough for the Cinderella Caps to hold on.
Jay: The Caps have been impressive. Blocking everything and they put on some good offensive pressure when they want to. The way this series has gone, it’s really a coin flip, but I’m going to say the Rangers win. Mainly because I don’t want to see Dale Hunter and his boring-ass style make it any further. The last thing the game needs is 20 teams copying the Caps next year. It’ll be Snoozeville.
Stephen: Just double-checked, and yep: all one goal games (there were two 4-3 wins by Boston). Caps have been a sound, solid team, but I agree they aren’t fun to watch outside the joy of seeing an underdog succeed. I heard an interesting comment on the radio, tonight, though that the Rangers style of play is rather reactionary and, while effective, isn’t that good as closing. And with their second straight game 7 series, I wonder if there isn’t some truth to that. Do you think the team fundamentally doesn’t know how to seal the deal? (and it was from a Rangers announcer at that)
Jay: The Caps have had trouble with leads in the late going, mainly because they’ve been playing a similar style of prevent defense (which I hate). The Joel Ward penalty in game 5 was terrible, but so was the flopping to block shots because Holtby was screened and ultimately Brad Richards tied the game. But the Rangers have definitely not looked like the top seed in both rounds, and their power play has been brutal. So how ’bout them Devils? They made short work of the Flyers in 5 games, partly because they played well but also because the Flyers didn’t.
Stephen: It’s was not a good way to go out for them. Bryzgalov gave up some terrible turnovers (that misguided pass that went right back in for a goal especially), despite his solid play, and the Flyers looked like the Penguins did in round 1: frustrated, chippy, and ineffectual. NHL.com made the good point too that the Devils killed the Flyers by not playing into their emotional game. Devils didn’t retaliate, they didn’t get angry, they didn’t give the Flyers any fuel. They played solid defense in front of Brodeur, scored when needed, and kept it cool and professional. For a young team, taking away that reactionary spark is a solid plan to stop them in their tracks.
On a side note, I read a snarky quote from a Pens fan that some enterprising bakery should start selling Bryzgalov Turnovers. And I admit I giggled.
Jay: Yeah, it also referenced the beer a Philly brewery came out with called Sidney Crosby’s Tears.
Stephen: Ah, hockey rivalries. Actually, I think you were the one that posted it. Haha.
Jay: I did indeed. Good stuff. As for the Devils, they are as always a smart team. Having Kovalchuk back at his dangerous best is a plus, but Brodeur has also stepped up and played well. It was nice to see ex-Leaf Alex Ponikarovsky get the OT winner for them in game 3. They’ll be well-rested for whoever comes out of the Caps-Rangers series, although that can come back to bite them, too. In the West, both second-round series ended quickly. The LA Kings went and swept St. Louis, which probably nobody but the Kings players themselves expected.
Stephen: I thought that series would be wrapped by tonight, but I figured St. Louis would get at least one win before it was over. The Kings just look like such a hungry team right now. Quick is playing like a man possessed, Brown has risen to be quite the playmaker and team leader, and everyone is getting in on the action. St. Louis got hampered by the loss of Halak, but they just couldn’t match the Kings defensively or offensively either. I can tell you that hockey fever is coming alive here in SoCal though. Especially with a Lakers team that is struggling to take down Denver in round 1, the Kings are stealing the spotlight.
Jay: Nice to hear that the Kings are finally getting some attention in SoCal. I’m rooting for them to win the Cup. They were fun to watch, although in game 4, they had to weather the storm for most of the last two periods as St. Louis threw everything it had at them. Quick was terrific, but I was impressed by maniac forecheck brought by all four lines all the time. Guys like Nolan, Lewis and King have been banging bodies and scoring the occasional big goal. And Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar have been deadly; imagine if Jeff Carter starts scoring. I was surprised at how much of a mismatch the series was, but I think St. Louis has a good young core of players. They’ll be better next year.
In the other series, Phoenix knocked off Nashville (my Cup pick) in 5. Thoughts?
Stephen: I liked Nashville too, but I guess I finally have to admit that Mike Smith is the real deal. Phoenix just owned that series, start to finish. We’ve got another solid defensive team with enough offensive spark to be relevant. And you said it at the start: defense is so key during the playoffs.
Bettman is probably just beside himself with joy, as his project in the desert is one series from its first ever Cup berth.
Jay: Good week for the Coyotes as they announced a deal with a new owner, too. Dave Tippett is another good defensive coach who just outcoached Barry Trotz of Nashville in seemingly every aspect of the game. The Preds really thought this was their year, too. Think Nashville regrets giving up a first-rounder at the trade deadline for Paul Gaustad, who will now likely walk as a free agent?
Kings-Coyotes will be another close series with a lot of one-goal games. I’m going to say Kings in 6.
Stephen: I agree with you there. I admit I still may be short-selling the Coyotes, but I think the difference comes in the offensive potential. Kings have, as you said, Brown, Kopitar and potentially Carter. I don’t see a match in Phoenix. The goalies are evenly matched (though Quick gets my slight nod), and the defenses are both sound. I think Kings may even take it in 5 games.
Jay: So who do you think wins a Devils-Rangers series? I’ve gotta think NJ has to be favored against both the Rangers or the Caps, both because they’re rested and because they’re playing better. But with goalies like Lundqvist and Holtby, anything’s possible. The Caps have to be pretty exhausted and banged up from all that shot-blocking, though.
Stephen: You’d think so, and by the same token, the Rangers have struggled to put away the #8 and #7 seeds and either team will have played two full series. I agree with you that NJ has to be the favorite. And I think Brodeur, despite his age, can stand toe to toe with either Holtby or Lundqvist.
Jay: Well, we’ve got one game to go before the third round starts. The league hasn’t announced when LA and Phoenix will play game 1 of their series, but I’m looking forward to some more great goaltending and crazy overtime action.
Stephen: Yeah, I am still surprised at how into the playoffs I’ve been this season despite not having a horse in the race. I mean, I always enjoy them, but it’s just been a real joy to watch this year.