Thursday, April 29, 2010

Conference Semifinals Preview and Predictions

By Eric Bancker

Well the first round of the 2010 NHL playoffs is over and now we move on to the semifinals but before we do that lets see how we got here.

#1 Washington vs #8 Montreal: Montreal wins series 4-3
How did this happen? The Capitals came into this series heavily favored, some even picked them to sweep the Montreal Canadiens. But Jaroslav Halak had other ideas as he had a brick wall behind him in the last three games of the series and sent the President's Trophy winning Capitals home. He also helped prove that winning the President's Trophy doesn't mean anything, just ask the San Jose Sharks.

This is without a doubt one of the biggest first round upsets in NHL history. Just a fun fact about the team that wins the President's trophy, since 1986 only 7 of the 25 teams who won it went on to win the cup, that's a measly 28%.

#2 New Jersey vs #7 Philadelphia: Philadelphia wins series 4-1
This wasn't a surprise to me. Every year the Devils are a top seed in the East and every year Martin Brodeur falls apart and everyone goes "Wow, I can’t believe Brodeur played so horribly" Well as the future hall of famer gets older his workload during the season doesn't seem to be getting any lighter. Marty plays almost 80 games a year...and people wonder why he is tired in the playoffs. The real surprise was the fact that he was out dueled by Brian Boucher.

#3 Buffalo vs #6 Boston: Boston wins series 4-2
The Sabres really set themselves up for failure in this series with their inability to hold a lead. Thomas Vanek being hurt and out of the lineup didn't help matters either. Tuukka Rask played really well for the Bruins and so did Mark Recchi who captured people by surprise and had five points in the six games.

#4 Pittsburgh vs #5 Ottawa: Pittsburgh wins series 4-2
Sidney Crosby was able to carry the Penguins on his back to help them advance to the second round of the playoffs with 14 points in the six games. Ottawa got off to a good start by taking the first game of the series but the defending Stanley Cup champs didn't want to go down so easily.

They took the next three and had a stranglehold on the series but momentum started to shift. Ottawa won game five in triple overtime and went back home for game six and got a 3-0 lead. But Sid and the Pens overcame the deficit and Pascal Dupuis scored in overtime to capture the series for the Pens. But looking back, Ottawa was starting to take that series over. If they had held on in game six and pushed a game seven then the defending Stanley Cup champs might have been sitting at home right now.

#1 San Jose vs #8 Colorado: San Jose wins series 4-2
This series had to be one of the most strange series in recent memory. Colorado looked poised to try to knock the San Jose Sharks out of the playoffs but they fell short of that goal. San Jose was able to beat the 8th seed, something they couldn't do last year. Maybe they should get a cookie for their good efforts.
Craig Anderson was amazing for the Avs and he kept them in the series. He faced 245 shots in six games, that's an astonishing 40 shots a game. Yet his save percentage was still .933. The Sharks threw everything except the kitchen sink at Anderson and they had a very hard time solving him. Hell, I think when Dan Boyle put that puck in his own net he was sort of relieved that his team didn't have to face Anderson anymore that night. Ok, maybe he wasn't relieved but still Anderson gave the Avs a chance.

#2 Chicago vs #7 Nashville- Chicago wins series 4-2
This was another series that was just down right odd. The Predators put up a good fight and really put Chicago to the test but Antti Niemi proved to be too much of a challenge for the Preds as he had shutouts in games two and four. Game six was the most exciting game of this series. Seven goals were scored in the first period and you thought by the end of the game maybe 20 goals would be up on the board but no. No other goals were scored until 19:52 of the third period when John Madden (No not the football guy) scored an empty net goal to seal the win for the Blackhawks.

#3 Vancouver vs #6 Los Angeles- Vancouver wins series 4-2
This series was nasty and it was just what you wanted to see as a fan. Tons of hits being thrown around and among all the rough stuff a lot of goals were being scored. Surprisingly Mikael Samuelsson was the main source of goal scoring for the Canucks as he had seven goals in the six games. In Samuelsson's playoff career which has seen 69 games he only had 13 goals. So for him to step up and score like that when no one expected him to was a nice lift for the Canucks.

#4 Phoenix vs #5 Detroit- Detroit wins series 4-3
Every series in the Western Conference was exciting and this one may have been the most exciting. Phoenix was a team no one expected to be here, they have gone from the cellar in the Western Conference to a Stanley Cup contender. I didn't think the inexperienced Coyotes would have been able to take the Red Wings to seven games. The Wings have been to the Cup Finals the last two years and they ooze experience. Give the Coyotes a ton of credit as they went out and played hard and proved to the entire NHL that they are for real.

Well now that we took a nice trip down memory lane of the first round, lets move on to the last eight teams that are fighting for the Stanley Cup.

#1 San Jose vs #5 Detroit- prediction- San Jose wins in 5
This series is going to be downright nasty. These two teams always put a good show on every time they play each other and I wouldn't expect any less from this playoff series. Even though Detroit was able to go 3-0-1 in the season series, I expect the Sharks to finally get the monkey off of their back and push toward the Stanley Cup

Impact Player(s) for the Sharks: Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Dany Heatley. These guys did not show up in the first round, the threesome that had over 100 goals this season combined only mustered one goal against the Avs in round one, Joe Thornton being the biggest problem of the three.

Thornton has now played in 82 playoff games, which is just as many games that are played in the regular season. In those 82 games Thornton has only 56 points, which only 12 are goals. In the last four seasons Thornton has played 82 games in each one except for this season where he played 79. His point totals in those four seasons are as such 114, 96, 86, and 89. Thornton has proved throughout his career that he is not a good playoff player but if the Sharks stand any chance of making a run at the Stanley Cup then he is going to need to wake up.

Impact Player for the Red Wings: Jimmy Howard. Howard has played great all year and he played solid in the Red Wings series against the Coyotes. This is going to be Howard's first real test. The Sharks, although they haven't gotten deep into the playoffs, have a ton of experience and they will look to pick the young netminder apart.

#2 Chicago vs #3 Vancouver- prediction- Chicago wins in 7
This series is just going to be fun to watch. It’s a rematch of last years Western Conference Semifinals where the Chicago Blackhawks were able to defeat the Canucks in six games. These two teams hate each other and Vancouver is looking to take revenge on the Blackhawks and send them home. You want old school, dirty, nasty hockey? Well you got it with this series.

Impact player for the Blackhawks: Antti Niemi. The young goalie will be facing a much tougher offense opponent in the Vancouver Canucks. Not to knock the Predators but they can’t match the offense that Vancouver has. Look for them to get in his face and screen him. If he can withstand the onslaught then the Blackhawks will have a good chance of moving on to the Conference Finals.

Impact player(s) for the Canucks: Roberto Luongo and the penalty kill. Roberto Luongo was kind of beat up by the young L.A Kings and he now moves on to a much more experienced and powerful team in the Chicago Blackhawks. Luongo will need to be in regular season form to slow down the Blackhawks offense. The Canucks surrendered 10 power-play goals in six games against the Kings...yikes. The penalty kill will need to be much better in this series otherwise the Blackhawks will send them home early

#4 Pittsburgh vs #8 Montreal- Pittsburgh wins in 6
Montreal shocked the hockey world last night when they defeated the Washington Capitals in game 7. Jaroslav Halak stepped his game up big time and solved the Canadiens goaltending problem. The only problem for the Habs is the fact that they were outplayed heavily by the Caps. The Capitals had all the chances, they out shot Montreal 292-194, that's a 98 shot differential. Not to mention all the blocked shots that Montreal had, so that number could have been much higher. Expect the Penguins to put up the same amount of shots as Washington did as Pittsburgh has one of the most lethal offenses in the NHL.

Impact player for the Habs- Jaroslav Halak. Without a doubt Halak is the foundation for Montreal. He is going to be forced to stand on his head once again to give the Habs chance to beat the Pens. Halak was amazing in the first round, can he do it again?

Impact player for the Penguins- Marc-Andre Fleury. Fluery is one of the most overrated goaltenders in the NHL. He didn't play well in the first round against Ottawa and he is going to need to be much better against the Habs. The only thing that may stop the Penguins from repeating as Stanley Cup champs is Marc-Andre Fleury.

#6 Boston vs #7 Philadelphia- prediction- Flyers win in 7
Two teams who struggled all season long, come into the playoffs and upset the #2 and #3 seeds will now face each other to see who gets into the Eastern Conference Finals. Does it really get any better then this? Philadelphia is going to come out and be aggressive like they always are. This is a tough team to face and they are going to take it hard to the Bruins. The glaring problem for the Flyers, other than Boucher, is the fact that they are without Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne.

Impact player for the Bruins- Marc Savard. Savard is one of the best playmakers in the NHL and he adds another dimension to their offense. With Savard back it gives the Bruins a real chance to win this series.

Impact player for the Flyers- Brian Boucher. Boucher is the most important player on the Flyers because he is going to have to play well to keep them going. Boucher is not a world class goalie and is best served to be a backup but the Flyers have had injuries at the goalie position and it is up to Boucher to lift this team up on his shoulders.

Well no matter what way these series go, one thing is certain and thats the fact that all of the games will be exciting and maybe we will see even more surprises this round then we did in the first round.

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