2010 NHL Conference Semi-Final Preview and Predictions

2010 NHL Conference Semi-Final Preview and Predictions

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2010 NHL Conference Semi-Final Preview and Predictions

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A total rush, complete exhilaration, incredible euphoria on one end, and heartbreaking loss, an unbelievable sick feeling, followed up by emptiness as well as an ample amount of disgust.  The drama of a wide open scoring chance, like Washington’s Jason Chimera‘s seemingly uncontested shot late in Game 7 against Montreal only to be thwarted by a desperate diving play by the Canadiens’ Josh Gorges symbolizes just how quickly a great opportunity can appear and vanish just as fast.  The clank of metal as puck rings off the post, the crazy flurry near the crease and each every wind up as they look to hammer a slap shot on goal brings a anxious gasp from the crowd and are just a small part of what has made this year’s edition of the Conference Quarterfinals one of the best in recent memory.  The lengths of the series has made for incredibly dramatic and entertaining play.  Yet that is the way its supposed to be.  The playoffs are supposed to be extra intense and the players are supposed to go to the Nth degree to stop shots it is often the hustle that seems to be more often rewarded than the fancy skill play.  Small mistakes can sometimes turn a series around, as Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks feared when he inadvertently fired a clearing attempt into his own goal giving Colorado an overtime victory.  Luckily for Boyle, the hockey gods were forgiving and the Sharks were able to advance to the semi-finals.  This is why die hard hockey fans absolutely love the playoffs, even if their own favorite teams are not in it.  For some, they latch onto another team and try their best to root for them to win it all, while others sit back and just enjoy the spectacle of it all.  No matter what, it is virtually impossible not to get wrapped up into the struggle and battles on the ice as now just 8 teams try to win 12 more games to earn the right to hoist Lord Stanley’s chalice above their heads.

The Quarterfinals had its share of surprises, most notably none of the division winners in the Eastern Conference survived to make it to the 2nd round which included one of the experts’ favorites the mighty top-seeded Washington Capitals.  The 6th, 7th and 8th seeds did advance, but as ESPN’s Chris Berman likes to remind all sports fans, “that’s why they play the games!”  In the Western Conference, a vicious cross check by Chicago’s Marian Hossa on Nashville’s Dan Hamhuis made us wonder where justice goes when the post-season arrives as the skilled Slovak did not receive any suspension while Alexander Ovechkin earned a few game suspension for a virtually identical hit to the Blackhawks’ Brian Campbell just a month prior.  Should it really matter how injured a player is for a careless and dangerous hit or should the act be judged as is regardless of the injury it inflicted?  The NHL’s rules’ czar Colin Campbell certainly did not think Hossa deserved to sit anymore than the 5-minute major he received at the time.  So what surprises await us in the Conference Semi-Finals?

Here is a listing of the 4 series from each respective conference as well as some statistics.  The team statistics; goals for, goals against, power play and penalty kill are all ranked based on the 16 teams that qualified for the playoffs.  All the times listed are in Central Standard Time.  Enjoy the analysis as well as the predictions and do not be afraid to tell me what you think as comments are most welcome!

Eastern Conference Semi-Finals:

#4 Pittsburgh Penguins ~ won their series 4-2 against Ottawa

4.00 Goals For per game (2nd in the NHL Playoffs)

3.17 Goals Against per game (12th in the NHL Playoffs)

25% Power Play (5th in the NHL Playoffs)

68.2% Penalty Kill (15th in the NHL Playoffs)

Top 3 Scorers:

1. #87 Sidney Crosby ~ 5g 9a = 14pts

2. #71 Evgeni Malkin ~ 4g 4a = 8pts

3. #13 Bill Guerin ~ 2g 4a = 6pts

Top Goaltender:

1. #29 Marc-Andre Fleury (4-2)  2.75GAA  .890%SP

Vs.

#8 Montreal Canadiens ~ won their series 4-3 against Washington

2.86 Goals For per game (9th in the NHL Playoffs)

3.14 Goals Against per game (11th in the NHL Playoffs)

20% Power Play (8th in the NHL Playoffs)

97% Penalty Kill (2nd in the NHL Playoffs)

Top 3 Scorers:

1. #13 Mike Cammalleri ~ 5g 5a = 10pts

2. #14 Tomas Plekanec ~ 4g 3a = 7pts

2. #46 Andrei Kostitsyn ~ 3g 3a = 6pts

Top Goaltenders:

1. #41 Jaroslav Halak (4-2)  2.46GAA  .939%SP

2. #31 Carey Price (0-1)  4.00GAA  .898%SP

Series Schedule(Montreal wins the series at 4-3)

Friday, April 30th @ Mellon Arena ~ 6:00PM – CBC, RDS, Versus (6-3 Penguins win)

Sunday, May 2nd @ Mellon Arena ~ 1:00PM – NBC, CBC, RDS (3-1 Canadiens win)

Tuesday, May 4th @ Bell Centre ~ 6:00PM – CBC, RDS, Versus (2-0 Penguins win)

Thursday, May 6th @ Bell Centre ~ 6:00PM – CBC, RDS, Versus (3-2 Canadiens win)

*Saturday, May 8th @ Mellon Arena ~ 6:00PM – CBC, RDS, Versus  (2-1 Penguins win)

*Monday, May 10th @ Bell Centre ~ 6:00PM – CBC, RDS, Versus (4-3 Canadiens win)

*Wednesday, May 12th @ Mellon Arena ~ TBD – CBC, RDS, Versus (5-2 Canadiens win)

I must admit I was way off when it came to judging how the Montreal Canadiens were going to do in this season’s playoffs, as I predicted them to be swept in 4 games by the Capitals.  Instead the Montreal Canadiens became the first team since the Minnesota Wild back in the 2003 playoffs to comeback from a 3-1 deficit to win their series and shock the NHL by sending Alexander Ovechkin to the golf course a lot earlier than most expected.  The Canadiens barely scratched their way to the playoffs and even their presence in the semi-finals seems to be an enigma as they are the only team in the 2nd round to have averaged less goals scored than the average amount they have given up.  How did they do it?  Outstanding team defense which denied the free-wheeling Capitals time and space and Washington played into their hands by spending too much time on the perimeter and Jaroslav Halak stood on his head for 3 games in a row.  The Penguins can expect to see the Canadiens to employ a very similar style where they play a passive, defensive style of game and then hope to counter in transition with its collection of small and speedy forwards like Mike Cammelleri, Brian Gionta, and Tomas Plekanec.  On the otherside of it, the Penguins were given a slight scare by the Ottawa Senators but ultimately it was the ability of Sidney Crosby and a simple and effective method of taking the puck to the crease and jamming it by the helpless goaltender that allowed Pittsburgh to advance.  Pittsburgh recieved a very mundane performance from Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes and they looked quite vulnerable on the penalty kill which is really what the Senators used to stay close in the series.  Expect special teams to play another big factor in how this series unfolds as Pittsburgh’s fairly efficient power play (operating at 25%) goes against one of the best penalty kills of the playoffs (97% effective) which held a very potent Washington offense to just one power play goal for the series.  Prediction:  I think Montreal will manage to keep it close and they have shown an ability to win games in that fashion but I think the Penguins experience and Crosby could be too much for them to handle and Pittsburgh wins in 6 exciting games.

 

#6 Philadelphia Flyers ~ won their series 4-1 against New Jersey

3.00 Goals For per game (8th in the NHL Playoffs)

1.80 Goals Against per game (1st in the NHL Playoffs)

27.6%  Power Play (3rd in the NHL Playoffs)

87.5%  Penalty Kill (4th in the NHL Playoffs)

Top 3 Scorers:

1. #18 Mike Richards ~ 2g 6a = 8pts

2. #28 Claude Giroux ~ 4g 2a = 6pts

3. #20 Chris Pronger ~ 2g 3a = 5pts

Top Goaltenders:

1. #33 Brian Boucher (4-1)  1.59GAA  .940%SP

Vs.

#7 Boston Bruins ~ won their series 4-2 against Buffalo

2.67 Goals For per game (11th in the NHL Playoffs)

2.50 Goals Against per game (4th in the NHL Playoffs)

27.3% Power Play (4th in the NHL Playoffs)

100% Penalty Kill (1st in the NHL Playoffs)

Top 3 Scorers:

1. #28 Mark Recchi ~ 3G 2A = 5pts

2. #46 David Krecji ~ 3G 2A = 5pts

3. #81 Miroslav Satan ~ 2G 3A = 5pts

Top Goaltender:

1. #40 Tuukka Rask (4-2)  2.18GAA  .927%SP

Series schedule(The Flyers win the series at 4-3)

Saturday, May 1st @ TD Banknorth Garden ~ 11:30AM – NBC, TSN (5-4 Bruins OT win)

Monday, May 3rd @ TD Banknorth Garden ~ 6:00PM – TSN, Versus (3-2 Bruins win)

Wednesday, May 5th @ Wachovia Arena ~ 6:00PM – TSN, Versus (4-1 Bruins win)

Friday, May 7th @ Wachovia Arena ~ 6:00PM – TSN, Versus  (5-4 Flyers OT win)

*Monday, May 10th @ TD Banknorth Garden ~ 6:00PM – TSN, Versus (4-0 Flyers win)

*Wednesday, May 12th @ Wachovia Arena ~ TBD – TSN, Versus (2-1 Flyers win)

*Friday, May 14th @ TD Banknorth Garden ~ 6:00PM – TSN, Versus (4-3 Flyers win)

I have to admit, I was very surprised how quickly and efficiently the Philadelphia Flyers were able to able to dispatch the New Jersey Devils in just 5 games, sending former Wild Head Coach Jacques Lemaire into retirement.  The Flyers were the Hockey News’ original pick to win the Stanley Cup but an up-and-down regular season had this big, powerful team just struggling to make the playoffs.  However, there are signs this team is just about to start running on all cylinders and their collection of talent make them an extremely formidable opponent.  No doubt the Flyers are going to play their same rough-and-tumble style of hockey that worked so effectively against the more finesse driven Devils, as Daniel Carcillo, Scott Hartnell, Aaron Asham and Ian Laperierre will do whatever they can to make Tuukka Rask‘s job more difficult near the Boston crease.  However the Bruins are not the Devils, they have lots of sandpaper in their lineup too and Steve Begin, Shawn Thornton, Milan Lucic as well as hulking defenseman Zdeno Chara could make this a fight-filled and explosive series.  Yet the series will probably be about two things.  1.  Can Boston manage to create enough offense to outscore the Flyers who have gotten surprisingly good goaltending from Brian Boucher?  2.  Can Tuukka Rask stave off the aggressive Flyers who will be storming the crease with reckless abandon?  Offensively the Flyers will be paced by Mike Richards and Claude Giroux who is very effective near the crease.  Will Boston continue to rely on the 42-year old Mark Recchi to supply the timely goals or will David Krecji, Miroslav Satan, Milan Lucic and Blake Wheeler step up to provide some much-needed secondary scoring?  Prediction:  I think the Flyers will make Tuukka Rask crazy with their relentless crease crashing and Philadelphia will prevail in a very hard fought (both literally and figuratively) 6-game series.

 

Western Conference Semi-Finals:

#1 San Jose Sharks ~ won their series 4-2 against Colorado

3.17 Goals For per game (4th in the NHL Playoffs)

1.83 Goals Against per game (2nd in the NHL Playoffs)

19.2%  Power Play (9th in the NHL Playoffs)

86.7%  Penalty Kill (5th in the NHL Playoffs)

Top 3 Scorers:

1. #8 Joe Pavelski ~ 5G 3A = 8pts

2. #29 Ryane Clowe ~ 1G 7A = 8pts

3. #16 Devin Setoguchi ~ 3G 3A = 6pts

Top Goaltender:

1. #20 Evgeni Nabokov (4-2)  1.76GAA  .926%SP 1 SO

 

Vs.

 

#4 Detroit Red Wings ~ won their series 4-3 against Phoenix

3.71 Goals For per game (3rd in the NHL Playoffs)

2.50 Goals Against per game (5th in the NHL Playoffs)

23.5%  Power Play (7th in the NHL Playoffs)

81.8%  Penalty Kill (7th in the NHL Playoffs)

Top 3 Scorers:

1. #40 Henrik Zetterberg ~ 6g 5a = 11pts

2. #13 Pavel Datsyuk ~ 5g 3a = 8pts

3. #51 Valtteri Filppula ~ 3g 4a = 7pts

Top Goaltender:

1. #35 Jimmy Howard (4-3)  2.59GAA  .919%SP 1 SO

Series schedule(San Jose wins the series 4-1)

Thursday, April 29th @ HP Pavillion ~ 8:00PM – TSN, Versus  (Sharks win 4-3)

Sunday, May 2nd @ HP Pavillion ~ 7PM – TSN, Versus  (Sharks win 4-3)

Tuesday, May 4th @ Joe Louis Arena ~ 6:30PM – TSN, Versus  (Sharks win 4-3 in OT)

Thursday, May 6th @ Joe Louis Arena ~ 6:30PM – TSN, Versus (Red Wings win 7-1)

*Saturday, May 8th @ HP Pavillion ~ 9:00PM – TSN, Versus  (Sharks win 2-1)

*Monday, May 10th @ Joe Louis Arena ~ 6:30PM – TSN, Versus

*Wednesday, May 12th @ HP Pavillion ~ TBD – TSN, Versus

There had to be a huge collective sigh of relief as the San Jose Sharks managed to hold off the young and feisty Colorado Avalanche in a very tight 6-game series.  With expectations in San Jose at an all time high the pressure is still on for the Sharks to advance beyond the 2nd round.  For most of the season the Sharks were again an efficient winning machine, but they struggled significantly to solve the Avalanche’s Craig Anderson who stood against barrage of shots each night to keep games close and give Colorado a chance to win.  Meanwhile the Detroit Red Wings were pushed to the limit by the stifling defensive style of the Phoenix Coyotes but flipped a switch in the 2nd period of Game 7 to cruise to a 6-1 rout.  The Red Wings are a tremendous mix of outstanding puck control offense and terrific well-positioned defense that provided rookie goaltender Jimmy Howard with an ample amount of help.  San Jose will have to get far better production from its 3 offensive leaders from the regular season in Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley who is battling injury.  The Sharks were just able to get enough offense from secondary scorers Ryane Clowe, Devin Setoguchi and Joe Pavelski but they cannot afford to have its best players not carrying the majority of the offensive load.  Evgeni Nabokov was solid, even though he was not tested all that often and the San Jose defense of veterans Rob Blake and Dan Boyle have showed great poise while younger members of the blueline like Douglas Murray and Marc-Edouard Vlasic provided solid stay-at-home play.  Veteran’s Niklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski provide great support at both ends of the ice while the tremendous backchecking for two-way forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg will likely be leaned upon heavily by Detroit.  If Datsyuk and Zetterberg are held from scoring that will put an awful lot of pressure on Tomas Holmstrom (who will likely take a lot of abuse from Douglas Murray), Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi.  Expect this to be a surprisingly physical series and without question Detroit will not shy away from the checks and will dish out more than a few on their own.  Prediction:  I think the Sharks will finally rid itself of some of its demons and advance to the conference finals after a dramatic 7-game series.

 

#2 Chicago Blackhawks – won their series 4-2 against Nashville

2.83 Goals For per game (10th in the NHL Playoffs)

2.50 Goals Against per game (3rd in the NHL Playoffs)

17.4%  Power Play (11th in the NHL Playoffs)

96.3%  Penalty Kill (3rd in the NHL Playoffs)

Top 3 Scorers:

1. #19 Jonathan Toews ~ 2g 6a = 8pts

2. #88 Patrick Kane ~ 4g 3a = 7pts

3. #10 Patrick Sharp ~ 3g 4a = 7pts

Top Goaltender:

1. #31 Antti Niemi (4-2)  2.15GAA  .921%SP  2 SO

 

Vs.

 

#3 Vancouver Canucks ~ won their series 4-2 against Los Angeles

4.17 Goals For per game (1st in the NHL Playoffs)

3.00 Goals Against per game (10th in the NHL Playoffs)

25%  Power Play (6th in the NHL Playoffs)

61.5% Penalty Kill (16th in the NHL Playoffs)

Top 3 Scorers:

1. #26 Mikael Samuelsson ~ 7G 4A = 11pts

2. #22 Daniel Sedin ~ 4G 6A = 10pts

3. #33 Henrik Sedin ~ 1G 7A = 8pts

Top Goaltender:

1. #1 Roberto Luongo (4-2)  2.92GAA  .893%SP

Series schedule(Chicago wins the series at 4-2)

Saturday, May 1st @ United Center ~ 7:00PM – CBC, Versus  (5-1 Canucks win)

Monday, May 3rd @ United Center ~ 8:00PM – CBC, Versus  (4-2 Blackhawks win)

Wednesday, May 5th @ GM Place ~ 8:30PM – CBC, Versus  (5-2 Blackhawks win)

Friday, May 7th @ GM Place ~ 8:30PM – CBC, Versus  (7-4 Blackhawks win)

*Sunday, May 9th @ United Center ~ 7:00PM – CBC, Versus (4-1 Canucks win)

*Tuesday, May 11th @ GM Place ~ 8:30PM – CBC, Versus (5-1 Blackhawks win)

*Thursday, May 13th @ United Center ~ 7:00PM – CBC, Versus

Its a rematch from last season, where the Blackhawks dashed the hopes of the Canucks to return to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1994.  Patrick Kane and then Blackhawk forward Martin Havlat were just too much for Vancouver.  Vancouver hopes to reverse that outcome and so far it looks to be in good shape to do so after showing some tremendous firepower in their quarterfinals series against the Kings.  The top line of Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Alexandre Burrows will be a lot for the Blackhawks’ defense to handle and the secondary scoring of former Red Wings forward Mikael Samuelsson might again light the lamp with regularity for the Canucks.  Chicago’s Antti Niemi who looked solid against an anemic Nashville offense will get a much greater test in round two.  Roberto Luongo was just ok, and luckily for him he benefited from plenty of goal support but he likely will not recieve quite as much help offensively as the Blackhawks have been one of the league’s stingiest teams defensively.  If Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa play their “A” game that could spell doom for Vancouver.  Prediction:  I think Chicago will be able to slow down the Canucks and Luongo will suffer from the lack of goal support as the Blackhawks roll to a 5-game series victory.

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