Friday, April 27, 2012

Round Two reset

Well our prognostication skills certainly suffered in the first round, of our eight teams predicted to move ahead in this years Stanley Cup playoffs, only  four are actually going to make the journey forward.

Our selection of the Rangers, Devils, Blues and Predators proved to be on the mark,  however with the Penguins, Bruins, Canucks and Hawks  making green time reservations in April, our success rate was but 50 per cent.

Not the thing to get us a spot at a Vegas book desk at a casino, though we suspect we have lots of company after the round one surprises.

Still, the fun is in the picking, even if the results come up a little short.

So with as much bravado as we can muster, here's our picks for Round Number Two.

Phoenix and Nashville

This could be called the Balsillie bowl, at one point in their existence, both of these teams were on the radar of the Canadian technology king. As events have played out, Mr. Balsillie never quite crossed the finish line with Gary Bettman and Hamilton it seems once again fades from the franchise relocation window.  As has Mr. Balsillie, owing to his troubles with the Blackberry brand and the fall out from it.

At any rate, Nashville seems to have solidified its situation and built themselves a team that seems more than up for the challenge ahead, a smaller market team that so far has thrived in the era of the cap in the NHL.

Across the ice from them the latest ward of the state, the Phoenix Coyotes, owned by the league, perpetually it seems just on the cusp of securing no ownership, only to find that something has rendered all that optimism moot.

That however has not deterred Dave Tippet from finding the most out of his players, putting aside all the chatter and distractions of a financially struggling hockey club and sticking to his message, which so far has brought them into the second round after handling the Chicago Black Hawks quite handily.

It makes for an interesting match up, though the Predators seem to be built for success this year, the various additions to the line up proving themselves more than helpful in round one.

Goal tending won't be an issue that's for sure, both teams can count on their goalies to make a key save or two, or three or... over the course of the series.

In the end, it could very well be that a mistake makes the difference in this one, whichever team takes advantage of their opportunities will move forward.

The Predators can perhaps save the Gary Bettman the prospect of having to hand off the Stanley Cup to himself (which would be the scenario if the Coyotes should somehow claim the Holy Grail of Hockey), that and the fact that every game in Nashville seems like a Toby Keith party gives one hopes for a long run for the Nashville cats.

Predators in six... 

Los Angeles and St. Louis

The Kings knocked off the league's top team and did through hard work and some solid goal tending, recipes for success that every team hopes to have at the start of a season.

Jonathan Quick was one of the key plot lines to the Kings success of series one, he frustrated the Canucks at almost every opportunity, full value for the accolades that greeted him as the season move along, short as it was.

The other key aspect of the Kings play in round one was their ability to shut down the Canucks secondary  scoring, much has been made of the lack of scoring of the likes of Kesler, Burrows, Lappierre et al, much of it owing to the fierce checking and positional play, clearly the Kings have heard the message of coach Darryl Sutter that defensive play breeds success, the Kings smothered the Canuck attack and then capitalized on their opportunities, a strategy they will have to continue on with as they face the Blues.

St. Louis is the poster child for building a team for this era of the NHL.  One of the league's trouble spots a few years ago as ownership woes continued to dog the once blue chip franchise, things settled down on the financial pages (though not completely off the radar it would seem) and the Blues responded, but not before a coaching change brought Ken Hitchcock to the Blues bench, a time point that clearly pushed the Blues on to greater success and to a high placement in the standings at playoff time.

The majority of the Blues success came out of the goal tending tandem of Halak and Ellitot, interchangeable it seems in the nets, the yin and yang of goal tending breeding confidence upon a young team that took advantage of that security in the nets.

The Blues showcased just how well they have bought into the Hitchcock system with their victory over the Sharks, exploiting the San Jose weaknesses and taking the play to them at every opportunity, something that they will most likely continue on with in the second round.

The Blues conquered Northern California in round one, Southern California would seem to be next on the  list, but not without a fight.

Kings in seven

Washington and New York Rangers

The Capitals slayed the Stanley Cup champions and now they hope to conquer Broadway, hot off their success at the TD Gardens, Dale Hunters squad heads off to Madison Square to see if they can rattle the Rangers in round two.

The Caps found success based mainly on team play and reward for hard work, the most vibrant example of the new regime of Dale Hunter being that Alexander Ovechkin found himself on the bench as often as he was on the ice in round one.

Something that seemingly didn't sit well at times with Ovechkin, but clearly set the tone for his team mates that effort gets you ice time, drifting doesn't.

It's always risky when you park the highest paid and highest profile player in your lineup, but if round one is an indication who can argue with the result.  The Caps found goals from the role players of the checking lines backed up with outstanding goal tending from the rising star of Braden Holtby, for fans who are tired of underachieving squads, Washington's round one success might be a tonic.

Now if only they could get Ovechkin and some of the other high profile Capitals untracked and there may be danger in round two.

The Rangers most likely have taken note of the culture shift in Washington, the Capitals now a team very much like themselves.

Ottawa gave the Rangers as much as they could handle, if not for the stellar work of Henrik Lundqvist the  always boisterous Rangers fans would have to be seeking out other options for their spring viewing.

Back in the regular season the Rangers' brass made much about this being the year for a Stanley Cup parade in Manhattan, after a round one scare, head coach JohnTortorella will no doubt get his team back on track towards that goal.

It will be an entertaining series, but you have to think that the Rangers have been playing the total team concept all year, while the Caps seemingly have only embraced that concept, to that we suspect the Rangers have the edge in round two.

Rangers in seven

New Jersey and Philadelphia

It's a commuter series for the Flyers and Devils. no lengthy travel and most likely no overnight stays unless team building and distraction avoidance dictates it.

The first indicator for anyone looking for a clue as to success in this series is obviously the goal tending and to that the Devils hold the ace card.  Marty Brodeur once again added to his accomplishments with a round one series victory over Florida, his work in game seven the glue that kept the Devils engaged in the game until victory came their way. And while he had a bad game in round one, relieved of his duties for the first time in recent memory, overall he was a solid force for the Devils in the net.

Compare that to the insanity of the Philly/Penguin series and you have to think that the Flyers are going to need to solve their woes there pretty darn fast.  Ilya Bryzgalov tended to settle things down at the end of the first round, but visions of puck after puck disappearing behind him in the early going provides a cautionary tale for the Flyers and their fans that danger lurks on every shot.

The Flyers probably have an edge on offence, gifted forward lines can score as required, though perhaps we have our thoughts coloured by the unsteady performance of Marc Andre Fleury in the early going,  the Devils won't have such difficulties in round two.

Goals will be harder to come by for Philadelphia in the second round, the style of play most likely more to the liking of the Devils, the Flyers won the battle of Pennsylvania but in a Jersey border war, we see the Devils moving forward into round three.

Devils in six games

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