NHL Eastern Conference Semifinal Preview
The first round of the NHL Eastern Conference playoffs was exactly as advertised — exciting, physical, and downright fun to watch. The first matchup of the second roud will see the Washington Capitals taking on the New York Rangers, and the second matchup will see the Montreal Canadiens facing the Tampa Bay Lightning. Both series are going to fun to watch, and I expect them to be very close games and go down to the wire. With that, let’s take a look at each matchup and break down who will be heading to the Conference Finals.
Washington Capitals and New York Rangers
Prediction: New York in six.
By the time everyone reads this, the Capitals will be ahead in their series against the Rangers thanks to a last-second goal by Joel Ward. Despite the controversy at the end, the Capitals played a perfect road game and deserved to win the game, but I’m not convinced that they have what it takes to beat the Rangers in a seven game series.
The Capitals will need their big guns to show up every night if they want to beat the Rangers. Braden Holtby was the difference maker in the first round, and he will need to be just as good, if not better, than his opponent Henrik Lundqvist. Washington does have one distinct advantage in this series—the penalty kill. They were perfect in the first round against the Islanders and were perfect yesterday night at MSG. They probably won’t be perfect by the end of the series, but if Barry Trotz’s team can continue their strong play on the penalty kill and score timely goals, they may have a chance to steal some games and possibly win the series.
For the Rangers, it’s definitely not the way you want to start the second round. Not only did they lose home ice advantage, but losing a game at the end like that can sometimes be hard to swallow. Alain Vingneault’s team will need to find a way to better contain Washington’s duo of Alex Ovechekin and Nicklas Backstrom, and I expect Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi to be the ones to handle that task. Up front, Rick Nash is going to need to bring his game to another level. The 30-year-old winger had three shots on goal in game one, and his line combined for ten of their team’s 32 shots on the night. The Rangers are only averaging two goals a game, and despite giving up the least amount of goals in the first round, if they don’t find more scoring, they’re toast.
I still believe the Rangers are the better, and I expect them to find ways to score goals every night and shut down the great Ovechkin before moving on to the Eastern Conference Final. The Capitals will put up a good fight, but they don’t have the depth up front, or on the back end, to go toe-to-toe with a team like New York. Sorry Washington.
Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning
Prediction: Montreal in 7
Yes I’m a Habs fan, and yes I’m aware that Montreal lost all five games this season against the Lightning, but none of that matters in the playoffs. It won’t be a sweep like last season, but my beloved Canadiens will be heading back to the Eastern Conference Finals again this year.
I’ll give the Lightning some credit, because they did finish the season as the highest scoring team in the league (3.16 G/GP). The Bolts managed to beat the Red Wings in seven games, despite captain Steven Stamkos being almost invisible all series. I don’t expect Stamkos to be that bad against Montreal, because the guy absolutely loves playing the Habs during the regular season (13 goals in 25 career games). John Cooper’s team will need to find a way to get their power play going, because 6.7% isn’t going to cut it against a very good defensive Montreal team. On defense, the Bolts were one of the better teams in the first sound—giving up an average of two goals per game. Ben Bishop was a key part of that, and he will need to be even better in round two to help his team make it past Montreal.
As for the Habs, they will need to find a way to generate more offence and fix a power play that has just been terrible all season. The power play finished the first round operating at only 5%, and that is just not good enough to beat the Lighting. There’s no secret that “Le Tricolore” rely on Carey (Vezina) Price to steal games for them, and he’s going to need to do it again to help his team move onto the next round. One player who needs to find his game is Max Pacioretty, who scored only two goals (one empty net) in the first round against Ottawa. If the Canadiens want to move on to the next round, they will need their leader to be the difference maker in this series. On defense, the key will be shutting down Stamkos like Detroit did in round one. As I said earlier—Stamkos loves to play Montreal, and if he gets his mojo back in this series—it won’t end well for the Canadiens.
In the end, defense wins championships, and the Canadiens will need to repeat their regular season success in this round to continue their quest to the Stanley cup Finals. Carey Price loves to come up big in key games, and I expect him to be the best Habs player every night. One thing is for sure, this series won’t have many high scoring games, but the rivalry between both teams will be on full display and the Montreal Canadiens will come out victorious! See you in the next round, Rangers.