NHL Playoffs Thoughts & Theories
NEW YORK– By Daniel Friedman
1) I think the Nashville Predators have what it takes to come back and erase this series deficit. A ton of credit needs to be given to the Phoenix Coyotes for all they’ve accomplished to this point, but their 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven is, at best, tenuous.
The Preds are a focused bunch right now, having suspended Alex Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn for violating team rules and, in doing so, re-instilling the professionalism and work ethic that made Nashville a formidable foe. I don’t think the two players should sit for the remainder of the playoffs, but I don’t mess with the lineup unless Phoenix wins another game. Kudos to GM David Poile and head coach Barry Trotz for doing the right thing in this situation. Rules are rules, playoffs or not.
2) I’m not surprised that the LA Kings have a series lead on the St. Louis Blues. I picked them to beat Vancouver in the first round and have them knocking out the Blues in the semis, too. What does surprise me, however, is that the Kings are ahead 3-0. I think we all expected a more even matchup, but LA’s taken care of business in all areas of the game.
Jonathan Quick has proven, without a doubt, that he is one of the best, if not THE best goaltender in all of hockey right now. If there were any questions as to why Quick’s a Vezina-finalist and Brian Elliott is not, they’ve been answered over these last three games. Granted, the Blues were missing top defenseman Alex Pietrangelo for most of game one and the entire game two, but I have a hard time believing that his presence would’ve been enough to prevent St. Louis from falling behind in this series.
3) I think the New York Rangers are going to edge the Washington Capitals in six or seven games. This has been an entertaining series and game three was easily the most exciting (or if you’re a Rangers fan, nerve-racking) contest of the postseason.
The Rangers like to dictate the pace with a certain style and the Caps have shown they’re willing to play that game. Unfortunately for coach Dale Hunter and his squad, I think the Blueshirts are better at it. I expect this to be a tight series the rest of the way, but the Rangers will emerge victorious because they’re stronger on the forecheck and because their big guns, particularly Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards, have finally awoken from their slumber while Ovechkin, Backstrom and Semin have been relatively silent for most of these playoffs.
Also, as steady as Braden Holtby’s been in net for the Caps, I would sooner take my chances with a guy like Henrik Lundqvist any day of the week. He’s the superior goaltender in this duel and that’s why he’ll be on the right side of the handshake line when it’s all said and
4) I think the Philadelphia Flyers are going to regroup and find a way to best the New Jersey Devils here.
Down 2-1 in a series that’s far from over, the Flyers certainly have the firepower, the defense and the depth to reverse their fortunes. The main concern, one that Philly’s all-too familiar with over the better part of the last two decades, is between the pipes. Ilya Bryzgalov hasn’t been great in this best-of-seven, but his performance in this second round has been a dramatic improvement over his play during the Pittsburgh series.
I think, however, that the loss of Sean Couturier will be a tough one for the Flyers to overcome. He recorded four points in these playoffs and has been excellent defensively, so Philly’s neutral zone play is going to take the bigger hit. They have plenty of guys who will step up offensively; that’s not what worries me.
5) I think it’s time I apologized to the Devils for underestimating them to this point.
This team has more depth than previously thought, and guys like Stephen Gionta, Steve Bernier and Ryan Carter have really stepped up when they’ve needed to. Enough cannot be said about the way Petr Sykora, Adam Henrique, David Clarkson and Alexei Ponikarovsky have played, either.
If you ask me, that’s the biggest reason why New Jersey is still in the playoffs right now, because at this time of year, teams will only
go as far as their depth players take them.