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2011-2012 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

The time has finally come! The 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs have arrived.  After a very entertaining finish in both conferences, the matchups have been determined, the schedule has been released, and brackets are being filled out by hockey fans everywhere.  In this article I will analyze each matchup and give an edge to the team I feel will win Round 1.  While you may not agree with my choices, please feel free to comment below with your picks to win the Conference Quarterfinals matchups.


Eastern Conference

(1.) New York Rangers vs. (8.) Ottawa Senators

How They Got Here:  The New York Rangers have been dominant the entire season, while the Ottawa Senators have turned a lot of heads whenever fans glanced at the standings.  The Rangers had 109 points (51-24-7) and the Senators had 92 (41-31-10).  The 2012 All-Star Game might have been a factor in the Senators’ impressive Regular Season, with the fans really showing them a lot of support.  But the Rangers have been a powerhouse all season.

Offense: The New York Rangers, led by forwards Brad Richards, Marion Gaborik, and Ryan Callahan helped their team score 226 goals, while Senators’ forwards Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Milan Michalek helped to score 249.  The Sens’ offense was very impressive, and Alfredsson shows no signs of aging.  It’s hard not to root for the 39 year old Swede to win a Stanley Cup before he retires.  And as history has shown, veterans winning the Cup provides for a great story.  But the offseason acquisition of Brad Richards will try to keep Alfie as far from the Cup as possible.  Edge: New York

Defense: Young defenseman Erik Karlsson has led the Ottawa blueline with a staggering 78 points (including 19 goals).  His All-Star appearance this year led to his hometown portrayal as a Swedish rock star.  Michael Del Zotto of the Rangers is no slouch though.  He scored 10 goals and 31 assists for 41 points while maintaining a +20.  The combination of Dan Giradi, Marc Staal, Ryan McDonagh, and Michael Del Zotto is solid, and at times impenetrable.  Veteran Sens defenseman Sergei Gonchar will definitely play a major role, as well as Filip Kuba, and Karlsson.  Edge: New York

Goaltending: Henrik Lundqvist, or “King Henrik” as he’s known in New York, is the definition of a franchise goalie.  His 39 wins, and 8 shutouts ranks him 3rd in the league in both categories, while his save percentage (.930) and GAA (1.97) were good for 3rd and 4th respectively.  Standing a little over six feet tall, he has the ability to make game-changing saves when his team needs him to.  He’s a Vezina quality goalie and was definitely the Rangers’ MVP this season.  Craig Anderson on the other hand…well he puts his uniform on correctly, can skate, and…is adept cutting himself while making dinner.  But after minor surgery on his finger, hopefully not his middle digit (he’ll need that to defend himself from the boo’s at MSG), he’s back.  Since his return on March 23rd, he has posted a 4-3 record, with a GAA of .925.  In Ottawa’s last game against the Rangers, Anderson posted a 34 save shutout in the midst of a 4 game win streak.  Edge: New York

Grit: This is a seemingly overlooked area of play for many fans.  Call it grit, tenacity, determination etc, it is a very integral part of the game.  Grit can come in the form of a fight, a hard hit, or a battle for position in the paint.  According to www.hockeyfights.com , the Rangers had a league leading 65 fights, while the Senators had 53 (5th most).  Chris Neil, Matt Carkner, and Zenon Konopka are the heavyweights in Ottawa.  Neil racked up 178 penalty minutes (while also managing 13 goals and 15 assists), Carkner received 33 (despite only playing in 29 games), and Konopka recorded 193 (3rd best in the league).  Heck even Gonchar stepped up his physical play well kind of.  Hey give the man credit for trying.  Meanwhile, New York’s Brandon Prust led the league with 20 fights.  Pardon my pun, but it’ll likely be a hard-fought series.  Edge: New York (but not by much)

Special Teams: According to The Hockey News’ latest issue, the Rangers’ first powerplay unit consists of Michael Del Zotto, Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan, and Marian Gaborik.  For Ottawa, their PP unit consists of Filip Kuba, Erik Karlsson, Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson.  The Rangers’ PP unit scored on only 15.7% of their chances (23rd in the league) while the Senators’ PP went 49 for 270, 18.1 % (11th in the league).  On the other side of the penalty box, the Rangers’ shorthanded units killed off 86.2% of their penalties (good for 5th in the league), and the Senators’ SH units killed off 81.6% of all opposing PP chances (20th).  Edge: Even

Coaching Track Record: Rangers’ coach John Tortorella has a Stanley Cup under his belt with the the Tampa Bay Lightning back in 2004, and has also coached his teams to three division wins.  Since 2004, he has not led a team past the first round (and missed the playoffs in 2008 and 2010), but this Rangers squad statistically had the best regular season finish of all the Tortorella-coached teams.  Standing behind the Ottawa bench is first-year coach Paul Maclean.  He may be in his first year of head coaching, but he also has a Stanley Cup ring, as the Assistant Coach of the 2008 Detroit Red Wings.  It’s hard for a new coach to lead a team to the playoffs when they failed to qualify just the previous season.  But he has proven a lot of skeptics wrong.  Edge: Even

Prediction: Rangers in 6

Upset? – It’s possible, but not very likely.

Schedule: Game 1: Thursday, April 12 7 PM in New York (NHLN, CBC); Game 2: Saturday, April 14 7 PM in New York (NBCSN, CBC); Game 3: Monday April 16th 7:30 PM in Ottawa (CBC, CNBC); Game 4: Wednesday, April 18th 7:30 PM in Ottawa (CBC, CNBC); Game 5 (if necessary): Saturday, April 21st 7 PM in New York (NBCSN, CBC), Game 6 (if necessary): Monday, April 23rd Time TBA in Ottawa (TBA); Game 7 (if necessary): Thursday, April 26th Time TBA in New York (TBA)


(2.) Boston Bruins vs. (7.) Washington Capitals

How They Got Here: The Bruins had a strong season, despite struggling somewhat throughout the year (49-29-4; 7-2-1 finish).  The Capitals played mediocre hockey most of the year, but somehow managed to claim a playoff spot (42-32-8; 6-2-2 finish).

Offense: The defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins will look to repeat this playoff season.  Finishing 2nd overall in the Eastern Conference, and 1st overall in the Northeast Division, their offense has been outstanding.  Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin, Milan Lucic, and David Krejci lead the charge for the B’s.  Seguin recorded a team leading 67 points, and Bergeron and Krejci both had 64 and 62 respectively.  Nathan Horton, who played a vital role in their playoff run last year, is still injured.  The Washington Capitals are led by Russian superstar Alexander Ovechkin, and that’s pretty much it.  Bruce Boudreau got canned, and Dale Hunter was hired.  Hunter would not have been first on my list of coaching options (maybe everyone else said no?).  “Ovie” scored a career-low 38 goals and 37 assists for 65 points (Seguin had more).  But to quote a 90’s boy band lyric “Back-strom’s Back Alright!”  I thoroughly apologize for that.  But that’s how much the Capitals have missed him.  Washington’s firepower has not produced this season, and that is one of the main reasons why they only managed to score 222 goals.  Edge: Boston

Defense: Captain Zdeno Chara, along with Bruins’ defenders Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference form a very solid blueline.  Chara and Seidenberg both have booming slapshots, while Ference plays a more physical style of play.  Adam McQuaid and Johnny Boychuk are both day-to-day with minor injuries.  For the Caps, their defense corps consists of Karl Alzner, Dennis Wideman, and veterans Roman Hamrlik and Tom Poti.  The defensive matchups between these two teams is unfair.  The Caps allowed 230 goals against (-12 goals for/against differential), and the Bruins only allowed 202 (league-leading +67 goal differential).  Edge: Boston

Goaltending: Thomas vs. Tomas.  Makes for a great NHL.com headline doesn’t it?  You’re welcome.  The main thing separating these two teams is that Boston has a strong veteran starter in Tim Thomas, and Washington had to resort to using Michael Neuvirth and Braden Holtby.  Veteran goalie Marty Turco was acquired by the Bruins, but after the trade deadline, so he is not roster-eligible for the playoffs.  Vokoun was 25-17-2 with a .917 SP (16th) and a 2.51 GAA (22nd), Neuvirth went 13-13-5 with a SP of .903 (36th) and a 2.82 GAA (36th).  Meanwhile Tim Thomas posted a 35-19-1 record (5th in wins) with a SP of .920 (10th) and a GAA of 2.36 (12th).  If Vokoun struggles early, don’t be surprised to see Neuvirth take over.  Edge: Boston  (Thomas just won the Stanley Cup and the Vezina Trophy last year)

Grit: The Boston Bruins were 2nd in the league with 65 fighting majors.  Shawn Thornton fought 20 times (tied with Brandon Prust for most fights).  Chara, Ference, Boychuk, McQuaid, Marchand, Lucic, Thornton, and Campbell are also not afraid to throw a vicious body check or or start a line brawl.  This Bruins squad is probably the most feared physical team in the league.  Even Tim Thomas throws the occasional hit.  Watch out Washington.  Ovechkin can play a physical style, but only when he feels like it, so apparently not this year.  Edge: Boston

Special Teams:  The Bruins’ shorthanded unit was successful 83.5% of the time (11th) while the Capitals’ shorthanded unit killed off 81.6% (21st) of their penalties.  Boston’s powerplay was successful 17.1% (15th) of the time and the Capitals’ powerplay had a success rate of 16.7% (18th).  Boston scored 43 powerplay goals while allowing 43.  Washington scored 41 powerplay goals and let in 49.  Boston’s PP unit has recently acquired veteran Brian Rolston, Chara, Lucic, Krejci, and Caron.  Washington has Ovie, Backstrom, Semin, Green, and Wideman.  Edge: Boston

Coaching Track Record: Claude Julien just won the Stanley Cup last year, and led his Bruins to a division title for the 3rd time in 4 years.  Dale Hunter is very similar to Julien in that they are both coaches.  Edge: Boston (so one-sided that laughing out loud is completely necessary)

Prediction: Bruins in 4

Upset? – Not a snowball’s chance in he-double hockey sticks.

Schedule: Game 1: Thursday, April 12th 7:30 PM in Boston (NBCSN, CBC); Game 2: Saturday, April 14th 3 PM in Boston (NBC, CBC); Game 3: Monday, April 16th 7:30 PM in Washington (NBCSN, CBC), Game 4: Thursday, April 19th 7:30 PM in Washington (NBCSN, CBC); Game 5 (if necessary): Saturday, April 21st in Boston 3 PM (NBC, CBC); Game 6 (if necessary): Sunday, April 22nd Time TBA in Washington (TBA); Game 7 (if necessary): Wednesday, April 25th Time TBA in Boston (TBA)

(3.) Florida Panthers vs. (6.) New Jersey Devils

How They Got Here: Florida got here by winning the weak Southeast Division with a mediocre record of only 38-26-18 (you read that right, 18 overtime losses; 2-3-5 finish).  New Jersey got here by their strong finish after their early slump to start the season (48-28-6; 7-2-1 finish).  The Devils had 102 points (6th seed) but the Panthers at #3 had 94.  I know, mind-bogglingly stupid isn’t it?

Offense: Tomas Fleischmann led the Panthers’ offense with 27 goals and 34 assists (61 points).  Stephen Weiss was 2nd on the team with 57 points (team-best shooting percentage of 13.4) and Versteeg had 54.  Nothing too impressive about that.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, Ilya Kovalchuk of the Devils recorded 37 goals and 46 assists for 83 points.  Veteran forward Patrik Elias scored 26 goals and 52 assists for 78 points at the age of 35.  The Florida Panthers managed only 203 goals and gave up 227, giving them a goal differential of -24, the worst of any playoff team in the post-lockout era, even the 2010 Senators team was better at -13.  The Devils scored 228 goals with Kovalchuk leading the way.  Edge: New Jersey

Defense: Veteran defender Brian Campbell  plays on the Panthers’ top pairing of d-men along with Jason Garrison, as opposed to the Devils’ first pairing of Andy Greene and Mark Fayne.  Florida also has Ed Jovanovski, Erik Gudbranson, Dmitry Kulikov.  Gudbranson is only 20, and like most of the team, has no playoff experience.  Marek Zidlicky, after showing his discontent with playing for the Minnesota Wild, was traded to New Jersey, where he will finally get a chance to play on a good team.  The Florida Panthers, as stated above, allowed 227 goals, while the Devils allowed only 209.  Edge: New Jersey

Goaltending: Now this category is a little more even.  Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils is widely regarded as the best goalie to ever lace em up.  He finished the year with 31 wins, 21 losses, 4 overtime losses, and 3 shutouts.  His SP was .908 (34th) and his GAA was 2.41 (15th).  Jose Theodore posted a 22-16-11 record with a SP of .917 (16th) and a GAA of 2.46 (20th).  Theodore is probably the main reason the Panthers won their division.  But Brodeur has 656 regular season wins, and 99 playoff wins, so it’s hard to bet against him.  Edge: New Jersey


Grit: The Florida Panthers were involved in 31 fights throughout the season (19th most) while the New Jersey Devils were in 39 (11th overall).  New Jersey’s Cam Janssen and Eric Boulton are two really tough players, and Florida’s Ed Jovanovski will play a strong physical role as well.  Edge: New Jersey

Special Teams:  Florida’s powerplay was successful 18.6% (7th) of the time, while New Jersey’s PP unit scored on 17.2% (14th) of their chances.  While shorthanded, the Panthers killed off a mediocre 79.5% (25th) of their penalties, and the Devils led the league with an 89.6% (1st) success rate.  The Panthers’ first powerplay unit consists of Campbell, Mikael Samuelsson, Fleischmann, Weiss, and Versteeg, while the Devils first unit consists of Zidlicky, Kovalchuk, Elias, Zach Parise, and David Clarkson.  Edge: New Jersey

Coaching Track Record: Florida coach Kevin Dineen is in his first NHL season behind the bench.  His only experience consists of failing repeatedly in the American Hockey League while coaching the Portland Pirates.  New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer on the other hand, well…his experience consists of coaching the Florida Panthers the last 3 years.  Awkward? Yeah, I bet that’s what he said too.  Edge: New Jersey (the main reason simply because New Jersey finished the regular season with a better record)

Prediction: Devils in 6

Upset? Let’s just say it would be an upset if the Florida Panthers win one game.

Schedule: Game 1: Friday, April 13th 7 PM in Florida (NHLN, TSN); Game 2: Sunday, April 15th 7:30 PM in Florida (NBCSN, TSN); Game 3: Tuesday, April 17th 7 PM in New Jersey (NHLN, TSN); Game 4: Thursday, April 19th 7 PM in New Jersey (NHLN, TSN); Game 5 (if necessary): Saturday, April 21st 6:30 PM in Florida (NHLN, TSN); Game 6 (if necessary): Tuesday, April 24th Time TBA in New Jersey (TBA); Game 7: Thursday, April 26th Time TBA in Florida (TBA)

(4.) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5.) Philadelphia Flyers

How They Got Here: The Penguins have been outstanding, especially since the return of superstar Sidney Crosby in the 2nd half of the season.  The Flyers have played really good hockey, but have their moments of inconsistency.  This series also marks the return of Jaromir Jagr to the playoffs, but playing rival and former team the Pittsburgh Penguins (where he once won 2 Stanley Cups, long before most fans in Pittsburgh knew that they even had a hockey team, also known as the Pre-Crosby/Malkin era.

Offense: This will no doubt be an offensive battle.  The Penguins’ Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are two of the NHL’s best players, and they will certainly be counted on to lead the way.  Malkin just capped off an amazing performance in the regular season by winning the Art Ross Trophy for most points scored in a season with 109 (50 goals, 59 assists).  James Neal recorded 40 goals and 41 assists for 81 points, while “Sid the Kid” managed to record 8 goals and 29 assists for 37 points in only 22 games played.  Claude Giroux led the Flyers with 28 goals, 65 assists, and 93 points, and Jaromir Jagr recorded 19 goals and 35 assists for 54 points at the age of 40.  The difference in this series may in fact be determined by home-ice advantage, of which Pittsburgh has.  The Penguins scored a league-high 282 goals, and the Flyers scored 264.  For the most part, the two teams match up pretty evenly offensively.  Slight Edge: Pittsburgh

Defense: The Penguins’ defense is led by Paul Martin and Kris Letang.  Letang, despite missing 31 games, scored 10 goals and 32 assists for 42 points.  The Flyers’ defense corps is captained by veteran defender Kimmo Timonen along with the younger Braydon Coburn.  Along with Timmonen and Coburn, Matt Carle, Nicklas Grossman (not to be confused with Nicklas Grosmann, who apparently doesn’t exist).  Carle is a solid defensive defenseman and Andreas Lilja (who won a Cup in Detroit in 2008) can play a defensive and physical role.  Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik plays a very rigid style, and is not afraid to use his body.  The defense for both sides will have to kick it into overdrive to stop the offensive powers of both teams in this series.  Slight Edge: Philadelphia

Goaltending: Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins already has a Stanley Cup under his belt (2009) and another Finals appearance in 2008.  So does Ilya Bryzgalov (2007) but he only played in 5 games during the playoffs that year.  The last two years, the philosophical Russian whose nickname is “Cool Bryz” lost to the Detroit Red Wings in the First Round (he’s now 12-13 in playoff games).  But this time, he’s in the Eastern Conference playing with a better defense in front of him, so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the pressure of the Flyers’ fans.  Marc-Andre Fleury is 41-28 in 69 games played.  During the regular season, Fleury’s 42 wins (42-17-4 record) was the 2nd highest in the category and he recorded a save percentage of .913 (27th) and a GAA of 2.36 (12th).  Bryzgalov’s 33 wins (33-16-7) was the 10th highest in the league.  He recorded a SP of .909 (33rd) and a GAA of 2.48 (21st), although his 6 shutouts was 6th most in the league.  Edge: Pittsburgh

Grit: The Penguins were 20th in the league with 31 fights, while the Flyers were 4th with 57.  The Penguins have Derek Engelland, Brooks Orpik, and Aaron Asham who can definitely hold their own in a fight, while Matt Cooke plays the role of grinder, and can hit and score when needed.  The Flyers have Scotty Hartnell, Wayne Simmonds, and Jody Shelley (granted he doesn’t play much).  From watching those clips, you know there will be fireworks in this series.  Edge: Even

Special Teams: On the man-advantage the Penguins scored on 19.7% (5th) of their opportunities while the Flyers also scored on 19.7% of their chances.  Pretty even so far eh?  Philly had 66 powerplay goals and Pittsburgh had 57.  While shorthanded, the Penguins killed off 87.7% (3rd) of their penalties and the Flyers killed off 81.8% (17th) of their penalties.  Pittsburgh’s first powerplay unit consists of Crosby, Letang, Chris Kunitz, Malkin, and Neal.  Philadelphia’s PP is comprised of Timonen, Jakub Voracek, Hartnell, Giroux, and Simmonds.  Edge: Pittsburgh

Coaching Track Record: When Dan Bylsma took over as coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 (the 2nd half of the 08-09 season), everything changed.  That first year, he led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals and won.  Peter Laviolette also has a Stanley Cup ring, as the coach of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes.  Edge: Even

Prediction: Penguins in 5 or 6

Upset? – Not likely.

Schedule: Game 1: Wednesday, April 11th, 7:30 PM in Pittsburgh (NBSCN, TSN); Game 2: Friday, April 13th 7:30 PM in Pittsburgh (NBCSN, TSN); Game 3: Sunday, April 15th 3 PM in Philadelphia (NBC, TSN); Game 4: Wednesday, April 18th 7:30 PM in Philadelphia (NBCSN, TSN); Game 5 (if necessary): Friday, April 20th 7:30 PM in Philadelphia (NBCSN, TSN); Game 6 (if necessary): Sunday, April 22nd Time TBA in Philadelphia (TBA); Game 7: Tuesday, April 24th Time TBA in Pittsburgh (TBA)

Western Conference

(1.) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8.) Los Angeles Kings

How They Got Here: The Vancouver Canucks clinched their 2nd straight President’s Trophy for most points recorded during the year with 111 (51-22-9; 8-1-1 finish).  The Los Angeles Kings narrowly claimed the 8th playoff spot (40-27-15; 5-2-3 finish) above the Calgary Flames and the Dallas Stars in the very tight Pacific Division race.

Offense: The Vancouver Canucks, led by Henrik and Daniel Sedin scored a total of 249 goals (most in the West) while the Los Angeles Kings scored only 194 (only Minnesota scored less.)  For the Kings, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams, Mike Richards, and newly acquired former Blue Jacket Jeff Carter, lead the charge.  Kopitar led his team with 76 points (23 goals and 51 assists), while Henrik Sedin scored 81 points for the Canucks (14 goals and 67 assists).  His brother Daniel scored 30 goals and 37 assists but is currently not practicing due to concussion symptoms.  Vancouver’s 2nd line of Booth, Kesler, and Higgins does not match up to the Kings’ 2nd line of King, Richards, and Carter, and with Daniel Sedin out…Edge: Los Angeles

Defense: Rob Scuderi and young d-man Drew Doughty stand tall on the Kings’ blueline while Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa man the Nucks’ defensive zone.  The difference maker in this category will be who has the better depth defensemen.  Whereas Vancouver has veteran Sami Salo, Alexander Edler, and now Marc-Andre Gragnani, the Kings answer back with Willie Mitchell, Alec Martinez, and Matt Greene.  Edge: Vancouver

Goaltending: This is a tough category, because it all depends on who starts in goal for all the games.  If Roberto Luongo struggles in Games 1 and 2, then backup Cory Schneider will have his shot to lead his team to victory.  If Jonathan Quick falters early on, then 2nd string goalie Jonathan Bernier will take over.  “Bobby Lou” and Quick are both Vezina quality goalies.  Luongo was 31-14-8 this season with a SP of .919 (12th) and a GAA of 2.41 (15th) while Quick was 35-21-13 (5th in wins but also 1st in overtime losses) with a SP of .929 (5th) and a GAA of 1.95 (2nd).  Quick also had 10 shutouts, the most in the league, while Luongo had 5 (10th).  Let’s take it one step further.  Bernier went 5-6-2 with a SP of .909 and a GAA of 2.36, and Schneider went 20-8-1 with a SP of .937 (2nd) and a GAA of 1.96 (1st).  Stats-wise Schneider is the better option, but it is unlikely to happen.  Edge: Los Angeles

Grit: Alexandre Burrows of the Canucks can definitely play physical.  He can hit, agitate, and bite when called upon.  Manny Malhotra is a veteran 3rd liner who can also grind, score, and win faceoffs in key situations.  For the Kings, Dustin Brown hits hard, and often.  Kyle Clifford is a 4th liner that can hit and fight as well.  The Canucks were 12th in the league in fighting majors with 38 while the Kings were 18th with 33.  Edge: Los Angeles

Special Teams: With the extra man, the Canucks scored on 19.8% (4th) of their opportunities while the Kings scored on 16.9% (17th) of their chances.  While shorthanded, the Canucks killed off 86% (6th) of their penalties, and the Kings killed off 87% (4th) of their penalties.  Doughty, Richards, King, Carter, and Kopitar comprise Los Angeles’ first powerplay unit, while Edler, Gragnani, Kesler, and the Sedins lead the Canucks’ powerplay.  Edge: Vancouver

Coaching Track Record: In 9 previous NHL seasons, Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault has not won a Stanley Cup, although he did come pretty close last year (doesn’t get much closer than Game 7 in the Finals).  Darryl Sutter has a history of underachieving.  In his 12 previous NHL seasons, he managed to lead his team past the 2nd round once (In 2003-04 when he spontaneously reached the Cup Finals just to lose).  Edge: Even

Prediction: Vancouver in 6

Upset? – Quite possible.

Schedule: Game 1: Wednesday, April 11 10:30 PM in Vancouver (CBC, NBCSN); Game 2: Friday, April 13th 10 PM in Vancouver (CBC, NBCSN); Game 3: Sunday, April 15th 10:30 PM in Los Angeles (NBCSN, CBC); Game 4: Wednesday, April 18th 10 PM in Los Angeles (NBCSN, CBC); Game 5 (if necessary): Sunday, April 22nd Time TBA in Vancouver (TBA); Game 6 (if necessary): Tuesday, April 24th Time TBA in Los Angeles (TBA); Game 7 (if necessary): Thursday, April 26th Time TBA in Vancouver (TBA)

(2.) St. Louis Blues vs. (7.) San Jose Sharks

How They Got Here: The St. Louis Blues, under new coach Ken Hitchcock, won the Central Division, and almost won the President’s Trophy (49-22-11; 4-3-3 finish).  All this after a mediocre start to the season.  The San Jose Sharks only started to play hockey in the last 10 or so games (43-29-10; 7-3-0 finish).

Offense: The St. Louis Blues scored 210 goals, while the Sharks scored 228.  David Backes, T.J. Oshie, and Andy McDonald lead the Blues’ offense.  Backes and Oshie both finished the regular season with 54 points and were both a +15.  The Sharks’ offense is led by Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, and Joe Pavelski.  “Big Joe” led his team with 77 points (18 goals, 59 assists), while Couture, Marleau, and “Little Joe” collected 65, 64, and 61 points respectively.  San Jose is always a threat offensively, and with stats like that, it’s easy to see why no team wants to play them in the playoffs.  Edge: San Jose

Defense: Young defenseman Alex Pietrangelo leads the Blues’ defense corps, and seemingly their offense corps as well with 12 goals and 39 assists for 51 points (3rd most points on the team).  Kevin Shattenkirk is not far behind Pietrangelo with 9 goals and 34 assists for 43 points (4th most).  Coach Ken Hitchcock is very defensive-minded, and his main focus is always on defense and goaltending (as shown in their league best 165 goals allowed).  San Jose’s defense isn’t bad, but it’s nothing special either.  Dan Boyle plays a good defensive game and he also scored 9 goals and 39 assists for 48 points (5th most points on the team).  As long as he doesn’t score on his own goalie again.  Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Jason Demers are solid defensively as well.  During the season, the Blues gave up 165 goals (+45), and the Sharks let in 210 (+18)  Edge: St. Louis

Goaltending: Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliot?  Take your pick.  Both played outstanding this season, and one made the All-Star Game (Elliot).  And Niemi? Well, let’s just say he didn’t make the All-Star Game.  Halak and Elliot split time this season.  Halak was 26-12-7, with a SP of .926 (6th) and a GAA of 1.97 (4th).  He also recorded 6 shutouts (5th).  Elliot was 23-10-4 with a SP of .940 (1st) and a GAA of 1.56 (1st).  He recorded 9 shutouts (2nd).  Clearly Elliot is the better of the two.  Antti Niemi was 34-22-9 with a SP of .915 (22nd) and a GAA of 2.42 (17th).  He had 6 shutouts (5th) as well.  There’s no contest here.  Edge: St. Louis

Grit: David Backes of the Blues plays a very physical, yet offensive-minded style of play.  He leads his team in points (54), yet he managed to rack up 101 penalty minutes.  Chris Stewart plays the same role, but on the 3rd line.  The Sharks have a rich history of playing hard-nosed hockey, and don’t expect that to change during this playoff season.  Ryan Clowe and Brad Winchester lead their physical play.  The Sharks were 15th in the NHL with 35 fights this season, while the Blues were 8th with 42.  Slight Edge: San Jose

Special Teams: San Jose’s powerplay was successful 21.1% (2nd) of the time, while St. Louis’s PP had a 16.7% (19th) success rate.  While shorthanded, the Sharks were just better than the Columbus Blue Jackets in killing off 76.9% (29th) of their penalties, while the Blues killed off 85.8% (7th) of their penalties.  Shattenkirk, Pietrangelo, Perron, Backes, and Oshie comprise the first PP unit for the Blues, and Boyle, Pavelski, Marleau, Thornton, and Couture make up the Sharks’ PP.  Slight Edge: San Jose

Coaching Track Record:  St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock has a 575-364-88-80 career record.  He won a Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999, and lost in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2000.  In 2009 he accomplished his most significant feat to date…he led the Columbus Blue Jackets to the playoffs (and got swept but hey they made the playoffs).  Todd McLellan has a Stanley Cup ring of his own.  He got his as an Assistant Coach of the Detroit Red Wings in 2008.  In the 3 years since McLellan took over, the Sharks have won the Pacific Division 3 out of the last 4 seasons.  Edge: St. Louis

Prediction: Blues in 7

Upset? – Very likely.

Schedule: Game 1: Thursday, April 12th 7:30 PM in St. Louis (CNBC, TSN); Game 2: Saturday, April 14th 7:30 PM in St. Louis (CNBC, TSN); Game 3: Monday, April 16th 10 PM in San Jose (NBCSN, TSN); Game 4: Thursday, April 19th 10:30 PM in San Jose (NBCSN, TSN); Game 5 (if necessary): Saturday, April 21st 7:30 PM in St. Louis (CNBC, TSN); Game 6 (if necessary): Monday, April 23rd Time TBA in San Jose (TBA); Game 7 (if necessary): Wednesday, April 25th Time TBA in St. Louis (TBA)

(3.) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (6.) Chicago Blackhawks

How They Got Here: The Coyotes got here by riding on the back of Mike Smith (42-27-13; 7-1-2 finish).  The Chicago Blackhawks got here by playing very well down the stretch despite missing captain Jonathan Toews (45-26-11; 6-1-3 finish).  The Blackhawks finished with 101 points (6th seed) while the Coyotes won their weaker division with 97 wins (3rd seed).

Offense: The Phoenix Coyotes scored 216 goals while the Chicago Blackhawks scored 248 this season.   Marian Hossa led the Hawks with 77 points (29 goals, 48 assists), followed by Patrick Sharp with 69, and Patrick Kane with 66.  Injured captain Jonathan Toews did manage to record 57 points in 59 games played.  39 year old veteran Ray Whitney scored a team-high 77 points (24 goals, 53 assists), Radim Vrbata scored 35 goal and 27 assists for 62 points, and captain Shane Doan recorded 22 goals and 28 assists for 50 points.  With Toews out of the lineup, it’s a huge hole for the Hawks to fill.  Their first line currently consists of Sharp, Kruger, and Stalberg, which does not match up well against Phoenix’s first line of Boedker, Hanzal, and Vrbata.  One of the difference makers will be Patrick Kane, and if he can step up his game to a higher level with Toews out.  Edge: Phoenix

Defense: Keith Yandle of the Phoenix Coyotes scored 43 points this season (4th best on the team), while Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored 32 points (7th best).  Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are on the first defense pairing in Chicago.  Keith scored 40 points (6th best), and Nick Leddy scored 37 (8th best).  Seabrook had 34 (9th best).  The Yotes allowed 204 goals (+12), and the Hawks allowed 238 goals (+10).  Edge: Chicago

Goaltending: Corey Crawford’s play this season was pretty bad statistically.  He was 30-17-7 with a SP of .903 (36th) and a GAA of 2.72 (33rd).  His backup, veteran Ray Emery wasn’t much better.  Emery went 15-9-4 with a .900 (40th) SP and a 2.81 (35th) GAA.  On the other end of the rink, Mike Smith was fantastic this season, and put up stellar numbers.  He was 38-18-10 (4th most wins) with a SP of .930 (3rd) and a GAA of 2.21 (7th).  He also posted 8 shutouts (including 3 in a row from March 29th to April 3rd for 3rd best in the league.  In fact, in his last 5 games combined, Smith only allowed 2 goals (.985 SP and 0.40 GAA last 5 games).  Edge: Phoenix

Grit: Both the Hawks and the Coyotes play a very physical game.  The Blackhawks were 9th in the NHL in fights with 41, and the Coyotes were 25th in the league with 27.  Seabrook, Bolland, Bickell, and Mayers are all really good physical players for Chicago, and Doan, Torres, Bissonnette, and Chipchura all pitch in with a strong hit or two, or 10 per game, and are all adept at fighting as well.  Edge: Phoenix

Special Teams: On the powerplay this season, the Phoenix Coyotes scored on only 13.5% (29th) of their chances while the Blackhawks scored on just 15.2% (26th) of their chances.  The Yotes’ shorthanded unit killed off 85.5% (8th) of their penalties while the Hawks SH unit killed off only 78.1% (27th) of their penalties.  Chicago’s first PP unit consists of Keith, Seabrook, Shaw, Sharp, and Hossa.  Phoenix’s first PP unit is comprised of Ekman-Larsson, Korpikoski, Doan, Whitney, and Vermette.  Edge: Phoenix

Coaching Track Record: Phoenix coach Dave Tippett is in his 2nd year of coaching the Coyotes (8th year coaching in the NHL).  The last two years, the Coyotes played Detroit, and didn’t make it past the 1st round, but now, they have home-ice advantage this time around, and have momentum from winning the Pacific Division.  Veteran coach Joel Quenneville is the bench boss in Chicago.  He has a Stanley Cup ring from the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.  Edge: Chicago

Prediction: Phoenix in 7

Upset? – It could happen.  The Blackhawks are a strong underdog.

Schedule: Game 1: Thursday, April 12th 10 PM in Phoenix (NBCSN, TSN); Game 2: Saturday, April 14th 10 PM in Phoenix (NBCSN, TSN); Game 3: Tuesday, April 17th 9 PM in Chicago (CNBC, TSN); Game 4: Thursday, April 19th 8 PM in Chicago (CNBC, TSN); Game 5 (if necessary): Saturday, April 21st 10 PM in Phoenix (NBCSN, TSN); Game 6 (if necessary): Monday, April 23rd Time TBA in Chicago (TBA); Game 7 (if necessary): Wednesday, April 25th Time TBA in Phoenix (TBA)

(4.) Nashville Predators vs. (5.) Detroit Red Wings

How They Got Here: Nashville got here by their strong defensive play and with the help of goalie Pekka Rinne (48-26-8; 6-4-0 finish).  Detroit got here by battling through injuries to Pavel Datsyuk, Jimmy Howard, and Todd Bertuzzi to name a few (48-28-6; 4-4-2 finish).

Offense: Veteran Martin Erat led the Predators with 58 points (19 goals, 39 assists), while David Legwand and Mike Fisher had 53 and 51 points respectively.  For the Red Wings, Henrik Zetterberg led the way, scoring 22 goals and 47 assists for 69 points.  Pavel Datsyuk and Valterri Filppula were right behind “Big Z” with 67 and 66 points respectively.  Detroit scored 248 goals this season while Nashville scored 237.  Edge: Detroit

Defense: Shea Weber (and his booming slapshot) and Ryan Suter make up Nashville’s top defense pairing.  Nicklas Lidstrom and Ian White man the 1st blueline pairing in Detroit.  The Red Wings surrendered 203 goals this season (+45) while Nashville let in 210 (+27).  But with the trade earlier in the season, Nashville now has the long stick advantage with the addition of Hal Gill.  But don’t underestimate the Detroit defense.  Ian White was a good acquisition in the offseason, and with Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart on the 2nd pairing, watch out.  Edge: Detroit

Goaltending: Pekka Rinne vs. Jimmy Howard.  Howard was 35-17-4 (5th in the league in wins) with a SP of .920 (10th) and a GAA of 2.13 (6th).  His 6 shutouts are good for 5th in the league.  Rinne went 43-18-8 (1st in the league in wins) with a SP of .923 (7th) and a GAA of 2.39 (7th).  His 5 shutouts are good for 10th in the league.  Edge: Nashville

Grit: Nashville is a strong physical team.  They rely strongly on huge hits, rather than fights.  The Red Wings have a lot of grit as well without fighting.  Nashville was 29th in the league in fights with 19, while the Red Wings were 30th with 15.  Veteran forward Tomas Holmstrom is likely the best at what he does, screening the goalie, tipping shots, and pouncing on rebounds.  Kronwall and Stuart have been known to throw the occasional hit as well.  Edge: Even

Special Teams: The Detroit Red Wings scored on just 16.1% (22nd) of their powerplay opportunities, while they Predators led the league with a 21.6% (1st) success rate.  When the opposing team had the man-advantage, the Red Wings were successful in killing off 81.8% (18th) of their penalties while the Predators’ SH unit had a success rate of 83.6% (10th).  Suter, Weber, Hornqvist, Fisher, and Erat make up the Preds’ first PP unit, and Lidstrom, White, Zetterberg, Datsyuk, and Holmstrom lead the Wings’ PP unit.  Slight Edge: Nashville

Coaching Track Record: Barry Trotz is the only head coach that Nashville has ever had.  In his 12 years behind the bench, he has not led his team past the 2nd round (only once have they made it past the 1st round).  Mike Babcock, the coach of the Detroit Red Wings made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2003 with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, won the Cup in 2008 with Detroit, and almost won another one in 2009 (Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals).  Babcock also led Team Canada to Olympic gold in 2010.  Edge: Detroit

Prediction: Red Wings in 5 or 6

Upset? – Both teams are almost identical statistically, so I’m predicting yes, if the Wings are considered underdogs.

Schedule: Game 1: Wednesday, April 11th 8 PM in Nashville (CNBC, CBC); Game 2: Friday, April 13th 7:30 PM in Nashville (CNBC, CBC); Game 3: Sunday, April 15th Noon in Detroit (NBC, CBC); Game 4: Tuesday, April 17th 7:30 PM in Detroit (NBCSN, CBC); Game 5 (if necessary): Friday, April 20th 8 PM in Nashville (CNBC, CBC); Game 6 (if necessary): Sunday, April 22nd Time TBA in Detroit (TBA); Game 7: Tuesday, April 24th Time TBA in Nashville (TBA)

References: Hockeyfights.com, NHL.com, ESPN.com



Kevin Sporka

Kevin Sporka

Kevin Sporka is the Senior Media Analyst and Detroit Red Wings beat writer at HOHM. He is also the author of the Fantasy Hockey Fridays, In Retrospect, Milestone Monday, and Legends By the Number segments.
Kevin Sporka

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