After going an aggregated 5 for 8 in the first round of the 2012 NHL playoffs, here are our predictions for the Eastern Conference second round. You can take a look at our East and West predictions for the first round:
(1) New York Rangers vs (7) Washington Capitals
Series winner: New York Rangers
My Nostradamus hat says: Rangers in 7
Why? The last time these two teams met was in the first round of the 2009 playoffs and trailing 3-1 in the series, the Capitals came back with three consecutive victories to oust the 7th seeded New York Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist and the rest of the Blueshirts would undoubtedly like to get revenge, but they are focused on a more important task; to move on and keep their chance to win their first Cup since 1994 alive. This won’t be easy, their rivals, the Washington Capitals, have upset the Stanley cup champions in a 7-game series that went to the wire in sudden-death overtime. Much like the NYR-OTT series, we saw a goaltender stand on his head and steal a few games for his team. In this instance, the 22 year old Braden Holtby maintained a .940 save percentage in 7 games; not too shabby for a netminder who had a .902 save average in the AHL in the same season. But the Rangers have their own stud in nets; a Vezina candidate at that.
Although on paper the Capitals seem to have the deeper offensive roster than the Rangers, especially in terms of high-end talent, they are having a difficult time finding the back of the net scoring only 16 goals in 7 first round games. And facing the stingy defense of the Rangers won’t be any different from the Bruins; the Capitals will have trouble scoring.
When it comes to special teams, both teams’ powerplay are respectable, hovering at around 16% efficiency. In the penalty killing department, Washington’s 91.3% rate in the first round (whereas New York at 84.6%) gives them an edge in that category.
This series will go down to the wire. A couple of factors play in favor of a win for the Rangers: Lundqvist is absolutely lights out this season, the blueline’s willingness to get into lanes and block shots and the extended (and Stanley Cup) experience of Brad Richards.
Key fantasy player for New York: Brad Richards
Why? The center has been firing on all cylinders with 31 shots in 7 games in the first round. His 2 goals and 3 assists for 5 points top the Rangers and more is to come for this two-way player.
Key fantasy player for Washington: Nicklas Backstrom
Why? Backstrom was arguably the best forward on the Caps quad during their tilt with the Bruins with 4 points (1G, 3A) in 6 games, 21:44 TOI. Ovechkin will have his hands full against the McDonagh-Girardi pairing, Backstrom may have a bit more space against the Del Zotto-Staal tandem.
(5) Philadelphia Flyers vs (6) New Jersey Devils
Series winner: Philadelphia Flyers
My Nostradamus hat says: Flyers in 6
Why? Well this one should be an absolute goal-fest and ultimately the team with the better timely goaltending and opportunism will most probably end up on top. Marty Brodeur and Ilya Bryzgalov haven’t have a particularly good outing in the first round of the playoffs. Bryzgalov’s stats are horrendous (3.89 GAA and 0.871 SV%) but has shown some flashes of brilliance with some great saves and while Brodeur’s are significantly better, he has looked shaky out there at times. Regardless of age, Brodeur has a slight edge on Bryzgalov, who has had a roller-coaster season, just in terms of steadiness and overall playoff experience. The Devils have also done a great job at limiting shots in front of Brodeur, averaging only 25.6 shots against per game played, and that includes the double-overtime game 7.
But the Flyers are not the Panthers in terms of overall offense and scoring forward depth. The Flyers will bring much more firepower to the table with the likes of Giroux, Briere, Hartnell, Jagr and Voracek, and that’s excluding emerging players such as Couturier, Schenn and Read. The Devils will surely have their hands busy containing the young high-flying fowards in Orange. Although the Devils don’t lack the star power up front (hello Zach Parise, Patrick Elias and Ilya Kovalchuk), they simply cannot compete goal-for-goal with the plethora of offensive forwards on the Flyers’ side. Besides, the rumours floating around on Kovalchuk’s health might have some level of truth considering the big winger had a gear missing in the first round. Offense: advantage Flyers.
On the back end, the squads are quite similar. None have the Star D-man or the stud quarterback, but each team has a steady group of 6 capable of working as a unit. Although both teams have their woes in terms of injuries, the Flyers group had more time to recover between series. The Devils’ short rest with a banged up group will definitely play against them in a long, bruising series with a divisional rival.
In terms of special teams, the first ranked Flyers powerplay (although it won’t continue producing at 52.2% rate…) will face-off against a very good Devils penalty kill that has struggled in the post-season. Ranked first in the regular season, the Devils have struggled against the Panthers powerplay, recording a 66.7% success rate in the first round. On the other side of the spectre, the Flyers had their own problems on the PK against the Penguins, registering a 69% efficiency being a man down. Obviously, the team that will fix their issues on the penalty kill will have a significant edge as the series progress.
In conclusion, the balanced attack of the Flyers and the extra days rest should be determining factors leaning towards a Flyers win.
Key fantasy player for Philadelphia: Claude Giroux
Why? Why change a winning formula? Our selection in the first round totally dominated the Penguins; he was in fact the story of the Conference quarter-finals. Including a tremendous 6-point game, Giroux closed up the first round with 6 goals and 8 assists for 14 points in 6 games.
Key fantasy player for New Jersey: Zach Parise
Why? Parise is looking for his pay day come July first and the American winger was rather quiet in the first round with only 4 points (2G, 2A) in 7 games. Parise has historically had good outings against the Flyers, with 36 points (18G, 18A) in 40 career regular season games.
Good luck in your pool!