With at least two games played in each of the four second-round series in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the hunt for the conference finals is really in full swing. These are the things I've seen and that I'll keep watching for in each matchup.
RAINING ON OTTAWA'S PARADE
After the Penguins took the first two games of this series in relatively easy fashion at home, Ottawa made things interesting not just by winning Sunday night's double-overtime thriller, but by bringing Jason Spezza back in the lineup. Spezza certainly had an impact and as of Monday he says he feels good, but unless he really makes a huge difference on the ice, I can't see the Senators winning both games at home. They might if Craig Anderson stays hot in net, but Pittsburgh just has so many weapons. Sidney Crosby was so good in Game 2 and Evgeni Malkin hasn't even hit his stride offensively yet. It's really hard for me to look at these two teams against one another and think Ottawa will win both of its games at home.
The Sens are hard to discount. They played very well in the first round against Montreal and very well in Game 3, but I think Game 3 will be the best game they play all series. Ottawa's penalty kill made a big impact in Game 3 Sunday night, but they'll have to maintain that to tie this series up. Pittsburgh's power play was dominant in the first two games of the series and while the Sens handled it well in Game 3, the Penguins are so talented and so deep. I just don't see Ottawa getting back to Pittsburgh at two games apiece.
NEW YORK'S STRUGGLES
After the New York Rangers won such a physical series against the Washington Capitals in the first round and the Boston Bruins did the same against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it's funny to note that the start of the series between New York and Boston really hasn't been physical at all. If you're the Rangers, who struggle to score most of the time and rely on their defense, that's got to change. The Rangers need to start to reassert themselves after dropping Game 1 in overtime and getting beat badly in Game 2. The biggest thing New York needs to do, though? The Rangers have got to take advantage of the three young defensemen in the lineup for Boston. In Game 1, you've got three kids playing their first playoff games at such a difficult position and one of them, Torey Krug, gets a goal? The Rangers can't allow that. There's also no pressure being put on Dougie Hamilton, either. That's got to change and if it doesn't, that's bad news.
The Rangers also need Henrik Lundqvist to be better. I hate to put everything on Henrik, but if they're going to win with him, he's got to give them a chance like he did against Washington. In Game 1, Lundqvist let in two goals he normally stops and in Game 2 he had another poor showing. The Bruins need to keep playing like they have so far, but they're getting their goals, they're getting traffic in front of the net and all of their lines are playing well. Nothing Boston has done needs to change. If the Rangers aren't going to make life hard for the Bruins, why should it?
BLACKHAWKS ON THEIR HEELS
The Detroit Red Wings got a big win in Game 2 of this series and now all of the pressure is on the Chicago Blackhawks. Detroit was a seventh seed. They weren't supposed to beat the Ducks. Then they were supposed to be tired for Game 1 after traveling back from Game 7 in Anaheim, which they were. But coach Mike Babcock said they'd be better in Game 2 and they were. The Red Wings were much better in Game 2 and absolutely dominated the third period. Now the Blackhawks are sitting there scratching their heads. They're wondering if Detroit is really that good, or perhaps they're doubting their own abilities now. Yes, Henrik Zetterberg has been great, and Detroit's defense was solid after it struggled in Game 1, but Chicago was the team that looked slow and tired.
The Blackhawks also need more from Jonathan Toews. Yeah, he's playing good, solid two-way hockey, but if you look at the best teams in the playoffs their stars are all playing well. In Pittsburgh, Crosby gets a hat trick. In Detroit, Zetterberg was great in Game 2. Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture have been great for the Sharks. Toews and Patrick Kane are the two best players for Chicago, and, yeah, Kane got a goal in Game 2, but both of them need to start putting the puck in the net more. They need to lead the offense and the team as a whole needs to respond as the series shifts to Detroit. It will be a tough environment, but they need to get their game back together so they can look like the Chicago Blackhawks again.
SHARKS EYEING KINGS' THRONE
I know the Los Angeles Kings managed to win Game 1 and Game 2 at home to start this series, but the San Jose Sharks have played three good games. They could easily have won Game 2 and in Game 1 the Sharks outshot the Kings badly and had numerous great scoring chances in the third period. The Sharks deserve to be in this series and could easily be winning it 2-1. They've been strong offensively and they've been physical as well.
The Kings did play well in Game 3 and Jonathan Quick was awesome, but the Sharks have really brought it to them. If San Jose wins Game 4 all bets are off. The Kings are a great club that plays great playoff-style hockey, but they don't score a ton and Quick has to be the guy. In Game 3, Quick was great and he gave the Kings a chance to win. That's the recipe they had last year. But L.A. isn't going to score five or six goals and Quick is going to have to be the guy. If these games end up being higher-scoring, that will favor the Sharks because they have more dynamic goal scorers than the Kings do. If nothing else, Game 3 showed that this isn't going to be a five-game series. It will definitely be six or seven. The Sharks have made that clear.
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