The second night of the Stanley Cup playoffs was a bit kinder to my predictions, but the fact remains that this year’s tournament has been one of the most unpredictable in years. No complaints from me, though the teams and players in this year’s playoffs have grabbed the attention of people both in and outside the hockey world and provided terrific nightly theater in each game.
Four first-round series began on the second evening of the playoffs and, to this point, three of them are on track with my own prediction. Will they remain that way and possibly make me look smart? Possibly, but with the San Jose Sharks sputtering on home ice the other night, their matchup with the St. Louis Blues has swung back into the Blues' favor.
The New York Rangers have received stellar goaltending from Henrik Lundqivst to survive the first three games of an entertaining series against the Ottawa Senators, and it has been a goalie duel as well in the Boston-Washington series.
How have they played out, and how do Mix’s Picks’ look? Here we go…
#1 NEW YORK RANGERS VS. #8 OTTAWA SENATORS
MIXER’S PREDICTION: Rangers in six.
LOOKING BACK: My pick is holding strong in this series (so far); and as I figured, King Henrik has been a big factor in the Rangers’ success. He was spectacular between the pipes in a 1-0 victory at Scotiabank Place on Monday night, single-handedly willing the Rangers to a 2-1 series lead despite the Senators pouring it on all game long. I think that’s going to continue, as the big Swede appears to be in quite the groove and John Tortorella is pushing all the right buttons. Ruslan Fedotenko has bounced back from a poor regular season and been a consistent player up front, and having Marc Staal back healthy has stabilized the New York defense.
#2 BOSTON BRUINS VS. #7 WASHINGTON CAPITALS
MIXER’S PREDICTION: Bruins in five.
LOOKING BACK: The prediction is a wash (technically), but I still think the Bruins are the odds-on favorite to emerge from this series. Goaltending was a concern for the Capitals coming in, but young Braden Holtby stood on his head in the first two games and only had one win to show for it. He proved to be merely human in Game 3, and was the victim of a bad break on the Bruins’ game-winner late in the third period. Zdeno Chara’s slap shot from the right point deflected off teammate Roman Hamrlik’s stick and into the net with less than two minutes to play – in a game the Capitals had the better of the scoring chances in the third period. Nicklas Backstrom’s one-game suspension really hurts Dale Hunter and the Capitals, who need to win another game at TD Garden to have a chance at advancing.
#2 ST. LOUIS BLUES VS. #7 SAN JOSE SHARKS
MIXER’S PREDICTION: Sharks in six.
LOOKING BACK: The Blues were part of one of the more uneventful playoff games the other night at HP Pavilion in San Jose, but that’s exactly how Ken Hitchcock prefers it. St. Louis took advantage of a miserable Sharks penalty kill and tallied three power-play goals to win Game 3, and the Blues are now an astounding 5-for-13 on the man advantage in the series. I picked the Sharks to win in six games primarily because I thought they played well enough down the stretch to take advantage of an inexperienced Blues squad. So far, St. Louis has answered the bell this postseason. The Sharks split at Scottrade Center and need to win at home tonight to balance what has been a very evenly-matched opening series.
#3 PHOENIX COYOTES VS. #6 CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS
MIXER’S PREDICTION: Blackhawks in five.
LOOKING BACK: I initially pegged this series as one that would get buried amidst the higher-profile matchups in the East, and even the Detroit-Nashville series in the West. But thanks to a vicious hit from Raffi Torres and an incident involving Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, there’s no shortage of storylines in what could be the tightest series going. These teams are involved in a full-on chess match and the Blackhawks looked to have momentum going back to United Center, but Mikkel Boedker’s overtime winner brought back shades of Patrick Kane’s Cup winning goal in 2010. Can Chicago rebound? I think they can, but again, there’s no way my pick comes to fruition. The Coyotes are one of the top stories this postseason and we’ll see if they can write another chapter tonight.