Welcome back to 4 on 4! Four prominent hockey writers; John Hoven of The Mayor's Manor, Bryan Reynolds and Nathan Eide of Hockey Wilderness, Derek Tanabe of Fear the Fin, and Thomas Drance and Jeff Angus of Canucks Army preview Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Blackhawks (1) vs Red Wings (7) -
Did Minnesota expose any aspect of the potent Chicago Blackhawks during their five-game first round series? Was Detroit's seven-game series with Anaheim a preview of what they can do against a top team or was it a display of all they had to give this season? Those are just two of the many questions heading into the second round match-up between a pair of Original Six teams. Looking back to the regular season, the Blackhawks not only dominated, but ran away with the Division title, including a 21-point lead over the Red Wings. Yet, as is often said at this time of year, playoffs are a whole new animal. In fact, this series should be a lot tougher for Chicago. For starters, Detroit is coming in having won three overtime games in the first round. That should provide them some confidence and a resilient mentality early on. In the end though, Chicago's forward depth is likely too much for the Detroit defense, especially since Niklas Kronwall was forced to play a ton of minutes against the Ducks' top lines. However, the Wings won't just roll over. They have a top-notch goalie in Jimmy Howard and if he steals a game or two early on, things would become interesting in a hurry. They're also playing desperate hockey and are fairly healthy. Yet, even with Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen and Filppula, Detroit probably doesn't have enough to punch out the Blackhawks this year. Take Chicago in five games.
Kings (5) vs Sharks (6)
The Kings vs the Sharks, huh? Well, that will certainly be a ratings monster for NBC. 10:30 Eastern start times for a series between two California teams? It just goes to show the lengths the NHL will go to to ensure the big hockey markets are represented on TV throughout the playoffs.
TV aside, this series is going to be killer hockey. The Kings and Sharks already hate each other, and now we get to add the pressure of the chance at the Western Conference finals? This series will be insane, and yet will be overshadowed by the Original Six (yippie) match-up of Chicago and Detroit. While the Hawks steam roll the aging, washed-up Red Wings and renew the calls of conspiracy out of Detroit, the Sharks and Kings might actually play games worth watching. Two big, fast teams, built for championships, and built to play hard nosed hockey at a time when hard nosed hockey is what wins games. This series is likely to go seven games, with each one being close enough to promise multiple overtimes.
The Kings need will need to find a way to shutdown Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. The recommendation here is to remind them before each game that this is the playoffs, and let nature take its course. The real threat will be from Logan Couture, who doesn't seem to realize that Sharks aren't supposed to play well in May. It will be interesting to see how the Kings counter the Brent Burns, power forward, experiment. He's difficult enough to contain from the blue line, let alone when he gets in close to the net. If the Sharks can get Burns and Couture firing, and Antti Niemi can remember he is allowed to stop pucks in the post-season, the Kings will have their hands full.
Kings fans already know what the Sharks are up against. Stop one line, another will score. Stop that line, the defense will score. Stop them completely from scoring, and the Kings simply won't let you score. It is a war of attrition every game with LA, and the playoffs are built for siege warfare. The Sharks are going to need to find a way to make it about their game, and not let the Kings control the game. Even if they can contain a handful of players, the Sharks should be able to hang tight and force every game to be decided at the last minute.
Seriously, though, folks. Skip the Hawks / Wings. Take a nap, rest up for the late starts and watch the series that is actually going to be worth watching.
Prediction: Kings in 7, with a double OT winner from Dustin Penner.
Blackhawks (1) vs Red Wings (7)
While I expected them to beat the Ducks, it's still thoroughly impressive to me that the Red Wings have advanced to the second round while icing a supermodel-thin defense. Perhaps it's a testament to Detroit's blueline not being quite as sub-par as it appears on paper or a sign that youngsters like Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl have taken significant strides forward as the season has progressed, but the Lidstrom-less Wings are in the conference's final four and look poised to give the Blackhawks their first real test of the postseason. Despite the discrepancy in seeding, the Hawks and Wings are more closely matched than you might expect. Both have received terrific goaltending, both sport power play units that are strangely mediocre and, with Dave Bolland back in the Chicago lineup, both clubs boast a deep and varied corps of two-way forwards. Still, the Blackhawks' decided edge in high-end forward talent (where the Wings have Datsyuk and Zetterberg, Chicago has Toews and Hossa...and Sharp and Kane) makes them a better bet to come out of this series with their playoff lives but don't count out the Red Wings, particularly if Mike Babcock opts to keep Datsyuk and Zetterberg on separate lines to ensure one of them is on the ice when either Toews or Kane is. Blackhawks in 7.
Kings (5) vs Sharks (6)
As game one demonstrated, this series is going to be pretty damn close and it might just come down to which one of Antii Niemi or Jonathan Quick puts in the better performance four games out of seven. So far: it's one to nothing in Jonathan Quick's favour.
Quick and Niemi have both won Stanley Cups and have both put in Vezina worthy seasons in which they didn't win (Niemi will lose to Bobrovsky this season, though in my mind he deserves it - just like Quick and Henrik Lundqvist a year ago). But Niemi has been the better goaltender over the past three seasons, or so, so I give them a modest edge in goal.
In addition to their advantage between the pipes, the Sharks power-play is the best in the NHL (don't be fooled by their capitalization percentage, they've long been the NHL's best 5on4 team in terms of generating shots). They had a tonne of quality chances in game one, and though Quick was up to the task, the Kings will be playing with fire if that continues in this series.
That's pretty much where San Jose's natural advantages end. The Kings are still the toast of the league at five-on-five, a veritable Corsi juggernaut, and that alone should get them through to the second round. I'm anticipating a hard-fought series though, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if this one lasts for seven games even if San Jose loses again in game two (the Sharks are beatable on the road - but they're ridiculously good at the Shark Tank).
John Hoven is the founder and editor of MayorsManor.com - selected as 2012's Best Hockey Blog by Yahoo Sports. As a member of the Professional Hockey Writer's Association, his insights and information have been featured on several well known websites, magazines and in print for the LA Newspaper Group. He can also be heard over the airwaves, as he's a regularly featured guest on sports radio stations across North America. Be sure to follow along at www.twitter.com/MayorNHL for his daily notes and inside scoop.
Bryan Reynolds is the editor of Hockey Wilderness, the SB Nation site covering the Minnesota Wild. He also covers the Minnesota Swarm of the NLL for SB Nation Minnesota and dreams of one day being the Senate confirmed Director of Vengeful Beatings - @hockeywildernes.
Nathan Eide is the managing editor of Hockey Wilderness, a Minnesota Wild fan community. Nathan likes long walks on the beach, spending time with his family and enjoys the schadenfreude surrounding the Edmonton Oilers.
Derek Tanabe is currently the managing editor for Fear The Fin, a Sharks blog with up-to-date news and analysis concerning California's only team still chasing the Stanley Cup. You can follow him on twitter at @fearthefin.
Thomas Drance is a Vancouver native currently based in Toronto. He works at MThrty communications , is the managing editor of canucksarmy.com, and a contributing writer at Pass it to Bulis (the Vancouver Sun). Works for Engagementlabs. He's an avid singer who swims everyday in the summer, and eats food that is too spicy for normal human persons. You can follow him on twitter at @CanucksArmy.