Yesterday, I previewed two of the Conference Semifinal series. Today, it’s the other two.
Eastern Conference Semifinals - #4 Boston Bruins vs. #5 New York Rangers:
Following Boston’s Game Six loss to Toronto, Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said about his club: “We’ve been a Jeckyll and Hyde team all year”. We saw both sides of the Bruins during the Toronto series. They looked fantastic in their Game One and Game Three victories. They did not play particularly well for the first two periods of Game Five, then their furious third period comeback effort fell short. They got outplayed in Game Six. In Game Seven, they started well, but then yielded four unanswered goals. That set the stage for their incredible third period comeback, in which they netted three goals in a row to tie Toronto, including two sixth-attacker goals in the final 82 seconds. The OT winner came at the end of a furious, dominating shift in the Toronto zone, one in which Leafs’ defensemen Jake Gardiner and Cody Franson got stuck on the ice for well over a minute. Their fatigue led to a giveaway and Patrice Bergeron’s series-clinching goal.
So which Bruins team will we see in the second round? When Boston is on its game, the Bruins look like they can beat anyone in the league. They play a structured, physical game, one in which they repeatedly get pucks to the opposition net and set up traffic in front of the opposing goalie. When they’re off – and the opposition’s level of play has a role in this – we don’t see those same characteristics.
As for the Rangers, they are a team that can stymie and frustrate the opposition. They block a ton of shots and have one of the top goalies in the game protecting their net. With back-to-back shutouts in consecutive elimination games against Washington, Henrik Lundqvist is playing like a man determined to lead his team to a Stanley Cup. The issue all season for the Rangers has been offense (which can be an issue for many teams in the playoffs, where teams can really clamp down the opposition). The Rangers scored only three total goals in their three losses to Washington. Even in their Game Six win, New York netted only one goal. But as I wrote in the first round preview, the Rangers have gotten better offensively since acquiring the players they got at the trade deadline. In their three other wins against the Caps, the Rangers netted 13 goals.
I think this will be a close, competitive and long series. Bruins fans will no doubt draw on similarities between this year and the start of the 2011 playoffs for Boston, when it bested Montreal with an OT Game Seven goal in the first round. The Bruins went on to win the Stanley Cup that year. But with Lundqvist in net for New York, I’m going with the Rangers. Prediction: New York in Seven.
Western Conference Semifinals - #1 Chicago Blackhawks vs. #7 Detroit Red Wings:
Unlike the Minnesota Wild, the Red Wings will give the Blackhawks a good series. Chicago dispatched Minnesota rather easily in the first round, winning in five games. As I detailed in my earlier preview, the ‘Hawks don’t appear to have any weaknesses. Strong on offense, defense, special teams and in net.
The Red Wings are playing their best hockey of the year right now. They won their last four regular season games to ensure their 22nd consecutive postseason berth. Then they won a close seven-game series from the Anaheim Ducks. In case anyone doubted as to whether the Red Wings still have championship mettle, Detroit had to rally from series deficits of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2. They won two overtime games, including Game Six, a contest in which they surrendered the go-ahead goal in the third period, then rallied to tie with under seven minutes left. And, of course, they won Game Seven on the road. Impressive.
Just as the Red Wings are playing their best hockey of the year, goaltender Jimmy Howard is also on top of his game. That’s why I think the Red Wings will keep the games – and the series – close. But Chicago is just too strong, deep and complete. Prediction: Chicago in Six.