Now that we're in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the matchups are that much more intense. Each team will look to find the best strategy to advance to the conference final, but when you get to this point in the postseason it's generally best not to make too many changes.
Start with the Montreal Canadiens. There will be plenty of talk about how they match up against the physical Boston Bruins, but I think they just have to play their game. I spoke to one of their players and he said they can't be goaded into trying to play more physically than they naturally do. They know they're not trying to "win the physical matchup" with the Bruins. Still, they have to be smart and be willing to pay a price.
I thought Montreal did a great job of attacking from the outside and the inside against the Tampa Bay Lightning. They're going to have to do that and change it up. They can't be predictable in how they attack against Boston.
I'll really be watching Canadiens coach Michel Therrien to see what he does with certain players' ice time. He's got a very short leash on P.K. Subban. You can hold your player accountable, but look at what Darryl Sutter does with Drew Doughty. When Doughty makes a mistake, he gets put right back out there. I'm interested to see if there are going to be any of these head games with last year's Norris Trophy winner. If Sutter had done that with Doughty, there is no way the Los Angeles Kings would have come back from a 3-0 deficit against the San Jose Sharks.
Look at what Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo did with Ryan Suter and how much that impacted that series. Doughty was banged up but Sutter decided he was going to ride or die with his top defenseman. I don't think Marc-Edouard Vlasic is in that same category, but you saw the difference it made when he was out for San Jose. This is the time of year when you've got to ride your best guys.
Don't expect any changes from the Chicago Blackhawks and the Bruins, two of the League's deepest teams who roll four lines. Nick Leddy is Chicago's sixth defenseman but could be a two or a three on certain teams. That speaks to the depth of the Blackhawks. They just need to continue being who they are.
When you look at Minnesota, who will play Chicago in the second round, people don't look enough at how Yeo allows his players to make more plays off the rush. Against the Colorado Avalanche, who are one of the best rush teams in the League, the Wild made plays using the width of the rink. There's a lot more motion with them. I really believe they come into this series against Chicago with a ton of confidence. That's a huge accomplishment to beat the Avalanche in Game 7 on the road. Obviously they respect the Blackhawks, but the Wild are a frisky team that won't go away and won't back down.
With the Kings and Anaheim Ducks playing in the second round, there are some major bragging rights on the line. There is a lot of respect between these teams, but I'm interested to see how the Kings come out and play. They definitely don't need to change anything now that they're back to being defense-first, which allows Jonathan Quick to be the best goalie in the world.
For the Ducks, if they want to beat the Kings they need to play an entire game. Their second-wave guys, like Andrew Cogliano, Nick Bonino and Devante Smith-Pelly, are imperative in this series. Those players have been a big part of their success all season long. Also, look for goaltender Jonas Hiller to start in this round. If he can play the way he's capable, I think we're going to have an amazing series that should go seven.
Finally, there's the Pittsburgh Penguins playing the New York Rangers, two teams that could actually benefit from a few changes.
The Penguins need to attack more and they have the weapons to do it. They have defensemen who can jump into the attack and must play to their strengths. The Penguins aren't going to lock anyone down and they don't need to, but they do need to be responsible and make smart choices. When they're in motion and moving, which they were at times against the Columbus Blue Jackets, they are lethal.
For the Rangers, Rick Nash played really well in Game 7 against the Philadelphia Flyers, but he has to elevate his game. He's too good and talented and big to not have an impact on a series. They need more from him. This is his time right now. He's playing well, but it's time to start scoring goals. Fortunately, the Rangers depth so far has been a big asset and will be a major factor if they want to beat Pittsburgh.
Now that we're on to the next round in the playoffs, it's going to be great to see what each team does as the stakes get higher. But for most of the teams still alive, it should be business as usual moving forward.