Goaltending. To me, that is going to be the key to ALL eight series. In some cases, it will be more critical than in others, but the bottom line is the guys between the pipes are going to make the Biggest difference.
I am not going to break down all of the match ups thus far. I haven’t been able to catch some of them at this point, but I have managed to sit down to listen to a lot of the playoff games in some capacity over the last few days. I have been quite entertained, and my initial “predictions” have even started to shift a bit in my mind.
The Rangers, to me, were simply lucky to have even found themselves in the playoffs, as Carolina had been playing much better hockey and plainly choked when they had their destiny in their hands. However, what we are seeing is the reason why the Rangers managed to squeak into that 8 spot. Basically, it comes down to Henrik Lundqvist.
If you remove “King Henrik” from the equation, the Rangers would have had a dozen or more less points in the standings. The inconsistency of the Rangers offense and secondary scoring has been a problem for them all season, and, so far, Michal Neuvirth has been a bit better than Lundqvist. However, to me, as I said, goaltending is going to be the deciding factor, and even down 2-0, if I were a Capital fan, I wouldn’t be thinking a sweep is coming. I still say the Caps will prevail, but it will be in 6 games.
The Pittsburgh/Tampa series has been quite fascinating. In game one, Fleury seemed to be in old form, and I was wondering if all that firepower the Lightning possessed would matter. Stamkos has been relatively “quiet” for some time, and the experience and solid hockey the Pens have been playing pretty much added up in my mind to a relatively “easy” series win. Last night, though, Tampa came roaring back with offense, and as much as I still think the Penguins will win the match up in the end, it will be a struggle and, perhaps, take all 7 games.
OK, I admit I am a closet Black Hawks fan. I have admired their rebuild and have said, on many occasions, that their franchise is EXACTLY how the Islanders should be approaching their rebuild. Think of how far and how quickly the Hawks came from the relative bottom to Stanley Cup champions? They built a solid core group of players and added a lot of depth and character to the team each season until it culminated with a championship.
Well, when you are forced to move 9 of the guys who contributed to a championship, things aren’t going to be the same. I simply don’t think the Hawks have the horses to go the distance this time around. They have the offense and a pretty good back line, but the depth and character of last season seems to be missing. Vancouver, on the other hand, is just a scary team, and I can honestly see them going all the way to the finals and winning it all. Luongo is in top form, and if their defense can stay healthy, it’s going to be hard for any team to handle them in a seven game set.
It’s going to come down to experience in the Sharks verses Kings series. The injury to Anze Kopitar, to me, is a critically unfortunate situation for Los Angeles, and could be a factor in the end. I think Niemi’s experience with the hawks last year and the general experience of most of the Sharks will get them through to win the series. It’s not going to be easy, however. Jonathan Quick can be as big a difference maker in that match up as Henrik Lundqvist can be for the Rangers against the Capitals, so I could see the Kings making this a barn burner.
Can Boston just not beat Montreal in playoff meetings? On paper, to me, the Bruins “should” be the better team, but I can’t help thinking that Montreal will come out of this with a 6 game series win. My only “reservation” about this is that I think Boston’s goaltending with Thomas and Rask could edge out Price if it comes down to a goaltending contest. Boston has a bit more firepower, in my opinion, so, as far as I am concerned, this will be the most “entertaining” of the eight different series.
More thoughts later, but those are my initial reactions to the first round of the playoffs thus far. Not that their worth much, but there you go.
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