So as it turns out after last night’s pair of Game 7’s, I went 6-2 in predicting the outcomes of the first round. I’m pretty proud of myself to be honest with you. What a comeback by the Bruins! I’ve never seen anything like that in hockey. The city of Toronto will be in mourning for the next month, that’s for sure.
Alright, the predictions.
Season series: Penguins 3-0-0 against Senators.
Next to the Sharks, I think the Senators were by far the most impressive team in the first round. Maybe even more impressive than San Jose, but that’s debatable. Ottawa survived the intensity of their series with the Canadiens and flat out dominated them between fights. Goal scoring was not an issue in that first round for the Sens, as they averaged exactly 4 goals per game (good for second behind Pittsburgh). Everyone was seemingly producing and tallying points for Ottawa. Meanwhile, Craig Anderson played a phenomenal series in net and shut down the Montreal offense. He has been one of the most underrated goalies in the NHL in recent years, and now he is finally starting to get some respect. This guys is for real. For Ottawa to beat Pittsburgh, Anderson is going to need to be great again. The Penguins have arguably the league’s most potent offense, and they rely on that offense to win them games. If the Senators can play solid defense and get good goaltending, we might have ourselves an upset.
As for the Penguins, they have to be a little concerned after the way they performed against the Islanders in the first round. Sure, they won the series without going to a 7th game, but a lot of people feel that series should have been over with a lot sooner. I’d say that in 3 or maybe even 4 of those games against the Islanders, New York dominated the play. The fact that Pittsburgh still came away with a victory in that series is a credit to their depth and talent. However, that series also exposed some weaknesses of the Penguins. Marc Andre Fleury is no longer their starting goalie after yet another bad first round performance. Thomas Vokoun is their guy in goal now, and they’ll need him to be solid from here on out. Over his career, Vokoun has been a pretty streaky goalie, so we’ll just have to see which side of him shows up in this series. Also, Pittsburgh’s defense is very beatable. The Islanders proved this. For Pittsburgh to win this series, their blue liners are going to need to be a lot better than they were in round one. Ottawa has one of the hottest offenses right now, and that could be an issue for Pittsburgh’s defense.
-Pittsburgh wins series, 4-3.
Season series: Rangers 2-1-0 against Bruins.
It took 7 games for both of these teams to advance to the second round, and thankfully for us NHL fans, we have our second series consisting of two Original 6 teams (the other being Chicago-Detroit). Incredibly, this is the first postseason meeting between these two teams since the mid ’70’s. In their first round series with Washington, New York got great goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist, and timely scoring from a number of players. Derick Brassard (acquired from Columbus at the deadline) has been huge for New York and was a key component to their first round victory. Other than him, however, no Rangers forwards were really that great in the first round. They ranked 10th in goals per game after round one, and that needs to improve. They will be going against a much better defense in the Boston Bruins in the second round. To me, the biggest question with New York is their scoring. They have the weapons to be a good offensive team, but they just haven’t produced like one all year long. They absolutely have to be better against Boston. One thing going for the Rangers, however, is the fact that they have Henrik Lundqvist on their side. He can single-handedly win any series.
The Bruins are lucky to still be alive right now. After trailing 4-1 midway through the third period of their Game 7 against Toronto, it looked for sure like the Leafs would pull of the upset. However, Boston never gave up and willed their way back into the game, scoring 2 goals with the goalie pulled in the final minute and a half of regulation time to tie it. Patrice Bergeron scored the eventual game winner in overtime to send the TD Garden into a frenzy. Now, that they’re in the second round, the Bruins need to wake up and play their game. They were ugly, slow, and downright sloppy at times against Toronto. That can’ happen anymore. Tuukka Rask played alright in the first round, but we all know he can be better. He’ll need to be. Offensively, Boston ranked 5th in goals per game in the first round, which isn’t bad. On the flip side, they ranked 9th in goals against. That needs to be better. All year long, the Bruins have prided themselves on their defense and goaltending. Those two areas need to improve for them to advance any further in these playoffs. One advantage that they have over New York is experience. Boston is just 2 years removed from winning the Stanley Cup, and they still have a number of players from that team on their roster. Those guys that have won the Cup need to step up and lead the team.
-Boston wins series, 4-2.