NHL playoffs: second-round predictions

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Pittsburgh (1) vs. Ottawa (7)

One of the most interesting match-ups of the second round features Stanley Cup favourites the Pittsburgh Penguins taking on the Ottawa Senators. After picking up veterans Brenden Morrow and long-time Flames captain Jarome Iginla at the trade deadline, the Penguins’s first-round struggles against the New York Islanders were somewhat surprising. Meanwhile the Senators dispatched an injury-riddled Montreal Canadiens team in just five games.

The quality of the teams sets up what promises to be a very tight series. With the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Iginla the Penguins certainly have the advantage offensively. Both squads boast solid defences with Erik Karlsson and Kris Letang sure to play prominent roles for the Senators and Penguins respectively.

One area where the Senators have the edge is between the pipes. Goaltending was the Penguins’s biggest issue in their first-round series. Tomas Vokoun was given the starting job after some dismal performances by Marc Andre Fleury. Senators goalie Craig Anderson posted a .950 save percentage and only in one game did he allow more than two goals.

Goaltending will be a prominent storyline in this series and if Ottawa is going to pull off the upset they will need Anderson to continue his hot play. The Senators are capable of advancing to the next round, but the Penguins’s raw talent may simply be too much to overcome.

Gauntlet prediction: Penguins in 7

Los Angeles (5) vs. San Jose (6)

In this battle of California the Los Angeles Kings look to continue their quest to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Standing in their way is a San Jose Sharks team that impressed many in their first-round series in which they swept the Vancouver Canucks.

These two teams are closely matched. Each team has big-name forwards such as Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar. Along with these stars, each squad also gets significant contributions from other lines.

They are also close defensively. Both are very solid on the back end while also proving able to contribute offensively.
 The defenders need to effectively jump up and create odd-man rushes to generate offence in what could otherwise be a tightly played defensive series.

Goalies Antti Niemi and Jonathan Quick have both won Stanley Cups and seem to elevate their play in the playoffs. When two squads are so tightly matched, special teams are sure to play a significant role. The Sharks have the edge on the power play with a nearly 30 per cent playoff success rate compared to just 13 per cent for the Kings. Something as simple as staying out of the penalty box may be what separates these rivals.

Gauntlet prediction: Kings in 7

Chicago (1) vs. Detroit (7)

In this Original Six match-up the Chicago Blackhawks take on the Detroit Red Wings, who made the post-season for the 22nd consecutive year. The Blackhawks were dominant in their first-round series win against a beat-up Minnesota Wild team. On the other hand the Red Wings needed seven games and three overtime victories to overcome the Anaheim Ducks.

A key strength of the Blackhawks’s squad is their depth up and down the line-up. This is seen by the fact that neither Jonathon Toews or Patrick Kane have scored a goal in the playoffs, yet the Blackhawks have still averaged over three goals a game. Detroit also has a deep and talented group of forwards, however the Red Wings rely on Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk for much of their scoring. The duo had 15 combined points against the Ducks.

Both teams have fairly strong blue-lines, although the Blackhawks’s defenders have more playoff experience. The starting goalies had strong regular seasons with goals-against averages of 1.94 for Chicago’s Corey Crawford and 2.13 for Detroit’s Jimmy Howard. On paper Chicago seems to have the edge, yet Detroit is a franchise that will find ways to win. Only one of the four regular season games between the Blackhawks and Red Wings was decided in regulation time. If that is any indication, it will be a long, close and exciting series.

Gauntlet prediction: Blackhawks in 6

Boston (4) vs. New York (6))

The Boston Bruins and New York Rangers first-round series went the distance, but the way they won their respective game sevens was very different. New York dismantled the Washington Capitals in a 5–0 victory, while Boston miraculously came back from a 4–1 third period deficit to win 5–4 in an overtime thriller that is sure to haunt Toronto Maple Leaf fans for years.

The Rangers had a disappointing regular season but with all their talent they seem poised to make a run. They will have to get past a big and physical Bruins team whose roster has changed little from their 2011 Stanley Cup winning team.

However, the Bruins ran into some injury trouble against the Leafs, losing defenders Andrew Ference, Wade Redden and Dennis Seidenberg. Boston will have problems dealing with the Rangers’s forwards should these key defenders miss significant time.

The Bruins may also have problems producing offensively, especially if Tyler Seguin remains mired in his current goal-less drought. Their number one obstacle will be perennial Vezina Trophy nominee Henrik Lundqvist. The Swede posted back-to-back shutouts for the Rangers to clinch their first-round series. Boston will attempt to make this series as scrappy and physical as possible to throw the Rangers off their game. However, the Bruins’s injuries and the lights-out play of Lundqvist may simply be too much to overcome.

Gauntlet prediction: Rangers in 6