We have the Caps-Lightning prognosto up, but what about the other three conference semifinal series? Well, let’s take a look…
Eastern Conference Semifinal: Philadelphia (2) vs. Boston (3)
Theme: Familiarity breeds contempt
Why Philly will win: Depth. Oh, sure, Danny Briere had those six goals in the first round, but James van Riemsdyk had something of a coming out party with four goals (including a power play goal and a game-winner), and Ville Leino had three of his own. For heaven’s sake, Daniel Carcillo had a pair. That kind of depth grinds a team down, even with a top-notch goalie. They did it to Ryan Miller; they can do it to Tim Thomas.
Why Philly Won’t Win: The Flyers got off lucky in the first round, using three goaltenders against a team without a lot of firepower and that doesn’t make a lot of noise in front of netminders. Boston might not be explosive, but they can do a better job than did Buffalo in crowding the crease. Brian Boucher, who for the moment appears to be “the man,” is going to have to work harder for his saves. And there, the Flyers’ biggest weakness can be exposed.
Flyer on the Hot Seat: Chris Pronger. He played in only two games of the opening round, coming back from a broken hand. Pronger is going to be key in policing the area in front of Boucher to be able to give the goalie a good look at shots. If Pronger does his job, it hides a lot of problems in goal.
Why Boston will win: Tim Thomas. He is the best player in this series. It could come down to how many bad games each goalie has, and Thomas is almost a betting lock to have fewer of them than Brian Boucher (or whoever ends up tending goal for the Flyers). In any player-to-player matchup in this series, the Bruins have an overwhelming advantage in goal.
Why Boston won’t win: That vague whiff of decay you smell? OK, that wall of stink hitting you in the face? It’s not week old clam chowder, but the Bruin power play. It was 0-for-21 against the Canadiens in round one, but truth be told, that’s not all that much an aberration. It wasn’t that hot in the regular season, either (16.2 percent; 21st in the league).
Bruin on the hot seat: David Krejci. One point in the opening round. Oh, that won’t do, not against the Flyers. Krejci had rather productive playoff appearances in the three post-seasons he had coming into this one (27 games, 7-14-21, plus-10). The Bruins will need that production in this round.
In the end, Boston’s power play isn’t as bad as it was in the opening round (mainly because Philly’s penalty kill is rather ordinary), and the Flyers still do not have an answer in goal.
Boston in six.
Western Conference Semifinal: Vancouver (1) vs. Nashville (5)
Theme: If the Sedins are keen, the Preds are dead.
Why Vancouver will win: We can talk about how Vancouver is simply better on both sides of the puck (and they are, with the possible exception of goaltending), but it might be the intangible here. Every team has their dark night of the soul moment in the playoffs, and for Vancouver it came at the end of Game 6 when they found themselves poised to blow a 3-0 lead in games as Presidents Trophy winner. They would have spent the summer cleaning the egg off their faces had they lost Game 7 to Chicago, but the Canucks stared into the face of adversity, and adversity blinked. Like Jim Lovell said in the movie Apollo 13, “looks like we’ve had out glitch for this mission.”
Why Vancouver won’t win: The Canucks scored 16 goals in their first round series with Chicago, eight of them coming from Daniel Sedin and Alex Burrows. Eight came from the other 19 skaters who dressed. If the Canucks don’t get some more production from down the roster, they could be had...their season exploding like the Apollo 13 service module did after their supposed "glitch."
Canuck on the hot seat: Henrik Sedin. The defending Hart Trophy winner is the “assist” half of the Sedin twins, and he had five of them in round one. But no goals and a minus-4? That’s not a long term formula for Vancouver success.
Why Nashville will win: They are the little engine that could. Pekka Rinne stops pucks, and the Predators put them in from all over the place. Twelve different Predators had goals for Nashville in round one. No one is as recognizable as a Jonathan Toews or a Patrick Kane, but they have the kind of balance that can make up for the lack of star power. And they are a very sturdy 5-on-5 team (fourth in ratio of goals scored to goals allowed in round one).
Why Nashville won’t win: Penalty killing. The Predators had a good regular season killing penalties (84.9 percent; 5th in the league), but Anaheim saw or found something in it to exploit. The Ducks scored eight times in 27 man advantages (a 70.4 percent kill rate). The Canucks have more fire power – best power play in the league in the regular season. If Vancouver can exploit whatrever flaw the Ducks found, this will be a short series.
Predator on the hot seat: Sergei Kostitsyn. In his first post-season in 2008 Sergei Kostitsyn scored three goals in 12 games. In 12 games since, covering three post-seasons, he has no gosals. He had none in the first round against Anaheim. If the Predators are to have a chance in this series, he needs to break the string.
In the end, this is will versus skill. A lot of times, “will” wins out, but Vancouver simply has too much skill and might have dodged their bullet in the opening round.
Vancouver in 6
Western Conference Semifinal: San Jose (2) vs. Detroit (3)
Theme: You have learned well, my young padawan...
Why San Jose will win: Isn’t it about time? This might be the most talented team never to play in a Stanley Cup final. In six years leading up to this one the Sharks played in 13 playoff rounds and won seven of them. Not a good batting average. What makes this year different, perhaps, is that Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley don’t have to be “Joe Thornton” and “Dany Heatley.” The Sharks got meaningful production from Joe Pavelski (20 goals), Ryan Clowe (24 goals), and got a big season out of rookie Logan Couture (32 goals), freeing up Thornton to be “Thornton,” and Heatley to be “Heatley.” They have a better mix.
Why San Jose won’t win: goaltending. Detroit can make a good goalie look average and an average goalie look bad. Antti Niemi has his moments, but few of them came in round one. He was fine in Game 1 of the series against the Los Angeles Kings, allowing two goals on 35 shots in a 3-2 overtime win. However, he allowed 17 goals on 104 shots in five other appearances in the series. A .837 save percentage kind of performance is going to be a Christmas ham to a starvin’ man for the Red Wings.
Shark on the hot seat: Dan Boyle. He is their minutes leader (by miles, more than five minutes a game more than Marc-Eduoard Vlasic), the leading scorer for the defense (50 points), the triggerman on the power play (27 points). The extent to which his production matches that of the Red Wings’ Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski will go a long way to determining who wins this series.
Why the Red Wings will win: It is the natural order of things. Whereas the Sharks have a history of disappointment, the Red Wings are quite the opposite. Starting in 1995, when they went to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1966, the Red Wings have gone past the second round eight times in 15 post-seasons, including three of the last four. The Wings bring many of the players who led them past the second round three times in the last four seasons into this game. Nothing is going to upset the likes of Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and all the other Red Wings that have become so well known.
Why the Red Wings won’t win: If you watched them in the Phoenix series, you might be tempted to say, “uh…nothing to see here.” They looked that good. But there is a soft underbelly here that the Sharks might be able to exploit. Defensemen Brad Stuart was on ice for seven goals against in four games, Niklas Kronwall for five. It could be the tiniest sliver of weakness the Sharks can exploit.
Red Wing on the hot seat: Jimmy Howard. The Red Wings don’t ask their goalie to win games often. They are a veteran enough team among the skaters to be able to keep their goalie from seeing a lot of scoring chances, and they are skilled enough at puck possession to keep the heat on at the other end of the ice. Howard was good enough in round one – 2.50 GAA and .915 save percentage. He will probably have to play better to match those numbers in the second round. San Jose poses a larger offensive threat than did Phoenix.
In the end, there might be a tipping point being reached with this series. San Jose has served a long apprenticeship in the art of winning, coming up short often and painfully. The Red Wings have made a habit of winning. But while the Red Wings are still very talented and experienced, and the Sharks are still capable of lifting the hearts of fans into their throats, this is the year when the guard is changed. It is San Jose’s time.
Sharks in seven