Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
I’ll save readers the time and not go into an excruciatingly-deep analysis of the Pittsburgh Washington series that many writers have already started to dive into following the Penguins Game 7 win over the Capitals 2-0 Wednesday night. Whether it be questioning if Sidney Crosby knows what is best for his own body or why Alex Ovechkin was demoted to the third line, this series was treated more like an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians at times than an NHL playoff matchup.
The analysis of this series goes beyond 8 and 87. Kevin Shattenkirk had an overtime goal in Game 3 to give the Capitals life after dropping Games 1 and 2 to the Penguins. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Niklas Backstrom each had four goals and three assists, better than Ovechkin who had only two goals and three helpers. Braden Holtby had a low save percentage of .887 and high goals against average of 2.57.
For the Penguins, Jake Guentzel played a definitive role in eliminating the Capitals. During the regular season Guentzel had 16 goals and 33 total points for 9th best on the team. However, during these playoffs Guentzel has a team-leading 9 goals and is tied for second in points with 14, behind only Evgeni Malkin who has 18. Eight of Guentzel’s 14 points came against the Capitals in round two, where he was followed by Malkin and Crosby who each had seven. Expect strong play from these three heading into the next round against Ottawa. The Penguins did not put added stress on its defensive core in the second round. None of the Pittsburgh defensemen averaged more than 22 minutes on ice. With this being said, Justin Schultz still managed two goals and three assists without added ice time.
The goaltending situation in Pittsburgh has become a topic of conversation again now that Stanley Cup-winning goalie Matt Murray is healthy enough to sit on the bench as a backup to Marc-Andre Fleury. The talk has revolved around taking out Fleury, who had a GAA of 2.58 and save percentage of .921 in round two, and putting in Murray for the Conference Final against Ottawa. This likely will not happen unless Fleury’s play declines dramatically in the next series. While his numbers against the Capitals aren’t anything out of the ordinary, he made some very strong saves throughout the series at key points in games, not to mention a shutout in Game 7.
Marc-Andre Fleury smiles after saving an Alex Ovechkin shot
The story of Erik Karlsson continued for the Ottawa Senators in round two against the New York Rangers. Karlsson had two goals and five assists to lead Ottawa with seven points. Jean-Gabriel Pageau had six goals in the series, four of them coming in Game 2 where he scored a hat trick and then an overtime winner to give the Senators a 2-0 series lead. Kyle Turris, who had four points in the series, also had an overtime winner in Game 5. This goal put the Senators ahead in the series 3-2, and sent them to New York, where they won the series in six games. Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman combined for total of five goals and eight points. Along with these five mentioned, players like Clarke MacArthur and Alex Burrows did not have a goal but contributed four and three assists respectively. As much work as the top players have done for the Senators, strong play up and down the roster will be essential if the Sens hope to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
It is hard not to say that the Pittsburgh Penguins are the favorite in this series. While the Senators put up an impressive performance in six games against the Rangers, the Penguins had the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals on their plate. The Capitals, favored by many to win the cup this season, had their deepest, most well-rounded team team since the start of the Ovechkin era. Sidney Crosby, besides flirting with a concussion and missing Game 4, has been the leader Pittsburgh has expected him to be. Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel and Phil Kessel have all had strong performances in the playoffs and despite how strong Ottawa’s offense has been in these playoffs, it just doesn’t match up with the Penguins.
Pittsburgh in five games
Nashville Predators vs. Anaheim Ducks
The Nashville Predators have become the feel-good story of this playoffs. Locally, many of the Preds most watched games of all time have come during this postseason. It started with sweeping the Chicago Blackhawks. If that wasn’t enough to get people talking, Nashville continued their run by taking down the St. Louis Blues in six games, and they still have yet to lose a game on home ice in these playoffs.
Nashville’s defense has been one of its strongest points so far in the postseason. P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi lead the entire team in points against St. Louis, each with five points in the series. The Predators are fortunate to have this kind of contribution from the back-end because their first line of Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg was noticeably less productive against the Blues than they were against the Blackhawks in round one. In four games against the Blackhawks, Johansen Arvidsson and Forsberg combined for 15 points. In six games against the Blues they collectively scored only seven. Arvidsson had only one assist in the series but it proved to be one that would lead his team into the Conference Final. Only 3:15 into the third period of a 1-1 tie in Game 6, Arvidsson came streaking down the far wall, dished a pass to Johansen in between the hashmarks, and the rest is history.
Viktor Arvidsson to Ryan Johansen for the GWG in Game 6
That goal broke the tie and the Preds went on to win 3-1. If the Nashville Predators’ top line plays like it did in the first round against the Blackhawks, and their defensemen continue their solid play, they should be tough competition for the Anaheim Ducks.
Anaheim has made it to the playoffs the last four seasons. In each of these previous seasons the Ducks were eliminated after leading the series 3-2. Anaheim would find themselves one win away from advancing to the next round, only to drop two games and lose the series. This year they were poised to repeat. A sensational Game 5 win in double OT saw the Ducks score three goals in the final four minutes of the third period to tie the game at home. Anaheim traveled to Edmonton for Game 6 where they would get run out of the building by a score of 7-1 allowing five first period goals to the Oilers. Things weren’t looking good for the Ducks heading into Game 7. Their first period started off slow and Drake Caggiula put the Oilers ahead only 3:31 into the first. Fortunately for the Ducks that was the only goal Edmonton would score. Anaheim tallied two goals, one in the second period from Andrew Cogliano and one in the third from Nick Ritchie to move on, breaking their four-year curse in the process.
In the postseason teams always look for strong performances from their veteran players, and most importantly of those, their captain. Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf was exactly the player he needed to be for Anaheim in this series. Getzlaf lead the team with five goals and five assists in his team’s seven games against the Oilers. Jakob Silfverberg tallied five goals of his own along with three assists. Corey Perry, while silent for much of this series, had a goal and five assists. That one goal was significant by itself as it was the double OT winner that gave Anaheim a 3-2 series lead. On defense Cam Fowler, after missing the Ducks’ first round series with a knee injury, averaged 26:06 time on ice against Edmonton with a goal and four assists.
It is likely that Anaheim hasn’t forgotten last year’s playoffs when they were eliminated in a Game 7 on home ice by the Predators in the first round. During the regular season the matchup was relatively even. Both the Ducks and Preds had a blowout win over each other, Anaheim winning 6-1 in October and Nashville winning 5-0 in November. However, those games were at the beginning of the season. Their most recent matchup on March 7th saw the Ducks win 4-3 in a shootout. This will be a hard-fought series and I see it likely going six or seven games. I have to give Nashville the edge in this series. Their play has been more consistent and they haven’t found themselves in situations where they are down multiple goals, in need of fighting back to stay alive in a series. While Anaheim has to be feeling good about finally being able to break the curse of seven-game series, Nashville is riding a wave of momentum of its own, appearing in their first Conference Final in franchise history. Good vibes are important in the playoffs, as it is the most stressful, yet rewarding, time of year for NHL clubs. How can the Preds not be feeling good when they have Carrie Underwood, Luke Bryan and Lady Antebellum singing their National Anthems?
Nashville in six games