By: Jeremy Perrigo
Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues
Few would have predicted that these two franchises, who are both still looking for their first Stanley Cup, would meet up in the second round of the playoffs this year. This matchup was unlikely for a few reasons, but easily the most notable factor was that not many people expected the Predators to make it past the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.
To say that the Predators “made it past” the Blackhawks is an understatement. Nashville swept Chicago in four games and it took the Blackhawks until game three to even score a goal. Nashville won the four games by scores of 1-0, 2-0, 3-2 and 4-1. This was a shock to much of the hockey world as many analysts had Chicago not only handily taking care of the Predators in four to five games, but also advancing all the way to the Stanley Cup final.
So what happened? Well, what didn’t happen is the Chicago Blackhawks’ offense. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews both averaged over twenty minutes per game but each only had one goal and one assist to show for it. On defense Duncan Keith averaged 25:33 on ice per game, had a plus/minus of -6, and just one assist.
Nashville’s top forwards produced in this series, plain and simple. Center Ryan Johansen had six points, while wingers Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson had five and four points respectively. Five different Predators had two goals in the four games against Chicago. While Pekka Rinne played strong in net, and recorded an insane .976 save percentage, the Predators’ defense made his job easier. Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi, P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm all had an average time on ice (TOI) of more than 25 minutes and all six Nashville defensemen had a positive plus/minus ratio.
As for St. Louis, their victory against the Minnesota Wild in the first round was not nearly as surprising as the outcome of the Nashville and Chicago series. However, the Blues were technically the underdog coming into the series matching up as the third seed in the central division versus the second place Wild. They beat the Wild in three out of five meetings in the regular season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was expected that they would end the series in only five games.
Vladimir Tarasenko, who I highlighted as an important player for the Blues going into the first round, had a goal and two assists in five games against the Wild. That isn’t bad but it isn’t great either, and facing an opponent that wiped the floor with the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, he will need to step his game up. Jaden Schwartz, after having 55 points in the regular season, led the Blues in scoring against the Wild with two goals and three assists.
Joel Edmundson was the biggest surprise amongst the Blues’ defense. Edmundson, after scoring only three goals in 69 regular season games, had two against the Wild in five. Along with his two goals he also led the Blues with a plus/minus of 6.
The Wild didn’t lose this series because of a lack of shots. Minnesota fired 182 pucks at Jake Allen, who only allowed eight to get by him. He boasted a goals against average (GAA) of 1.47 and save percentage of .956. One of the most important factors in the playoffs is strong goaltending, and if Jake Allen plays like he did in the first round, the Blues have a strong chance of winning this series.
Nashville surprised many people in the first round against Chicago, which makes them somewhat of an unknown in the second round versus St. Louis. The Blues on the other hand played how they had to and took care of an opponent that they knew going in they had a good chance of beating. It is a strange phenomenon when teams get hot out of nowhere in the playoffs, and it often doesn’t just end in the first round. The 2012 LA Kings propelled themselves all the way to Stanley Cup Champions off of such play and I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets the Predators at least passed the second round.
Nashville in six games
Anaheim Ducks vs. Edmonton Oilers
Both the Ducks and Oilers played strong hockey in the first round. Anaheim swept the Calgary Flames in four games and the Oilers beat the San Jose Sharks in six. The harder matchup was certainly for Edmonton who faced an experienced Sharks team that made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final last season. Though three of the four games played in the series between Calgary and Anaheim were decided by one goal, it was expected that after beating the Flames four of five times in the regular season that the Ducks would move on in convincing fashion.
Sometimes young players come out of what feels like nowhere in the playoffs, playing extraordinarily well and helping their team win playoff series. That is the case with Ducks defenseman Shea Theodore, who had two goals and three assists in Anaheim’s series against the Flames. At 21 years old Theodore had 2 goals and 7 assists in 34 regular season games with the Ducks. That didn’t stop him from putting up just as many points as Ryan Getzlaf and Rickard Rakell in the first round.
Time on ice was split relatively evenly among Ducks defensemen in the first round, with Sami Vatanen averaging the most at 22:11. This is a plus for the Anaheim because they do not have to worry about laying all of the ice time on a pair of defensmen, or in the case of the Ottawa Senators, a single defenseman in Erik Karlsson who averaged 30:23 minutes per game in his series against Boston. If the Ducks plan on making it far in the playoffs, it is important to make sure the workload is split amongst the entire team.
Edmonton was a favorite of a lot of people coming into the postseason, but with so many young players that lack playoff experience it was uncertain how they would do against a veteran Sharks team. It comes as no surprise that Connor McDavid leads the Oilers in points with two goals and two assists. More impressive is defenseman Oscar Klefbom coming in second with two goals and an assist in the series.
What is most noticeable about this Edmonton team is that they are well-rounded. They have tough players like Milan Lucic and Patrick Maroon that go to the hard areas of the ice. They also have highly-skilled puck handling players like McDavid and Leon Draisaitl that balance out their offense. With Klefbom a scoring threat on the back-end, the Oilers should at least give the Ducks a run for their money in the second round.
One point of concern here for me is the fact that the Oilers got blown out 7-0 by the Sharks in game four of the first round. Cam Talbot played an astounding 73 games for the Oilers in the regular season, and there is no reason for him to not be the Oilers go-to for this entire series, but he gave up some goals he probably should have had in the first round. The Ducks went 2-1-2 against the Oilers in the regular season, losing their most recent matchup on April 1st 3-2. The Oilers could certainly win this series, however I think the more experienced team makes it out.
Anaheim in seven games
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals
What a series this is going to be. Sid the Kid and the Great 8 meet up in the playoffs for the third time in their careers. The two superstars faced off last season, a series that Pittsburgh won in six games, eventually going on to win the Stanley Cup. Washington, and Alex Ovechkin in particular, have been criticized for continuously having strong regular seasons but not being able to go far in the playoffs. What makes this year’s team different is that it is a better all- around team, and Ovechkin has had to do less for the Capitals to still produce the same results.
Ovechkin had three goals in the first round, but he was only fifth in scoring on the Capitals’ roster. T.J. Oshie led the team with three goals and four assists, followed by Justin Williams and Niklas Backstrom who each had six points. On defense, Kevin Shattenkirk finished off the regular season strong with Washington after being acquired from the St. Louis Blues at the trade deadline. He provides a laser of a shot from the back-end that can be lethal on the power play. Shattenkirk lead the Washington defense with three points in six first round games against the Toronto Maple Leafs, however, he had a plus/minus ratio of -4.
It is no surprise to see the names Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Sidney Crosby at the top of the Penguins scoring in the first round. Malkin has a league-leading 11 points after the first round and Kessel and Crosby follow him with eight and seven points respectively. With Kris Letang out for the entirety of the playoffs, Pittsburgh has split time on ice evenly among its top six defensemen, which worked out for the first round as every Penguins defenseman had a plus/minus equal to, or above, zero. Matt Murray, the rookie goalie who led Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup last season, suffered an injury in the warm-ups of Game 1 against Columbus in the first round. This proved to be no problem as veteran goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury started all five games of the series, posting a save percentage of .933 and GAA of 2.52.
This series is likely the most difficult to predict out of the four second-round matchups. It is a great rivalry with two teams that really do not like losing to each other. They each have a superstar player backed by other high-powered forwards and a defensive core that isn’t playing above their heads, but is getting the job done. I think this just might be the year the Capitals beat the Penguins, despite the fact that they have lost to Pittsburgh the last two times they have met up in the postseason.
Washington in seven games
New York Rangers vs. Ottawa Senators
Both of these teams had to battle for every inch of their first-round matchups. New York and Ottawa each won their series against the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins in six games. The Rangers beat the Candiens by two goals twice, the other two wins came in one-goal decisions. Every game between the Bruins and Senators was settled by one goal, and four of the six games in the series went to overtime. This is to say, these teams know how to grind out a win.
For the Rangers, 18 of 20 skaters had points in the first round, the most being Mika Zibanejad with a goal and three assists. This level of participation is not unexpected from the Rangers, and I mentioned it in my article covering the first round. During the regular season the Rangers had 11 players with more than 30 points; a key to the Rangers’ success is getting strong performances up and down its roster. Mats Zuccarello, who led the Rangers in regular season points with 15 goals and 44 assists, has three goals so far in the postseason and captain Ryan Johansen averaged 26:24 TOI for New York’s defense.
Derick Brassard had his hands in many of Ottawa’s first round goals, scoring two of his own and assisting on six others. Bobby Ryan had an extremely disappointing regular season, scoring only 13 goals and 12 assists in 62 regular season games. However, in the first round against Boston he had four goals, including two game-winners, one of which came in overtime.
But let's not kid ourselves, the story of this series was Erik Karlsson. As I mentioned earlier when analyzing the Anaheim and Edmonton series, Karlsson averaged 30:23 TOI and had six assists to go with it. He played a career-high 41:51 alone in the Senators’ double-overtime loss to the Bruins in Game 5, and it came out after Ottawa’s clinching Game 6 victory in an interview with ESPN’s Joe McDonald that he was playing with two hairline fractures in his left foot throughout the series. Craig Anderson, who took off two months during the regular season to be with his wife who is fighting cancer, did the job he needed to do, posting a save percentage of .921 and GAA of 1.94 in the series.
Craig Anderson after the Senators series-clinching win in Boston with his wife Nicholle:
It is hard to not give the Rangers the edge in this series. New York has a deep team that just took down a formidable opponent in the Montreal Canadiens. As hard as the Bruins played against Ottawa, they were a team that was hardly expected to make it more than one or two rounds. The Bruins defensive core was already weak before Torey Krug, Collin Miller and Adam McQuaid went down with injuries, giving the Senators’ offense a chance to flourish. This all goes without mentioning Henrik Lundqvist who had an outstanding first round for the Rangers, who posted a .947 save percentage and GAA of 1.70 in round one. The Senators are going to need more than Erik Karlsson on the back-end to get the job done night in and night out, and I don’t think they will be able to battle the Rangers like they did the Bruins.
Rangers in five games