As The Guardian goes to press, only half of the NHL divisional semifinal series were completed.
Predicting the outcome of the next round of the Stanley Cup playoffs becomes more of a guessing game than usual, but I’ll give it my best shot.
Bruins vs. Canadiens
For the 34th time in NHL history the Bruins and Canadiens will clash in the playoffs. As with every series between these long-time rivals, this one should be physical, intense and exciting. While the Bruins appear the favourites, some observers believe the Canadiens sweeping Tampa Bay in the opening round as a sign they could be a dark horse to win the Stanley Cup.
The Canadiens won three of four games from Boston during the regular season, but in the last two playoff series between these clubs the Bruins emerged victorious. The Bruins have plenty of big, talented players, but they’ve struggled to contain the Canadiens’ speed and puck-handling skills. Expect this one to come down to goaltending, where Boston’s Tuukka Rask (a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as this season’s top goalie) has the edge over Montreal’s Carey Price.
Prediction: Bruins in seven.
Avalanche or Wild
The Blackhawks overcame a 2-0 series deficit in their divisional semifinal to eliminate St. Louis in six games. They await the winner of the Avalanche-Wild series. Both are up-and-coming teams possessing good young talent. Led by young guns Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, the Avalanche play an up-tempo offensive style, while the Wild rely on a defensive system anchored by two-way winger Zach Parise and defenceman Ryan Suter.
During their respective season series the Avs won four of five games from the Blackhawks while the Wild took three of five. However, the Blackhawks are defending Stanley Cup champions, loaded with skilled veterans led by Conn Smythe Trophy winners Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Prediction: Regardless of who they face in the next round, expect the Blackhawks to triumph in at most six games.
Rangers vs. Penguins?
Entering Monday night’s action the New York Rangers led the Philadelphia Flyers three games to two, while the Pittsburgh Penguins were up by the same margin over the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Rangers and Penguins could face each other in the division finals.
The Penguins, led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, possess considerable offensive talent, but struggled against the hard-working underdog Blue Jackets. Questions also linger over the performance of Penguins netminder Marc-Andrew Fleury. The Rangers, meanwhile, are using their offensive depth to successfully exploit the Flyers’ defensive weaknesses. They’re also getting solid goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist. If the Penguins and Rangers meet in the division final, expect the Rangers to win in six games.
Ducks vs. Kings or Sharks
The Ducks needed six tough games to eliminate the surprisingly-strong Dallas Stars. As we went to press the Kings and Sharks were meeting in Game 6 of their series. Either club will be a difficult opponent for the Ducks.
If their respective regular season series was anything to go by, the Ducks probably prefer the Kings (who they defeated in four of five games) over the Sharks, who took three of five games from Anaheim. The Ducks also have bit of a goalie controversy. Frederik Andersen started most of the games against Dallas, but was twice replaced by former starter Jonas Hiller. If the next round is a Ducks-Kings series, the Ducks should win in five games.
Prediction: If it’s the Sharks, the Ducks will fall in six.
An unfortunate byproduct of the divisional semifinals were the instances of dirty play among skilled players. One expects cheapshots from a low-talent repeat offender like Minnesota’s Matt Cooke, who received a seven-game suspension (the sixth suspension of his career) for a deliberate knee-on-knee hit on Colorado’s Tyson Barrie, but not from genuine NHL stars.
The most notable incident was Chicago’s Brent Seabrook’s three-game suspension for a high hit on St. Louis’ David Backes. Seabrook is one of the Blackhawks’ best players and was having a fine series up to the point he took his run at Backes, who missed two games with a concussion.
There was also a disturbing number of instances in which star players speared opponents in the groin. Boston’s Milan Lucic, Los Angeles’ Mike Richards and Anaheim’s Corey Perry were guilty of this potentially dangerous foul. Lucic wasn’t penalized for his spear on Detroit’s Danny DeKeyser but was later fined $5,000 by the league. Richards received a four-minute double minor for his jab on San Jose’s Logan Couture, while Perry’s sticking of Dallas’ Jamie Benn was called as a two-minute slashing penalty.
Hopefully the league cracks down on this reckless stick work before someone gets seriously hurt.
Lyle Richardson is a freelance writer
with The Hockey News and runs
the website Spector’s Hockey. His
column will appear in The Guardian
throughout the NHL hockey season.