NHL Playoff Preview: Round 2

With Round 1 in the books, we set our sites on Round 2 and the matchups they bring. Before we get there however, lets review Hit the Cut’s results for their Round 1 predictions:

New York Rangers over Pittsburgh Penguins ✔ In 5 games ✔
Montreal Canadiens over Ottawa Senators ✔ In 7 games x
Washington Capitals over New York Islanders ✔ In 6 games x
Tampa Bay Lightning over Detroit Red Wings ✔ In 5 games x
Anaheim Ducks over Winnipeg Jets ✔ In 6 games x
Minnesota Wild over St. Louis Blues ✔ In 6 games ✔
Chicago Blackhawks over Nashville Predators ✔ In 6 games ✔
Vancouver Canucks over Calgary Flames x In 5 games

Series Winner: 7/8                                                           # of games in series: 3/8

Now, with Round 2 about to commence, my co-writer, Adam, will be chiming in on his previews and predictions. He will be writing the previews for the Eastern Conference matchups and I will be doing the Western Conference matchups. However, for each series we will both be doing a prediction.

Here is Round 2:

Eastern Conference:

Metropolitan 1 – New York Rangers               vs               Metropolitan 2 – Washington Capitals

Defeated Pittsburgh 4-1 in Round 1                                   Defeated the NY Islanders 4-3 in Round 1

Season Series:

New York Rangers
Record: 3-1
Goals For: 13; Goals Against: 10
Powerplay: 4/13; Penalty Kill: 16/19
Washington Capitals
Record: 1-3
Goals For: 10; Goals Against:13
Powerplay: 3/19; Penalty Kill: 9/13

Outlook: In Round 1, the depth and solid D-core of the Rangers proved to be too much for the injury-riddled Penguins. Pittsburgh, this year, had all the makings of being a Cinderella team. On the surface, they barely squeaked into the playoffs, but their Score-Adjusted Fenwick Close* Percentage for the last 25 games of the season (a statistic that historically has a 69% accuracy at predicting series’) was tops in the league. Of course this all changed with the concussion of Kris Letang. This injury, in addition to ones sustained by Olli Maatta, Christian Ehrhoff, and Derrick Pouliot, effectively left their blue line decimated. It was the opposite story, defence-wise, for New York. With the addition of Keith Yandle at the trade deadline, the Rangers entered the playoffs stacked with quality defencemen (from whom they got 12 points from). Further, the Rangers’ ability to roll three lines (that can all score) in addition to an effective fourth line is a recipe for success come playoff time. It also doesn’t hurt that one of the world’s best netminders, in Henrik Lundqvist (who was second among goalies in the first round in Adjusted Save Percentage), is between the pipes for you.

The Rangers will be facing off against the Washington Capitals who prevailed in a hotly contested battle with the New York Islanders. The Isles boasted strong possession numbers in the regular season and even in the first round (with the exception of the 11 shot performance in game 7), but couldn’t translate that into goals when it really counted. The timely scoring that the Islanders lacked is precisely what the Caps thrived on. Three of their four wins were 1-goal games, with the deciding goal coming in the last ten minutes of the game or overtime. Without these goals, Washington would have likely succumbed to their abysmal first round shooting percentage in ‘close’ situations of 5.9% and weak possession numbers (46.8 FF% Close, third worst in the first round). The thing with these stats is their sample size is exceedingly small and they don’t agree with Washington’s regular season marks in these areas (7.7% and 51.7%, respectively). The Caps need to improve in these facets of their game, as their wealth of playoff experience and a solid goalie will only take you so far.

What To Expect: A rested Rangers team will be up against a Caps team stocked with experience, star power, youth, and speed. Unfortunately for the Capitals, the Rangers, who made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, have this and more. Expect New York’s defense to have their hands full with Washington’s primary and secondary scoring attack. Although, I feel as if Washington’s defense will be overpowered with the scoring depth – up front and from the blue line – of the Rangers.

Stat to Watch: In the regular season, the Rangers won 97.3% of the games in which they led going into the third period (second in the league, to the Blackhawks). Trailing going into the third will not bode well for the Caps.

Prediction: The completeness of New York’s roster proves too much for Washington.

Adam: Rangers in 5

Carter: Rangers in 6

Atlantic 1 – Montreal Canadiens               vs               Atlantic 2 – Tampa Bay Lightning

Defeated Ottawa 4-2 in Round 1                                   Defeated Detroit 4-3 in Round 1

Season Series:

Montreal Canadiens
Record: 0-4-1
Goals For: 8; Goals Against: 21
Powerplay: 2/15; Penalty Kill: 7/24
Tampa Bay Lightning
Record: 5-0
Goals For: 21; Goals Against:8
Powerplay: 7/24; Penalty Kill: 2/15

Outlook: Carey Price. Those two words are the sole reason that the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Ottawa Senators. The uncontested MVP of this series (and the rightful MVP of the regular season) had a cool hand in net and kept his team on top in this battle. On the whole, though, the goalies for both teams played very well – as evidenced by the fact that the teams had an average save percentage of .947 in close situations. Ottawa began the series with Andrew Hammond, a goalie who rose from complete obscurity to produce an unbelievable record of 20-1-2 in the regular season. Some untimely and relatively weak goals led to his undoing and put (the criminally underrated) Craig Anderson back in his usual starting spot. This change seemed to fuel Ottawa to two wins but Montreal’s depth and elite goaltending proved too much for the Senators. This leads me to who I think was the second most valuable piece to Montreal’s victory, Marc Bergevin. Acquiring role players such as Brian Flynn, Torrey Mitchell, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Jeff Petry all ended up working in Bergevin’s favour and proved crucial in Montreal’s series win.

Going into the playoffs, Tampa Bay looked very similar to the Los Angeles Kings team that won the Stanley Cup last year. A solid possession team (top five in both Corsi For and Fenwick For Percentage in close situations), a skilled defense with high offensive upside, an offense that can control the puck and consistently get shots on net, and a solid goalie. In the playoffs, as is often the case, it was a different story. Detroit had the possession advantage in this series, and even in games where they didn’t, rookie sensation Petr Mrazek played incredible. Detroit seemingly deserved this series. With all that said, Detroit had brutal lapses in games 2 and 6, and in a seven games series, that can’t happen. The seventh and deciding game of this series was marked by the absence of Niklas Kronwall, who had been suspended for a hit to the head (in my opinion, the contact was a result of the Tampa Bay player having his head down and reaching for the puck, consequently putting his head at a lower level, but that’s neither here nor there). Tampa Bay was badly outshot and the game was deadlocked at zero before a Braydon Coburn slapper put the Bolts in a lead that they would not relinquish.

What To Expect: This series features highly lopsided regular season performances between these two teams, with Tampa Bay going 5-0. Although the playoffs are a completely different ballgame – as evidenced by the fact that (between 2000 and 2014) the team that wins the regular season series only wins the playoff series 58.62% of the time[1]. But the fact that the Lightning beat the Candiens five times without a loss can’t be ignored. It’s rational to conclude that, for whatever reason, Tampa Bay matches up extremely well against Montreal. Expect Montreal’s bottom six forwards, and Tampa Bay goalie, Ben Bishop to be X-factors in this series.

Stat to Watch: Carey Price has a goals and wins above replacement (a hockey version of WAR) of 36.51 which is tops in the league. He is the reason Montreal wins games, plain and simple. Expect him not to crack under the pressure of the playoffs. Tampa Bay will survive in this matchup if they can create quality scoring chances and score on the powerplay, when Price is at a disadvantage.

Prediction: Tampa Bay builds off of their strengths in their opening series and narrowly defeats Montreal.

Adam: Lightning in 7

Carter: Canadiens in 7

Western Conference:

Pacific 1 – Anaheim Ducks               vs                Pacific 3 – Calgary Flames

Defeated Winnipeg 4-0 in Round 1                        Defeated Vancouver 4-2 in Round 1

Season Series:

Anaheim Ducks
Record: 3-1-1
Goals For: 21; Goals Against: 18
Powerplay: 3/9; Penalty Kill: 20/23
Calgary Flames
Record: 2-3
Goals For: 18; Goals Against:21
Powerplay: 3/23; Penalty Kill: 6/9

Outlook: The Ducks are coming off of a four game sweep of the heavily hyped Winnipeg Jets, despite only leading for 38:26 in the entire series. In three of the games they came from behind while trailing after the 2nd period. Anaheim got great contributions from several key areas: their second line, especially Ryan Kesler (3 goals, 2 assists, 63% F/O) and Jakob Silfverberg (2 goals, 4 assists, +5 rating); their powerplay, which went 3/11 in the series, came alive after struggling in the regular season; Frederik Andersen was a brick wall in net, boasting a 2.20 GAA and .924% SV; and Corey Perry had 7 points to lead the team. The Ducks were able to take advantage of an overanxious and out of position Jets team and flexed their experienced playoff muscles.

Calgary beat out Vancouver in six games to move on to Round 2. They did this while carrying a bottom-five FF% Close (49.1%) among all playoff teams. Despite being led in scoring by first liners Jiri Hudler and Johnny Gaudreau, it was the Flames bottom six forwards that turned the series in their favour versus Vancouver. Matt Stajan, David Jones, Michael Ferland, and Joe Colbourne were much too physical and fast for the Canucks defense to handle and wore them down over the course of the series. Ferland had 40 hits which, far and away, led all skaters amongst the two teams. Calgary’s powerplay connected at a 27.8% clip and is where their top line did almost all their damage (Gaudreau – 4 points, Hudler – 3 points, and Monahan – 3 points). Jonas Hiller was replaced by Karri Ramo in Game 6 after allowing 2 goals, but it will be no question that Hiller starts Game 1 of this series.

What To Expect: It will again be youth versus experience in this second round matchup. Expect Ryan Kesler to have shutdown duties on the Monahan line, with Matt Stajan doing the same for the Getzlaf line. As per usual, scoring from depth players will be depended on; Calgary had 8 goals from their 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines combined in Round 1 while Anaheim had 9 goals. Both teams have very mobile defensemen which can cause havoc on the rush and powerplay. Anaheim has, currently, the best FF% Close in the 2015 playoffs (54.9%) which could prove costly for a questionable goaltending situation for Calgary.

Stat to Watch: Anaheim has won 20 straight home games versus Calgary. The Honda Center could bode as a huge factor for the Ducks.

Prediction: Calgary has had an incredible run but Anaheim has too much depth.

Carter: Ducks in 5

Adam: Ducks in 5

Central 3 – Chicago Blackhawks                 vs                 Wildcard 1 – Minnesota Wild

Defeated Nashville 4-2 in Round 1                                     Defeated St. Louis 4-2 in Round 1

Season Series:

Chicago Blackhawks
Record: 3-2
Goals For: 14; Goals Against: 11
Powerplay: 2/11; Penalty Kill: 13/14
Minnesota Wild
Record: 2-3
Goals For: 11; Goals Against: 14
Powerplay: 1/14; Penalty Kill: 9/11

Outlook: Chicago took care of Nashville in Round 1, again leaving the Predators shaking their heads as their season drew to a premature end. They used both Corey Crawford and Steve Darling in their series win. Although Crawford’s early struggles, he appears to be back in control of the starting goalie role for the time being. To nobody’s surprise Chicago was led by Captain Serious, a.k.a. Jonathan Toews who tallied 8 points to lead all playoff scorers thus far. Patrick Kane looked as if he didn’t even miss a beat, coming back from his collar bone injury. He had 7 points, along with Duncan Keith, who scored a key overtime winner, just like fellow defenseman Brent Seabrook. Chicago’s penalty kill struggled significantly in the series, killing at a 72.7% clip.

Minnesota knocked out highly touted St. Louis in six games, something that St. Louis is getting used to in Round 1. As expected, Minnesota didn’t give up much in terms of offensive chances to the Blues, excluding the 6-1 drubbing in Game 4, and frustrated St. Louis all series. It was scoring by committee for the Wild as they had 12 different players score at least 1 goal in Round 1. Devan Dubnyk sparkled (minus his Game 4 troubles; 6 goals on 17 shots) and stopped 66 of his last 68 shots proving him to be a difference maker for the Wild. Minnesota’s powerplay, through Round 1, carries a 33.3% conversion rate, tops in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

What To Expect: These teams meet for the third consecutive playoffs with Chicago coming out on top the last two years, winning 4-2 in 2013-14, and 4-1 in 2012-13. However, this is a tale of two polar opposite teams in regards to advanced stats. Chicago had the second highest 5v5 CF Close in Round 1 (294) while Minnesota had the second worst (97). On the other hand, Minnesota had the fourth best 5v5 CA Close (114) while Chicago had the fourth worst (266). Minnesota will want to play the same tight checking, frustrating style of play which they imposed on St. Louis. Chicago is a veteran filled team that oozes with playoff experience and knows how to win in critical situations. The Blackhawks will lean on their top dogs (Toews, Kane, Hossa, Keith, Seabrook) while Minnesota will need consistency up and down their lineup to stand a chance. This series will be played at an incredible pace and should be a treat to watch.

Stat to Watch: Minnesota has never won at the United Center in the playoffs (0-6 all time).

Prediction: Chicago has done it before but this series is a “passing of the torch” in the Western Conference.

Carter: Wild in 7

Adam: Blackhawks in 7

And there you have it for our Round 2 preview and predictions. Check back in after Round 2 to see how we did and what our picks for Round 3 will be!

Who are you taking in Round 2?

*”Close,” for the purposes of this article, pertains to events that took place in games that were tied and games in their first and second periods with a score within two goals

Stats taken from:

TSN’s “Predicting the Playoffs with Puck Possession” article by Travis Yost

NHL.com’s Team Stats

The Faceoff Circle’s “How to Pick a Winner” article by Dom Luszczyszyn

war-on-ice.com’s Team Stats

[1] – http://www.reddit.com/r/hockey/comments/33cuho/regular_season_series_vs_playoff_series_20002014/

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