NHL Playoff Preview: Round 3 Conference Finals

With the close of the second round of this year’s NHL playoffs, we now arrive at the conference finals. But first, lets see how the writers at Hit the Cut did with their round 2 predictions:

Adam:                                                                                                                                                          New York Rangers over Washington Capitals ✔ In 5 games x
Tampa Bay Lightning over Montreal Canadiens ✔ In 7 games x
Anaheim Ducks over Calgary Flames ✔ In 5 games ✔
Chicago Blackhawks over Minnesota Wild ✔ In 7 games x

Series Winner: 4/4                                                           # of games in series: 1/4

Carter:                                                                                                                                                         New York Rangers over Washington Capitals ✔ In 6 games x
Montreal Canadiens over Tampa Bay Lightning x In 7 games x
Anaheim Ducks over Calgary Flames ✔ In 5 games ✔
Minnesota Wild over Chicago Blackhawks x In 7 games x

Series Winner: 2/4                                                           # of games in series: 1/4

As with Round 2, my co-writer, Adam, will giving his previews and predictions. He will be writing the previews for the Eastern Conference Final and I will be doing the Western Conference Final. However, for each series we will both be doing a prediction.

Here is the Conference Finals:

Eastern Conference:

Metropolitan 1 – New York Rangers               vs               Atlantic 2 – Tampa Bay Lightning

Defeated Washington 4-3 in Round 2                                 Defeated Montreal 4-2 in Round 2

Season Series:

New York Rangers
Record: 0-3-0
Goals For: 7; Goals Against:15
Powerplay: 3/10; Penalty Kill: 4/12
Tampa Bay Lightning
Record: 3-0-0
Goals For: 15; Goals Against: 7
Powerplay: 4/12; Penalty Kill: 3/10

Outlook: After a spirited, seven game battle with the Washington Capitals, the New York Rangers emerged victorious. The deciding goal in the series was scored by Rangers forward, Derek Stepan, in overtime of game 7. The highlight of this series was, without a doubt, it’s stellar goaltending. The Capitals’ Braden Holtby and the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist combined for a sparkling average adjusted save percentage of .948 (the highest of any series in the second round). This resulted in exceedingly low shooting percentages (in close situations) on both sides, with New York finding the net on 2.7% of their shots and Washington scoring on 4.4% of their shots (for reference, this number should usually be around 8%). In the end, though, the X-factor of this series was not goaltending, as Holtby and Lundqvist mostly cancelled each other out. The youth and refusal to quit of the Rangers are what separated them. Jesper Fast, Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, or Carl Hagelin were in on  7 of the 12 goals scored by New York. These four were a constant source of resolve and spurred the Rangers to come back to win games 5 and 7, and ultimately, come back from a 3-1 series deficit. This foursome averaged an on-ice Corsi differential* of +8.5 whereas the Capitals’ youthful duo of Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky averaged a differential of -3.

It took the Tampa Bay Lightning six games to dispatch the Montreal Canadiens and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. In our article for round 2, I said that the X-factors for each team would be the goaltending of Lightning goalie, Ben Bishop, and the play of the Montreal’s bottom six forwards, who repeatedly produced goals at opportune times in the opening round of this year’s playoffs. Bishop was a revelation in net and dispelled any notions of inadequacy that may have carried over from his occasionally shaky first round performance. According to the stat, High-Danger Save Percentage (which is a goalie’s save percentage based only on shots which have a high probability of resulting in goals), Bishop was second of all goalies in the second round, with a stellar .903. To put that in perspective, Carey Price registered a High-Danger Save Percentage (Sv%H) of .781 (worst of all goalies in the second round) and the top Sv%H of the regular season – with a minimum of 1000 minutes played – was .890 (belonging to Andrew Hammond). One of the reasons that Montreal bested the Ottawa Senators in the first round was timely scoring from their bottom six forwards. In the games that Tampa Bay won, they were far from their best, scoring no goals in those games. Further, their impact was not redeemed on Montreal’s penalty kill in this series, which killed a horrendous 65% of penalties. Montreal was ultimately bested by the only three forwards on Tampa Bay’s roster to post a positive on-ice Corsi differential: Nikita Kucherov (+16), Ondrej Palat (+10), and Tyler Johnson (+10). The Lightning will need more than the strong play at both ends of the ice from “The Triplets” in their next matchup against the Rangers.

What To Expect: “I don’t know, I have no idea, we’re trying to figure it out.” Those were the words of Derek Stepan, Game 7 overtime hero of the New York Rangers, after their third consecutive loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning during the regular season. For the second straight series, Tampa Bay is slotted against an opponent against whom they were undefeated against in the regular season (they went 5-0 against Montreal). For the sake of Stepan and the rest of the New York roster, they better hope to have figured it out by the time that puck drops on Saturday or this series could turn out to be similar to the lopsided games of the regular season. Expect success, for the Lightning, to continue to depend on the good goaltending and consistency of Ben Bishop. Look for New York’s success to hinge on their stacked top six’s ability to crack through Tampa Bay’s relatively weaker defence to generate quality scoring chances.

Stat to Watch: Tampa Bay was fourth in both Fenwick For and Corsi For Percentages in close situations in the regular season. Although their possession game has waned in the playoffs, expect them to bounce back against a team that they are comfortable against.

Prediction: Tampa Bay’s youth, rest, and rejuvenated possession game triumphs over New York’s experience and elite goaltending.

Adam: Lightning in 7

Carter: Rangers in 7

Western Conference:

Pacific 1 – Anaheim Ducks               vs                Central 3 – Chicago Blackhawks

Defeated Calgary 4-1 in Round 2                        Defeated Minnesota 4-0 in Round 2

Season Series:

Anaheim Ducks
Record: 1-2
Goals For: 3; Goals Against: 8
Powerplay: 1/6; Penalty Kill: 11/11
Chicago Blackhawks
Record: 2-1
Goals For: 8; Goals Against:3
Powerplay: 0/11; Penalty Kill: 5/6

Outlook: Again, the Ducks find themselves coming off of a fairly easy-looking series win. They dispatched Calgary in 5 games, making it seem as though the Flames didn’t belong on the same ice as them (and maybe they didn’t). Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf continued to be beasts, combining for 16 points in the series including an overtime winner. Likewise, Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler combined for a measly 6 points. However, the intriguing story brewing is the contributions from Matt Beleskey (goal in every game of series vs Calgary) and Jakob Silfverberg (11 points in 9 games) who have added another level to Anaheim’s scoring. Additionally, Frederik Andersen proved his worth, pulling off a stellar round 2 Sv%H of .917 (good for first among goalies in that round). As a team, Anaheim was 2nd in 5v5 FF% amongst Round 2 teams, 1st in 5v5 FF% Close and has only lost once this playoffs. They continued riding the wave at the Honda Center versus Calgary, taking care of them in all 3 games on home ice, running their winning streak to 23 straight on home ice against the Flames.

Chicago made me into a complete fool in Round 2, sweeping away Minnesota and ousting them from the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the 3rd straight year. Instead of passing the torch to the Wild, they torched away Minnesota’s season in impressive fashion. Patty Kane lit up Devan Dubnyk for 5 goals in just 4 games and tallied 6 total points in the series. The big factor in this series was the play of Corey Crawford vs Devan Dubnyk. Crawford owned Dubnyk the entire series, as shown below:

Round 2 Stats:

SV%: 94.66 (2nd)
AdSV%: 94.93 (1st)
G.L (Low Danger Goals): 1 (T1st)
SV%: 90.09 (7th)
AdSV%: 90.32 (7th)
G.L (Low Danger Goals): 4 (8th)

stats are among the Game 1 starting goaltenders for each team in Round 2 (8 goalies).

Chicago also dominated 5v5 GF%**, astoundingly netting 72.7% of the 5v5 goals in the series, and held Minnesota to shooting percentage of 2.7, yes 2.7%! It gets even crazier; 1) Chicago never trailed the entire series. 2) Chicago is now 30-0-0 when leading after 2 periods this season, playoffs and regular season 3) Chicago will now partake in the Western Conference final for the 3rd straight year and 5 out of the last 7 seasons.

What To Expect: A great series.

But seriously, this has the makings of being one to remember. Expect a smash-mouth series, with both teams boasting big, strong, fast rosters which can make you pay in a number of ways. The Ducks seemingly still get no credit for rounding into a true playoff contender, improving drastically defensively and having an unmatchable 1-2 punch down the middle of the ice with Getzlaf and Kesler. Chicago has been here so often the past half decade they might as well be penciled in to play every year. The Ducks have the best powerplay in the playoffs right now (31%) and both teams are the highest scoring GF/G teams left in the playoffs by a landslide. Success for each team will lie in scoring depth, powerplay and goaltending, but then again which series doesn’t?

Stat to Watch: Chicago’s 5-0 record when leading after 2 periods this playoffs vs Anaheim’s league leading 4 wins when trailing after 2 periods this playoffs

Prediction:Almost to close to call. Chicago has done time and time again and skeptics still don’t trust Anaheim. But I do.

Carter: Ducks in 7 

Adam: Blackhawks in 7

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

Who are you taking in the Conference Finals?

*On-Ice Corsi Shot Differential is similar to regular plus/minus, but instead of measuring goals for and against when a player is on the ice, this stat measures shot attempts (blocked shots, shots on net, and shots that missed the net)

**GF% = Goals For / (Goals For + Goals Against)

Stats taken from:

NHL.com’s Team Stats

war-on-ice.com’s Team Stats

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