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Western Conference Round 2 Preview: Sharks vs. Predators

 

How the Sharks got here:

The Sharks must’ve heard the rumblings after losing Game 3 on home ice after taking a 2-0 lead. “The Sharks are going to choke again,” they said. “The Kings aren’t just going to go away,” they said. But, sure enough, with a new goalie, a new coach, and straying from a “just survive” mantra that has dominated the teams psyche in years past, the Sharks exorcised their demons and look like they could be on their way to another lengthy playoff run. San Jose’s big guns, oft criticized for becoming shrinking violets when the team needed them most, delivered: Brent Burns led with eight points in five games while Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, who was probably the best forward of the series, had six points each. The most underrated member of the Sharks offense, however, was probably Tomas Hertl, whose first healthy season since a serious knee injury has provided a much-needed element of speed to the top line.

Western Conference Round 2 Preview: Blues vs. Stars

 

 

How the Stars got here:

No Tyler Seguin, no problem. Jim Nill’s move to acquire Jason Spezza from the Senators has really paid off, and the veteran center was tied for third in scoring after Round 1. Offense is the name of the game for the Stars, who pumped an overmatched Minnesota team for 21 goals, tied with Pittsburgh for the best output after one round. Whatever mistakes the Stars defense or goaltending were going to make were mitigated by the fact that the Wild offense depended on Jason Pominville (a 10-year low with 36 points on the season) and Nino Niederreiter (fifth in scoring on the team), especially without the services of star left winger Zach Parise. Lindy Ruff is playing with fire by alternating goalies after losses, and thankfully for him, it worked out, though maybe only for one round.

Eastern Conference Round 2 Preview: Penguins vs. Capitals

How the Capitals got there:

 

Braden Holtby led all current playoff goalies with a 0.84 goals-against average, a .968 save percentage and two shutouts after Round 1, and the league’s second-best penalty killing unit continued their dominance in the playoffs, holding the Flyers to just one goal in 24 chances. Even without Brooks Orpik, the Caps were just too deep, too talented, even if the Flyers gave them a little score after making the switch to Michal Neuvirth and winning two straight games.

That little scare shouldn’t be overlooked, however. Despite the Caps’ dominance in the regular season, a small blip on the radar in the playoffs made everyone clamp up and hold their breaths, which means everyone still senses the same kind of mental weakness that has dogged the franchise for years. The Blues and Sharks showed resiliency in the opening round – unfazed and undaunted even when their Stanley Cup-winning opponents were applying the pressure. Can the Caps do that, especially knowing that the Pens may have the psychological advantage with the league’s best player, a Cup banner and tons of momentum?

 

Eastern Conference Round 2 Preview: Islanders vs. Lightning

How the Lightning got here:

You can actually thank the Red Wings for that. Jeff Blashill’s squad came into the playoffs all jumbled up and in pieces, with question marks stretching from inconsistent goaltending to infrequent scoring, and even the spotty defense in between. Even with Steven Stamkos and Anton Stralman out of the Lightning lineup, the Wings were still big underdogs. Yeah, there’s no fairy tale ending to what could potentially be Pavel Datsyuk’s last year in the NHL. The playoffs are cruel. Cold, even.