Conference Semi-Finals Preview: Part 1
Playoff success usually comes down to goaltending, physical play and special teams prowess. Those are the main criteria we'll touch on in this conference semi-final preview.
Pittsburgh - Ottawa:
The Penguins won all three regular season games against the Senators, including two in Ottawa. Will Tomas Vokoun continue in net? It sure looks that way after winning both Game 5 and Game 6 against the Islanders. Vokoun stopped 34 of 35 shots and won in his only start vs. Ottawa this season. Lifetime he's just 6-12 vs. Ottawa but in 17 of the 18 starts he didn't have a lineup in front of him like the current edition of the Penguins. Speaking of goalies, Craig Andersen was 0-2-1 vs. Pittsburgh this season with a 2.61 GAA and a .909 SV %. Lifetime he's 4-4-1-1 with a 2.48 GAA and a .919 SV %.
The Penguins scored seven power-play goals in Round 1 while allowing one shorthanded goal and one power-play goal. Ottawa scored four power-play goals vs. Montreal in their first round series but three came in the last period of the last game. Meanwhile the Sens allowed four power-play goals but did score one shorthanded goal. Barring a Jason Spezza return in which he suddenly breaks into mid-season form, this series won't see seven games. Ottawa will be well rested after a four-day respite and they would be wise to come out aggressive and heavy on the forecheck in Game 1 Tuesday at Pittsburgh. Nevertheless, even a first game victory for Ottawa would just delay the inevitable, as Pittsburgh has already faced a scare and responded accordingly. This team was built for a protracted playoff run and at least three rounds would seem almost certain. Pens in 6.
Los Angeles - San Jose:
The Kings and Sharks split their season series 2-2, all games being won by the home team. Jonathan Quick was pulled after 28 minutes in his first start vs. San Jose, stopping only nine of 12 shots in a road tilt that saw the Kings lose 4-3. In his next start vs. the Sharks, also on the road, he blocked 33 of 35 shots in a 3-2 defeat. Only in his third and final regular season start vs. the Sharks did Quick enjoy a victory, in stopping 23 of 25 shots in a 3-2 win. Last season Quick was 2-1-3 vs. San Jose with a 2.42 GAA, .918 SV % and one shutout. Antti Niemi was 2-2 vs. L.A. this season with a 3.31 GAA and .904 SV %. Last season he was 3-2-1 vs. L.A. with a 2.78 GAA and .918 SV %. It's worth noting that Niemi struggled last season vs. the Kings once they acquired Jeff Carter. Niemi allowed 11 goals in 143 minutes - a 4.62 GAA - in his last three starts vs. San Jose in 2011-12. Niemi, although dominant at home this season in posting a 16-2-4 record, had a losing record on the road this year: 8-10-2. His home peripherals - 2.16 GAA/.924 SV % - were much better than his road peripherals --- 2.56 GAA/.912 SV %.
As for the special teams, they seem evenly matched. Both teams enjoyed approximately a 20% success rate this season with the man advantage (Sharks 20.1, Kings 19.9). The Sharks had an 85% PK rate while the Kings posted a 83.2 % PK. With these teams similar in talent level and special teams production, the difference could lay in nets. While Niemi had the better regular season, Quick looked in Conn Smythe (aka MVP) form in Round 1 vs. the Blues. Look for the home team to continue to win. Kings in 7.