Conference Semis Preview, Part 2
The playoffs come down to teams' goaltending, physical play and special teams prowess. Those are the main criteria we'll touch on in this second conference semi-final preview.
Boston - New York:
The Bruins get two days to recover from their historic Game 7 comeback win vs. Toronto. This Cup quarterfinal series may not be as physical as the previous series for Boston but it should come fairly close. Rangers coach John Torterella wants his team to play physical. Look for the Blueshirts to target the B's defensemen on the forecheck, with the intent of wearing down the likes of Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk, both of whom saw heavy minutes in Game 7 with fellow blueliner Dennis Seidenberg forced to leave the game with an apparent left leg injury just 37 seconds into the contest. Boston played Game 7 without both Andrew Ference and Wade Redden on the back end and now face the prospect of playing Game 1 without three of their top six on defense. Ference, who is officially day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, was seen in a walking boot and on crutches a couple of hours before Game 7 against the Leafs Monday night.† Can he recover in time for Thursday? The Bruins could be sorely tested without three of their top six D-men and having played a stressful Game 7 into overtime while the Rangers had a low-stress cakewalk in their Game 7 vs. the Capitals. Tuukka Rask was 1-0-2 with a 2.62 GAA and .904 SV % vs. Boston this season with one win coming in overtime and other earned in a shootout. Rask is 3-3-3 lifetime vs. New York with a 2.09 GAA, .928 SV % with one shutout. The Bruins were essentially a one-line team for the majority of the series against the Leafs. They'll need Tyler Seguin (one point in seven games) to wake up from his late season/early-postseason slumber (four points in his last 14 games played) to win this series.
Lundqvist was 2-1 against the B's this season with a pedestrian 2.93 GAA and .913 SV %. His stats against Boston in 2011-12 (he was 3-1 with a 1.76 GAA and .946 SV % with a shutout) closely resemble his career numbers against them - King Henrik is 21-7-2 with a 1.67 GAA, an amazing .943 SV %, and six shutouts. Health-wise, the Rangers arenít expected to get either Ryane Clowe or Darroll Powe back for this series. Both are expected to have concussions. With the B's defense banged up opportunities will be there for the Rangers scoring lines. The Rangers have their scorers spread over three lines and Chara can't play against all three consecutively. This could spell breakout time for at least one of Rick Nash (zero goals in 22 shots in rd. 1), Brad Richards (dropped to fourth line by end of first rd.) and Ryan Callahan. The Rangers defense has more of a physical presence than Toronto's with the same puck-moving ability. Both teams play physical and the difference will likely come down to special teams and goaltending. Neither team had a good power play this season (Rangers 15.7%, Boston 14.8%) while the Bruins had a better penalty kill rate (87.1%) than the Rangers (81.1%). The Bruins' blueline issues along with the greatness of Lundqvist combine to make us pick the Rangers in 7.
Chicago - Detroit:
Blackhawks No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford is a career 11-2-2 vs. Detroit with a 1.82 GAA and .943 SV %. Moreover he was dominant vs. the Red† Wings this season in going 4-0 with a 1.19 GAA and scintillating .960 SV %.† The defense is healthy and Duncan Keith is playing his best hockey of the season with five points and a plus-five defensive rating, along with 12 shots and six blocks, in his five-game first round. Up front for Chicago, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp led the way in Round 1 with six points each. Amazingly, Hawks have lost just one game (all season and playoffs) with Patrick Sharp in their lineup. That's 33 games with but one defeat - in overtime no less. Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw were unsung heroes in the Minnesota series with four points in five games each along while also leading the team in hits. Once they get Jonathan Toews going (two assists in first round) they'll be that much better on offense. While the Hawks power-play only operated at a 16.7% success rate this season they did manage two PP goals in their five-game first round and their penalty-kill was third best in the league at 87.2%. Chicago's PK was 17-0 vs. Minnesota in rd. 1. Chicago had 149 goals in 48 games while Detroit managed just 122 goals in 48 games.
Jimmy Howard is 4-7-5 in his career vs. Chicago with a 2.78 GAA and .905 SV %. He won just one of four starts this season vs. Chicago with a 2.50 GAA and .912 SV %. Three of Detroit's top six defensemen - Niklas Kronwall, Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith - were minus players (a combined minus-seven) in round one. Although most of them have decent size they'll see far more aggression from Chicago forwards than they did from Anaheim in the previous round. Offensively their two stars have been their two best forwards in the postseason. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk have scored a combined 15 points in 14 games thus far. They had a combined one point in seven regular season games against Chicago this season. Justin Abdelkader, who was an absolute beast in round 1 with three points, 18 hits and 15 shots on goal in five games, has two points in 19 career games vs. Detroit with 66 hits. Abdelkader's Cinderella run has hit midnight. Hawks in 6.