A top seed is still in the hunt, good news in an NHL post season that has been as unpredictable as any on record with the Devils, Kings, and Coyotes joining the Rangers in the final four. What is truly incredible is that the three surprise teams lost just two games between them in beating their last round opponents and appear to be cruising along and in control. Soon though, at least one of those three team’s ship is about to hit a rip tide and sink.
Should the current form continue, the Devils would emerge as Eastern Conference Champs. The Rangers have probably played too many games and when adding in the long overtime sessions this will likely catch up with them sooner or later. Perhaps it will be later but given that the schedule has them back in action right away against a well-rested Devils team, that wall could come in the next 10 days.
Expect the Rangers to carry momentum into game one but that might be the only game they take in the next round. Once the series settles in, unless Brodeur is badly outplayed by Lundqvist, this one won’t go seven. New Jersey Devils in 5, maybe 6 but New Jersey moves on.
Much tougher to sort out the West as more than a few headlines have intimated the Kings may now be the Cup favourites. After the first round many were touting Nashville as cup favourites with the Canucks, Wings, and Penguins gone and as we saw, Nashville wasn’t even close to making it a series with Phoenix.
L.A. has been more than impressive losing just one game in beating the top two teams in the West and really two of the top teams all year. What is scary about L.A. is they made it look easy. What cold possibly stop them now as they take on a Phoenix team that plays a similar game to their own?
At risk of sounding like a broken record, the series outcome can be summed up in two words, “Smith” vs. “Quick”. Who has been better thus far? Smith has a save percentage of 0.948 while Quick sits at 0.949. Wow! Statistically these numbers are identical. One cannot say anything rational in terms of differentiating these net minders. If you have watched any of the games the other obvious is that both have been lucky at times too but that goes with the territory when you are hot.
The winner of this series will come down to which goalie steals the most games. Both are rested but the wild card factor is that L.A. has yet to face any adversity while Phoenix has endured several overtime sessions. Should Phoenix get off to a fast start, L.A. may find themselves having to come from behind which is a different dynamic that creates a different sense of urgency that can lead to mistakes. As stats show, the game 2 winners typically take the series. This was true again for the last round with Rangers the only team to buck that trend.
This time though, it will be the game one winner that may be in the driver’s seat. Should Phoenix take game one at home it will go a long way to propelling them to a series victory and the Stanley Cup Final round. As for intangibles, look for the Coyotes to get the breaks when it comes to officiating. Phoenix takes it in 6.