Friday, April 27, 2012

2012 Stanley Cup Semifinal (predictions)

2. St. Louis Blues vs. 8. Los Angeles Kings
These two teams are part of a new wave in the Western Conference of teams that don't need leading scorers in the NHL to be successful. The Nos. 1-2 defensive teams this season are all about locking teams down and stout goaltending. The Blues were tops in the league with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott and won the Jennings Trophy but the Kings' Jonathan Quick led the NHL with 10 shutouts and is a stalwart for LA. This is a series that isn't expected to yield many goals and the little intangibles could very well make the difference in winning and losing. The Kings took three of the four games in the regular season but my one edge for the Blues is that LA hasn't seen the Blues' complete lineup. Alex Steen and Andy McDonald were never on the ice together in any of the four games and now the two are starring on a line. The Blues have never fielded their full compliment of players against this stingy LA bunch and it might take some time for the Kings to adjust for some of the wrinkles Ken Hitchcock has in store. Nobody's going to run away with games in this series. It might not be the most artistic hockey played but it is affective at this time of year. I also like the Blues defensive unit a little better than LA's and the ability to neutralize those big-bodied forwards the Kings possess. I think they can limit the opportunities Brown, Kopitar and Williams can get. Games will be fierce but ... BLUES IN 6

3. Phoenix Coyotes vs. 4. Nashville Predators
Just look at everything above when describing these two teams; they're part of the new wave of teams that lock it down and have shutdown netminders. Mike Smith outshined a talented Chicago Blackhawks offensive unit and was right at the top for reasons why the Coyotes are still alive. And with the Predators, who are as balanced from top to bottom as any team in the NHL, Pekka Rinne just keeps stopping pucks. Just ask the Detroit Red Wings, who are sitting on the sidelines because of Rinne's ability to be the last line of defense. My one intangible in this series is that the Coyotes will have their troubles trying to neutralize all four Nashville lines. They can focus on Mike Fisher's unit, but they can get hurt if they fall asleep when the other units are out there. I like the Coyotes' balance from top to bottom as well, but the Predators will throw out a heavy dose of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter and mix in their other two d-units that have shutdown ability. I like low-scoring games here as well but I've gone against the Preds once too often ... PREDATORS IN 6

1. New York Rangers vs. 7. Washington Capitals
After their great run to knock out the defending Stanley Cup champs, Washington can take pride in the fact that their defensive -- did I just use that word describing the Cap? -- run began on the final day of the regular season against the Rangers, where they won handily. Instead of trying to win every game 7-5, the Capitals have bought into Dale Hunter's defensive-first system. And for the record, who is this Braden Holtby kid anyway? Pretty impressive for a kid that wasn't even on the radar before the middle of February. But Washington will go against a Rangers team that has a Vezina/Hart Trophy candidate in Henrik Lundqvist and one that also prides itself in playing shutdown defense [notice a pattern here?]. Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and company will get the Capitals' best but are expected to prevail. ... RANGERS IN 6

5. Philadelphia Flyers vs. 6. New Jersey Devils
This series is the exception to the rule, where goals will come in droves, in my opinion. Do we expect the Flyers to go 12 for 23 on the power play again like they did against Pittsburgh? No, but when you roll out guys like Giroux, Jagr, Briere, Hartnell and rookie Matt Read to make a few, this might be Marty Brodeur's greatest playoff challenge in his long and likely Hall of Fame career. And we know the problems of Ilya Bryzgalov, who had some of the worst goaltending numbers for a guy that was 4-2 against Pittsburgh. It won't be any easier going against Kovalchuk, Parise, Zajac, Sykora, Henrique -- the Game 7 hero against Florida -- and Clarkson. This might be the most exciting series as far as offense is concerned, because I can't see many 2-1 games. But I believe the Flyers have a little bit more and this can go back and forth for the duration ... FLYERS IN 7

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