Capitals vs. Penguins exactly what the NHL is looking for
April 25, 2017 3:08 AM
by Nick Pellegrino
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are down to its illustrious version of the Elite Eight following a series of first-round matchups that held us captive. This NHL grocery bag was filled with dramatics, flair, plus some food your mother made you eat.
I will wait for dessert (Washington vs. Pittsburgh) and seek reasons why we also need additional insight on meat-and-potatoes pairings if wanting to continue cashing tickets.
Anaheim vs. Edmonton: Yes, Mom forced you to watch Anaheim-Calgary, even though the Flames, which held an open door to take either of the games in Orange County, decided to prove they never deserved a playoff berth so flickered out.
For getting swept, Calgary ownership won’t get the $1.8 billion (Canadian) it seeks for a new arena. Meanwhile, the Ducks now meet Edmonton, the victor in a horrendous series with San Jose that featured two teams going nowhere – yet someone was forced to win.
San Jose was already out the door and heading to the golf course with its end-of-the-season slump. Plus, in the teams’ series, the Sharks dropped the last two to fall in six. The case was made that now may be the time for the young Oilers, while the window of opportunity in the Bay Area is slamming in the Sharks’ face.
Translation: The Ducks may need only 14 or 15 games to reach the Stanley Cup Final as the Western Conference rep. This has five games written all over it because the Ducks’ back-end is healthy, the goaltending is good enough, and they can kill penalties – and the Oilers are real good at taking penalties (like they did vs. SJS). ANAHEIM
St. Louis vs. The Team That Beat Chicago: Everyone in the world, including me, thought the Blackhawks would win their opening series. Now that the Nashville Predators advanced instead, get out your textbook to remind us why the Preds may be the team of the future in the West – goaltender Pekka Rinne.
The Nashville netminder became the second goalie in 70 years to shut out a conference or league top seed in the first two games of the first round; the third-ever to get swept. I’ve talked about Rinne and Columbus’ goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for years, yet you don’t listen so the sportsbook has your money.
Meanwhile, Jake Allen of the Blues remains a streaky goalie. When hot, he will carry you a couple of weeks (9-0-1 in November; 8-1-2 in March), but he went 16-19-2 the rest of the season. Come playoff time, it can become poor: a 3-5 career game record until finally winning his first series last week over Minnesota – they were horrible!
Thus, I offer his inconsistent play at money time as the reason I continue to rank him as a “B to B-plus” on my NHL goalie strength chart. Head-to-head, Nashville won the season series, 3-2, but in a schedule quirk, the teams only met once this calendar year (STL won).
Behind the Ryan Johansen line and the recent return of forward Paul Stastny, the Blues hold an edge on offense, yet Nashville coach Peter Laviolette owns a reputation in solving opponents’ top lines.
The Blues, already struggling on the power play, traditionally wilt against physical sides. Expect big things from Preds D-pair of P.K. Subban (laughing that Montreal has already been eliminated) and Mattias Ekholm.
Your mission: Select the better goalie and collect at the window. You already know I prefer Rinne. NASHVILLE
Ottawa vs. N.Y. Rangers: Sure, the NHL’s playoff format may be bogus, but don’t blame the Ottawa Senators for advancing; you would’ve said the same of the Boston Bruins, yet someone had to win.
Instead look at the series advantages for the Rangers, the better club as the wild-card invaders from the Metropolitan Division, avoiding the trio of teams that finished above them in the regular season to gain a berth in the conference finals.
NYR has the better goalie in Henrik Lundqvist, they have few injuries on defense and are a touch quicker. Plus, they already beat the division champions (Montreal), so technically are now meeting a lesser club – NYR posted more standings points (102 to 98), but the Blue Shirts earned more quality points.
Both teams’ schedules were equal except in one area. While both played three rounds against the opposite team in the conference, while the fourth round of games remained intra-divisional only, the Rangers played a slightly tougher slate.
Montreal had one more point than NYR, but when you throw in the quality factor, the Canadiens were the true underdogs entering a series in which they carried home ice.
Kudos to Ottawa’s Clarke MacArthur for his comeback from basically two years off due to injury to score the series-clinching goal in OT vs. Boston. However, if the Sens barely beat a Boston side with three of its top four D-men out, it just has to be: RANGERS in 5.
The Dream Series – Washington vs. Pittsburgh: The President’s Cup winning Capitals, who survived five overtime games to defeat upstart Toronto in six (hurry, hurry, get your Futures tickets on the Maple Leafs) now meet the reigning Stanley Cup titlist Penguins, who more than easily eliminated Columbus.
The better goalie may be Braden Holtby in D.C., and you already know the names of all of the stars. However, if you’re really in need of advice on the best pairing of teams in the second round, flip a coin instead.
Leafs-Habs. Lakers-Celtics. Yankees-Mets. Dodgers-Giants, “Cheating” Patriots vs. any other NFL team. And Penguins-Capitals – everyone has a preference (including L’Oreal). For me: PENGUINS in 6.
New Kings court
The Los Angeles Kings promoted associate coach John Stevens to be the NHL club’s head coach. Stevens, who once headed the Philadelphia Flyers, replaces the fired Darryl Sutter. In addition, general manager Dean Lombardi was fired and replaced by assistant GM Rob Blake.
The defensive-minded Sutter produced from the best back-ends in hockey, but the offense continued to plunge, finishing 25th in the league this season.
Many thought Lombardi would get a pass after the near-season-long injury to goaltender Jonathan Quick kept the Kings one position out of a playoff berth. Quick was hurt during the World Cup of Hockey held during the preseason.