We are right in the middle of the Conference Finals in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs and in this week’s column, I’ll be taking a look at how each series has played out to this point and what we can use moving forward to cash some playoff tickets on the ice.
The Western Conference Finals between the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks is even at one game apiece. Nashville defeated Anaheim 3-2 in OT in Game 1 as they were the far superior team that night and took advantage of a Ducks team coming off a hard fought and grueling seven-game series victory in the second round against Edmonton.
Anaheim got off to a sluggish start in Game 2 but turned it around and won 5-3, surrendering just 27 shots on goal in Game 2 after allowing 46 in Game 1. Despite losing Game 2, Nashville has yet to lose two playoff games in a row, which will be put to the test on Tuesday night in Game 3 of this series. The Predators also have a perfect 5-0 home record in these playoffs. They have tremendous scoring balance as their forwards and defensemen are all capable of chipping in.
Nashville’s top two scorers in the playoffs are forwards Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen; their next three top point producers are all defensemen, which indicates just how balanced a team they are from a scoring perspective. Unfortunately for them, Nashville ended up playing their worst game of the playoffs in Game 2, specifically their goaltender Pekka Rinne. He has been marvelous throughout the playoffs in between the pipes for the Predators but had his worst game of the postseason on Sunday night.
I would expect both teams to try to clean up some of the defensive miscues that took place in the first two games of the series as the scene shifts to Nashville for Games 3 and 4 this week. The Under is 3-0-2 in Nashville’s five home playoff games to this point, with the trends pointing toward a lower scoring pair of games coming up in Music City between the Ducks and Predators in this series.
Nashville is probably offering some value at the current adjusted series price of -135, especially with three of the next potential five games in this series being in Nashville where the Predators have yet to lose in the playoffs.
The Ottawa Senators took a stunning 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals against the reigning and defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins with a 2-1 OT victory in Game 1.
The Senators played a near perfect road game. They scored the first goal of the game in the first period, allowing them to lock in head coach Guy Boucher’s 1-3-1 modified trap system that precludes teams from rushing the puck up the ice with speed through the neutral zone, forcing them to chip the puck in and retrieve it beneath the goal line in the offensive zone.
Pittsburgh has had a distinct problem moving the puck out of their own zone in their last three games going back to the second round series against Washington, and it coincides with the injury to Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley, which leaves them without arguably their top two puck moving blue liners in addition to the already sidelined Kris Letang.
The power play has also been affected by his absence and has notched a 0-for-10 mark in the Penguins’ last three games. The key for Pittsburgh in this series will be to get the first goal in as many games as possible. It is imperative because a Pittsburgh early lead forces Ottawa to play a more up-and-down the ice, wide-open style of game when the Senators are trailing, and that plays into the Penguins’ strength in terms of generating scoring opportunities .
When Ottawa scores the first goal, as they did in Game 1, they can tighten the screws with their modified trap and make it difficult for Pittsburgh to produce scoring chances created with their speed through the middle of the ice, which they are used to doing against many teams. Ottawa got outstanding goaltending from Craig Anderson who has played two fantastic games in net for them in a row, going back to the close out game against the New York Rangers in the second round.
He will need to maintain that level to give Ottawa a chance to win this series. The Senators have gotten big performances from most of their top players like Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris, Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman while unsung hero Jean-Gabriel Pageau has been a playoff force for them this season just like he was a few years ago.
Ottawa has been playing too well as a team for too long now to not consider them a threat in this series and they have already shown they have it in them to seriously push the defending champs.
This is a strong correlated series from a side and total perspective in my view. Ottawa likely needs to play in lower scoring games to win in this series while Pittsburgh would prefer the opposite. Pittsburgh drawing “first blood” in subsequent games of this series has never been so important, and it is their pathway to winning this series and advancing to the Cup Finals for a second consecutive season.
Otherwise, these Penguins could turn into mice and continue to get caught in the Senators’ trap.