Brother Banter: NHL 1st Round Reflection, and 2nd Round Preview

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(Photo by Mitchell Layton/NHLI via Getty Images)

By: Rossy and Adam Pasternak

Rossy: These playoffs have been exhilarating, with end-to-end action, amazing goaltending, terrible goaltending, and everything in between! The series I enjoyed watching the most was probably the one that had the worst TV ratings, the Islanders and Panthers. Unfortunately for my fantasy team, the Panthers bowed out in a heated 6-game series. John Tavares is basically a god in my eyes, scoring the tying and winning goals in the deciding game. He also carried them throughout the series, and came up clutch when the Islanders needed a big goal. Other than Tavares, Tomas Greiss came up huge for the Isles. Greiss, who I predicted to be the reason the Islanders would lose the series, had a 1.79 GAA and .944 Sv% through the series, out-dueling the great Roberto Luongo. Speaking of Luongo, he stood on his head throughout the series as well, amassing a .934 Sv%. Reilly Smith provided the offensive punch to keep the Panthers in the game, scoring a solid 4 goals and 4 assists. Ultimately, this was a great series filled with everything you can ask for in a 1st round matchup. What was your favourite matchup of the first round, Adam?

Adam: Before I even get into my favourite first round matchup, I have to make fun of Bobby Lu a little bit. Man does that guy choke in the playoffs! His numbers were decent but when it mattered most, he couldn’t make the big save. Sounds sort of familiar, eh Canucks fans? For a guy who had a Vezina type season, even though his stats in the playoffs were pretty decent, I expected a lot more from him. For example, the series clinching goal by Tavares; Luongo was out of position and he should have made a save on that play. But enough about my least favourite goalie.

My favourite first round matchup had to be the Blues vs. Blackhawks. First off, this series should not have been a first round matchup. Both these teams deserved to move on, and in my opinion, this matchup should have been the conference finals. But I guess that’s what made this series so entertaining. Both teams were top teams in the West this year and both had very high expectations coming into the playoffs. The defending Stanley Cup champions won’t even be in the second round! I think this could be the first time they haven’t won at least one round in the playoffs since before their first Cup, and it’s almost weird to think that for the first time in five or six years that the ‘Hawks wont even be a part of all the excitement that comes in the later rounds. For St. Louis though, this victory was huge. They’ve had a few really good regular seasons in the past, but always came up short in the playoffs. Finally, they are moving on…and deservingly so. I really do think that this Blues team could go all the way. Especially with the Kings and Blackhawks both out (a.k.a the last five Stanley Cup champions), I don’t think there is anyone in the West (other than maybe Dallas if Seguin is healthy) that can stop them…do you?

Rossy: I loved when the broadcast showed Blues GM Doug Armstrong leaving the front-office box because he couldn’t watch the final minute of the game. He likely was nervous that if Chicago tied it and later won, he and head coach Ken Hitchcock would be searching for new jobs. Luckily for those two, the Blues outlasted the ‘Hawks, and all is swell in St. Louis for now.

To answer your question, I do think that the Blues can be stopped. Making it out of the first round was a great accomplishment for them, but they will likely be bruised and beaten from this heated series. Dallas, on the other hand, won their series with only a few hiccups, and without their star, Tyler Seguin. Seguin will hopefully be ready for game 1 of this series, but if not, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, and Jamie Benn have all done terrific jobs picking up the slack offensively. Spezza scored 4 goals and 9 points in the 6 game series, and has been one of the best players in the playoffs so far. Kari Lehtonen proved not to be a weak link, which is especially encouraging considering that he was the biggest question mark heading into the playoffs. Minnesota made things scary for the Stars with their furious comeback in the 3rd period of game 6, but desperation always takes over in those situations, and Dallas did just enough to weather the storm. I think Dallas has a great chance of moving on to the Conference finals, where they will play the winner of (Anaheim/Nashville) vs. San Jose.

Those Sharks did an unbelievable job in the first round, defeating a strong LA Kings team, don’t you think?

Adam: The Sharks definitely impressed me, especially because I had the Kings winning that series. I thought for sure we were in for another seven game series between these two power houses, but the Sharks really did dominate. It also was pretty awesome to see Martin Jones get a little pay back against his former team. The one time backup for Jonathan Quick played exceptional in net for the Sharks and hopefully he can keep it going throughout the rest of the playoffs. If not though, remember they do have James Reimer. That’s the thing with this San Jose Sharks team: they are deep. You have Jumbo Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl, Brent Burns, Paul Martin, Justin Braun, Roman Polak, Marc-Eduard Vlasic…even a guy like Joonas Donskoi has been great this year and thus far in the playoffs. I almost listed half their team right there, and I’m probably forgetting a few key guys even still. A Dallas vs. San Jose conference finals would be the most entertaining in my opinion. Both teams matchup great against one another, and it is going to be a great series to watch. Speaking of great series, how ’bout that amazing series between the Preds and Ducks!

Rossy:  The Predators executed a perfect gameplan against the Ducks to win this series in 7 games. Although they failed to stay especially disciplined throughout the series, the Predators still limited Anaheim to just 3 powerplay goals, and important fact considering the Ducks had the best powerplay and penalty kill in the NHL this season. The depth of the Predators on defence, as well as the speed and grittiness of the forward group, wore down the Ducks. In game 7, they struck quickly, and took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission. The crowd was taken out of the game early, and the Ducks only showed some desperation when it was too late, falling 2-1. The Ducks have now blown four straight 3-2 series leads, and lost all four of those game 7’s at home. Changes are likely coming to Anaheim. On the Predators side, they now move on to play the San Jose Sharks, and Peter Laviolette will have his hands full. As Adam previously mentioned, the depth and talent of the Sharks pose a dangerous matchup for anyone. I think the Predators manage to make things hard once again, but I just can’t see the Sharks losing this one.

Now, onto the East, where all of the matchups are set. What did you think of the other Florida series, where the Tampa Bay Lightning were victorious against the Red Wings for a second playoff in a row?

Adam: That series was way too predictable. I honestly feel bad that Detroit made the playoffs. Yeah, they kept their streak alive, but it didn’t really do them any good. There were rumours throughout the series that Coach Blashill had lost the locker room, and that certain Swedish players were overpowering him and other leaders on the team. As well, they now don’t have a high pick in the draft, which I think they could use. They are a young team now believe it or not, and winning a Cup is not something that should not be in their plans for the next few years. Regardless, even without Stamkos, Tampa was favoured to win this series…and they did. Pretty easily I might add. I was really happy to see the line of Kucherov, Johnson and Killorn step it up and give Tampa fans a glimpse of what life could look like without Steven Stamkos if he indeed leaves in free agency. In my opinion, that life is still pretty good. Kucherov’s play alone made me believe that they might not even need Stamkos long term. And if Jonathan Drouin can continue to play like he did in this series for the remainder of the playoffs, then I think Tampa has found their “in-house” replacement for Mr. Stamkos.

What do you think of Tampa thus far in the playoffs, can they do it without Stammer? I certainly think they can.

Rossy: It’s funny, because the exact storylines coming out of this round are the same as the ones from last year. Detroit had coaching question marks, and had to solve their goaltending problems. Tampa was, and is, looking like a strong contender to come out of the east, and it is mostly thanks to the Triplets. Also, the storyline last year was that Stamkos struggled to produce in the first round. This year, it is that the Lightning don’t even need him. That leads me to this: is Steven Stamkos headed to Detroit in free agency? It is very possible, especially if Pavel Datsyuk does go to the KHL, and the Red Wings manage to trade his contract.

Either way, this had to be an encouraging sight for GM Steve Yzerman, who has played every single card he has been dealt since becoming the Lightning GM perfectly. He played the Drouin situation expertly, same as the Marty St. Louis trade request a couple of years ago, and same as this Stamkos situation. What he has now is a team that looks like it is on its way to being a perennial playoff team, much like their counterparts in Detroit. The Lightning have it all, and their matchup against the Islanders will be a great one.

*Adam has a broken finger, and it is becoming exceedingly hard for him to type. That being said, I will take over for the rest of the article, and review the remaining 2 series in the East.

The Washington Capitals had more trouble with the Broadstreet Bullies than I would have imagined, but that is because of some stellar goaltending from former Capital Michal Neuvirth. The Caps showed that they are the best and most dominant team in the Eastern Conference by far. There really isn’t much to say about the Caps from this series. For the Flyers, you could talk about how classless their fans were when they threw the Ed Snider bracelets onto the ice, or how Steve Mason cannot be relied on. But really, who wants to hear about a team who embarrassed themselves despite winning two games against the Stanley Cup favourite?

The Capitals will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2nd round. The Pens seemed to solve possibly the best goaltender in the world, King Henrik, and advanced in high-scoring fashion. The Penguins boast probably the best top-6 in the NHL, and Evgeni Malkin isn’t even in it. With Nick Bonino, Phil Kessel, and Carl Hagelin playing so well together, Malkin dropped to the third line with Eric Fehr and Chris Kunitz on his wings. He does get the occasional shift on the wing with Crosby, but Malkin is fully capable of carrying his own line, and that is what he is doing. The Rangers broke down under the constant pressure of the Penguins attack, and that should scare Washington.

Washington does have one distinct advantage compared to New York, and that is the firepower to score with the Penguins. In a battle of Ovechkin vs. Crosby, it is Evgeni Kuznetsov’s line that could do the real damage. Justin Williams and Andre Burakovsky are Kuznetsov’s wingers, and that line can do a lot of damage against the Penguins. Since a lot of the attention will go to the top two lines for each of these teams, it will come down to special teams and depth. I would give the Capitals the nod in both of those departments, as even with a powerplay that boasts Malkin, Crosby, Kessel, and Letang, no one can compare to Alex Ovechkin shooting that one time bomb from the top of the left circle. In terms of depth, even though Malkin is on the Penguins’ third line, the Capitals possess superior depth defensively and up front, with a very strong bottom 6. Also, I give Braden Holtby a huge advantage over the emerging star, Matt Murray. Murray just hasn’t proven himself in the playoffs for an extended period of time, as Holtby did just last year.

I give the edge to Washington, in a very close series.

Well, that is a wrap for this edition of Brother Banter! What do you think of our reflections and Predictions? Please, comment in the comment section, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

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