Saturday, April 28, 2012

Quick Picks: NHL Conference Semifinals

Round one is now well behind us, with only eight teams remaining in contention for Lord Stanley's cup.

Notwithstanding the fact that Round Two got into full swing last night and that I had a miserable 3-5 record for predictions in the opening round, I will nonetheless deliver picks for the Conference Semifinals.

Take them for their worth.

East: New York Rangers (1) vs. Washington Capitals (7)

My pick: Washington Capitals in seven games

Why? The Washington Capitals recently pulled a stunning upset of the defending Stanley Cup champions and they have the ability to pull off another such upset against the top-seeded New York Rangers.

Both teams have received stellar goaltending and put up fantastic defensive performances. Both squads have also seen a lot of their scoring come from their depth players as opposed to their stars.

But the Rangers stars have been far quieter, and that is worrisome. While Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan are one-two in team scoring, other offensively minded players have been silent. Namely, Marian Gaborik and Brandon Dubinsky have been absent from the scoresheet, each contributing only one point thus far.

Conversely, in Washington, Alex Ovechkin leads his squad with five points. Brooks Laich and Nicklas Backstrom are right behind with four points. Even the enigmatic Alex Semin has looked involved these playoffs and has a decent three goal output, including one game winner.

None of the above statistics are especially impressive, but neither team had an opportunity to pad their stats due to the very defensive nature of their previous series.

If Washington continues to receive contributions throughout its lineup, that should tip the scales in their favor.

Assuming, of course, that Braden Holtby continues his strong play.

East:`Philadelphia Flyers (5) vs. New Jersey Devils (6)

My pick: New Jersey Devils in seven games.

Why? The Devils can keep pucks out of their net. Martin Brodeur regained some of his form of old, posting a .922 save percentage and miniscule 2.06 goals against average in his series against the Florida Panthers.

Mind you, the Panthers are not as offensively potent as the Philadelphia Flyers, but the above numbers remain impressive. And those numbers become even more impressive when contrasted with Ilya Bryzgalov's monstrous 3.89 goals against average and pedestrian .871 save percentage.

Even should this series turn into a more offensively focused one, the Devils possess the tools to compete in such a context. Zach Parise, Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique own the ability to trade blows with the likes of Claude Giroux, Jaromir Jagr and Daniel Briere.

In the end, New Jersey's ability to defend should help them prevail.

West: St. Louis Blues (2) vs. Los Angeles Kings (8)

My pick: Los Angeles Kings in seven games

Why?  Maybe because the Kings have the best goaltender in the NHL in Jonathan Quick.

Or maybe because Dustin Brown has been a force.

Or maybe because I am not predisposed to picking the Blues for some reason.

Or maybe because I am in an upset-picking mood.

West: Phoenix Coyotes (3) vs. Nashville Predators (4)

My pick: Phoenix Coyotes in seven games

Why? In the spirit of full disclosure, it should be said that these lines were written following Phoenix's 4-3 overtime triumph in Game 1.

Given that extra information, it should be evident that the Phoenix Coyotes are more than able to bend without breaking. Going to overtime a stunning six times already this post-season, Dave Tippet's squad is on an extra-time run reminiscent of the 1993 Montreal Canadiens.

The Nashville Predators are undoubtedly a mighty, physical foe. But their top-scorers, namely Martin Erat, Patrick Hornqvist and the Kostitsyn brothers, are sporadic playoff performers.

In contrast, the Coyotes have received important contributions throughout their lineup, with both their depth players and defense stepping up with important points. While they may be devoid of top-flight talent, the Coyotes offer up almost four full lines of individuals capable of scoring. That is quite difficult to compose with, even for a talented coach like Barry Trotz.

Oh yeah, and they have some dude named Mike Smith in net. No disrespect to the excellent Pekka Rinne, but advantage Phoenix.  

What are your thoughts on Round Two?

Louis is an Associate Editor and Senior Writer at Born in Chicago, Louis grew up in Quebec City where he earned Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration from Université Laval. Find him on twitter @LouisMoustakas

(Photo by Getty Images North America)


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