The second round of the NHL playoffs is three-quarters full, with Pittsburgh and Detroit moving forward this weekend, and the final two spots will be settled tonight with Game 7s in the Eastern Conference. Boston-Toronto & Washington-NY Rangers are coming down to their final battles, and it’s there that we’ll begin the overview of the first-round series that were still ongoing over the weekend.
This series has been as evenly contested as you would expect from one that’s reaching a decisive Game 7 tonight in D.C. New York’s 1-0 home victory in Game 6 was no exception. Both teams played a defensive-oriented game, both Henrik Lundqvist and Braden Holtby backed up their defenses well in the net, and it was Lundqvist who ultimately prevailed. I will say this though—Washington did more of what they needed to in terms of getting important players involved offensively. Alex Ovechkin took five shots, and Rick Nash only had one for the Rangers. If that pattern persists tonight in the Verizon Center, look for Washington to escape with a win.
The Caps played a pair of Game 7s in last year’s playoffs, beating Boston in the first round and the one they lost came against these same New York Rangers. Unlike last season, Washington gets their excellent home fans behind them for the decisive game.
Toronto’s 2-1 win was also close to the vest both ways. It was scoreless through two periods and the Bruins’ goal didn’t come until there were 26 seconds left. The Maple Leafs though, are the team that’s making the most of their opportunities. Not just in terms of the bottom line, but who’s getting involved. Phil Kessel got five cracks at the net, lit the lamp once and had an assist. James Van Riemsdyk assisted on both goals. By contrast, Boston can’t get Nathan Horton untracked at all, and at least for this game, Tyler Seguin was nowhere to be seen.
There are always going to be games where the goalies are hot, but a team has to at least ensure that their shots are being taken by the best players. Toronto has been doing that consistently in this series and Boston has not.
Now let’s move to the two teams that clinched, Pittsburgh in Saturday’s Game 6 and Detroit in Sunday’s Game 7.
The Pittsburgh move to Tomas Vokoun might go down as the decision of the playoffs, so long as the Penguins ignore the idiotic advice emanating from the local media to make sure Marc-Andre Fleury gets some time in the net in the second round. Vokoun wasn’t dominant in Saturday’s 4-3 overtime win on Long Island, but he gave this team some stability and that was all the offense needed.
It wasn’t that Pens assaulted the Islanders—in fact give the New York team defense credit, in limiting Pittsburgh to 21 shots. But Sidney Crosby got five of them, and with the star active, the rest of this team’s deep offensive lineup was able to break though against problematic New York goalie Evgeni Nabakov. Islander star John Tavares started getting on the board in the latter half of this series, but he never really got active enough to put a major imprint on it. A lot of credit to the Pens defense, and let’s also give a shout-out to the Isles—it’s good to see this franchise back in the playoffs and they were feisty against a heavy favorite.
Just like in the Eastern Conference, the #7 seed advances in the West (and if might indulge in some boasting, TheSportsNotebook picked both upsets). I wondered if Henrik Zetterberg was going to have to completely take over this game for the Red Wings on offense and apparently he was. The center scored less than two minutes into the game, added a key assist in the second period and took six shots overall. Detroit built a 3-1 lead after two periods and then hung for the 3-2 road win in Game 7.
It was a bitter finish for Anaheim, even more so for Corey Perry, the star who never got untracked. Perry failed to score a goal in this series, as Detroit digs deep and shows the pride that this organization is built on.
The second-round matchups in the West will be Chicago-Detroit and Los Angeles-San Jose. We know it’s Pittsburgh-Ottawa in the East and tonight’s winners will also matchup. I had originally intended to preview the West semis today, but with none of the second round games going until Tuesday, we’ll just return tomorrow morning when our NHL analysis will have a wrap on the Monday finales and previews of all four conference semi-finals.