DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) -Last night saw the completion of the first round of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. We saw upsets, controversy and flashes of greatness. Now the tournament pushes on with the Conference Semifinals.
There are only four teams left in both the East and the West; all of whom are hoping strong play brings good luck in order to continue the journey towards the Conference Finals. Tonight the energy, tenacity and determination to win officially gets kicked up another notch with the first game in the West.
The Phoenix Coyotes will get home ice advantage as they take on the Nashville Predators.
Both teams pride themselves on strong play in net and what a goalie matchup this series will have on display. Both goaltenders Mike Smith for PHX and Pekka Rinne for NSH put up a 1.81 goals against average in the first round. Goals will be at a premium and like it does with many playoff series, it will ultimately come down to goaltending and special teams.
Nashville, who had the top ranked power play in the regular season, had trouble scoring on the power play going 2 for 22 in their series with Detroit. Phoenix leads the playoffs with a 94% kill rate. Nashville is going to have to win the 5-on-5 battle in order to win this series but be careful because the Coyotes are out to turn some heads.
The other matchup in the West starts Saturday night and is between the St. Louis Blues and the Los Angeles Kings. LA comes into this series on the back of their All-Star goaltender Jonathan Quick.
LA prides themselves with low scoring defensive hockey backed with elite goaltending. Defensemen Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene patrol their back end which only allowed 1.60 goals per game in the regular season. Funny thing is the Blues have the exact same mentality. The only difference is the Blues can score and their coach, Ken Hitchcock, has won a Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars with this set up. What made the Blues so successful this season and in the first round was their power play. After the first round, they have a 33% power play rate which is advantage St. Louis.
In the East, we saw multiple surprises. For example, the Flyers defeated the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins and we saw the surprise Washington Capitals oust the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in dramatic game 7 over time fashion. Now the Eastern bracket sets up with plenty of intrigue.
Starting Saturday afternoon, the top seeded New York Rangers take on the Washington Capitals.
The Capitals are riding high after beating the Bruins on the back of their surprise goaltender Braden Holtby
Holtby started the season in the American Hockey League playing 40 games with the Hersey Bears. After being called up, Holtby has quickly stepped in and has become a huge part of this team’s success thus far in the playoffs.
The Capitals are allowing 35 shots per game giving this 22 year old Saskatchewan native a lot of work. All-Star goalie Henrik Lundqvist, a Hart Trophy finalist, will be between the pipes for New York. Lundqvist gives the Rangers quite an advantage in the series with experience and elite net minding.
The X factor in this series is going to be Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin has had a disappointing start to the post season with only two goals and limited ice time, even being benched by his coach Dale Hunter for portions of the first round. If Alex heats up, the Rangers could have their hands full with his contagious competitiveness. Otherwise, the Rangers have the edge in the series with defense only allowing 1.86 goals per game.
Sunday afternoon marks the start of the final series in this round and it could be the most exciting. The Philadelphia Flyers play host to the New Jersey Devils.
The Flyers come into this series with plenty of rest after a hard fought, controversial and high scoring series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Most thought the Penguins would ride their stars Sidney Crosby, Jordan Stall and Hart Trophy finalist Evgeni Malkin all the way to the finals; however Claude Giroux, Jaromir Jagr and Danny Briere had other plans in mind.
The Flyers move on instead and take their playoff best 5 goals per game average to the next level. The Devils come into the series fresh off their game 7 double overtime victory against the Florida Panthers. The Devils will rely heavily on goaltender Martin Brodeur. The 39 year old Brodeur will have to be at his best because Philly comes in with the #1 power play unit at 52%. New Jersey has the second worst penalty kill amongst the remaining teams and will have to shore up that number if they want any chance of moving forward. They also uncharacteristically blew multiple leads during their series with the Panthers. Their defense is going to have to stand tall and help out Brodeur, otherwise it is advantage Philadelphia. Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov will also look to improve on his ballooning 3.89 goals against.
Brian Waddle is the Producer for the K&C Masterpiece on 105.3 The Fan on Sundays from 10am-2pm. Waddle is on twitter @Big_Time_Waddle
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