2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Semifinals Preview
by Dave Schwab - 5/1/2012
The first round of this season’s NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs is in the books and the final four teams in both the East and the West have been pared-off in the best-of-seven conference semifinals. The four series kicked off this weekend, and while a few of the favorites have already grabbed the early edge, there are a few potential upsets in the works.
The following is a re-cap of each conference semifinal matchup as well a look ahead to what is on the slate for the rest of this week.
No. 6 New Jersey Devils vs. No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers
New Jersey needed two back-to-back 3-2 overtime victories, including a thrilling double overtime win in Game 7 as a -109 road favorite, to get past Florida in the first round. Veterans Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk have helped lead the way with a combined 12 points, but center Travis Zajac has been the early hero with a team-high four goals and three assists. Veteran goalie Martin Brodeur has a goals-against-average of 2.28 and a.917 save percentage in the postseason.
After knocking out the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Penguins four games to two in the first round, Philadelphia gained the early edge in this series with a 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 as a -157 home favorite. Claude Giroux has led the way for the high-powered Flyers with seven goals and eight assists. The team as a whole is averaging 4.86 goals a game, which is a good thing considering its goalie, Ilya Brzygalov has a 3.70 GAA and .873 save percentage through seven playoff games.
The Devils are now 3-10 in their last 13 games in Philadelphia and the favorite is 38-15 in the last 53 meetings.
No. 7 Washington Capitals vs. No. 1 New York Rangers
Washington eliminated the defending champion Boston Bruins in seven games in the first round and is now tied with the No.1-seed Rangers, 1-1, after taking Game 2 of this series 3-2 as a +134 road underdog. All-star forward Alex Ovechkin has risen to the occasion with three goals and three assists, including the game-winner on Monday night. Back-up goalie Braden Holtby has been spectacular with a GAA of 2.12 and a .931 save percentage in nine playoff games.
It has been a harder road in these playoffs than expected so far for New York. It needed two one-goal victories in Game 6 and Game 7 to get past Ottawa in the first round after trailing 3-2 and it blew a golden opportunity to go up 2-0 as a -145 home favorite in Game 2 of this series. Brad Richards has led the way for the Rangers with four goals and four assists and Henrik Lundqvist has a GAA of 1.77 and a save percentage of .938 in nine games in goal.
New York is 1-4 in its last five games in Washington and the total has stayed ‘under’ in four of those games.
No. 4 Nashville Predators vs. No. 3 Phoenix Coyotes
The Predators made short work of Detroit in the first round with a 4-1 series win, but they head back to Nashville for Game 3 of this series trailing two games to none. Pekka Rinne has already given up nine goals in this series after holding the Red Wings to a nine goals in five games. Nashville has six different players with at least four points in the playoffs, led by Alexander Radulov’s one goal and five assists.
The Coyotes are picking up where they left off in their first-round series against Chicago and have now won five of their last six playoff games. Antoine Vermette has been a force with five goals and three assists, but the real hero so far has been goalie Mike Smith. In eight playoff starts, he has a 2.03 GAA and a .943 save percentage.
The road team is 6-2 in the last eight meetings and the total has stayed under in nine of the last 13 games played in Nashville.
No. 8 Los Angeles Kings vs. No. 2 St. Louis Blues
Los Angeles is rapidly becoming the King of the Western Conference after taking out the No.1-seed Vancouver Canucks four games to one in the first round and stunning the Blues on the road in the first two games of this series. Monday night, LA pounded St. Louis, 5-2, as a +141 road underdog to open the 2-0 series lead. The Kings have four players with six points and Dustin Brown now has four goals and five assists. The main reason for the Kings success has been the play of Jonathan Quick between the pipes. He has a .952 save percentage and a GAA of just 1.56.
St. Louis lost Game 1 of its opening round series against San Jose, but then it reeled-off four straight wins to advance. The Blues outscored the Sharks 12-5 in that four-game run, but they have been outscored 8-3 in the first two games against the Kings. Andy McDonald and Patrik Berglund have combined for 17 points, but the rest of the team has suddenly become very quiet. Against San Jose, Brian Elliott was brilliant in goal for the injured Jaroslav Halak, but he suddenly looks very ordinary against LA.
The Kings are now 5-1 in the last six meetings. The total went ‘over’ the five-goal line in Monday night’s Game 2 but it had stayed under in seven of the previous eight games between the two.
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