NHL playoffs round two preview: Bruins-Canadiens rivalry promises fun

Eight teams are left standing, with the second round featuring Blackhawks v Wild, Rangers v Penguins, Ducks v Kings

We’re through a very good first round in the NHL playoffs that provided plenty of drama, including three Game 7 deciding games Tuesday night. But now we’re quickly on to round two, which begins Thursday when the Montreal Canadiens pay a visit to the Boston Bruins. Here’s a rundown of the match-ups, and what each team might need to do to win. Also, as usual, there are some predictions.


Boston Bruins v Montreal Canadiens

Over at the Montreal Gazette, Dave Stubbs put it this way: How it must be. Indeed, the rivalry between these two clubs has never needed any coercion from the NHL’s schedule-and-conference creators. If you thought last year’s Toronto-Boston series was something, get ready for at least four games of heart, speed, grit and probably some violence.

The Habs come out of round one as the first team to advance in the post-season, having swept a depleted Tampa Bay Lightning. After a shaky start in Game 1, where goaltender Carey Price allowed four goals and finished the night with a rough .840 save percentage, Montreal turned it around and never looked back. Two reasons for that, among many others, were performances by Max Pacioretty and Rene Bourque. Patches was always going to be a factor – his big physical game ran roughshod over Tampa Bay. Though it took him a few games to score (he netted the winner in Game 4), Pacioretty is playing as well has he has in ages, and will be a number one target for the Bruins to shut down. Behind him, though, might well be Bourque, who along with a reformed Lars Eller, made Montreal’s third line as dangerous as its first.

That’s the kind of thing Montreal will have to hope continues, because the Bruins are going to bring a similar ability to constantly roll danger off the bench, both up front and on defence. The biggest fear will likely come from Boston’s top line, though, of Jarome Iginla, Milan Lucic and David Krejci. But of course, there are others, including Bruins’ goaltender Tuukka Rask, who posted a .958 save percentage over the course of the first round. Montreal’s Carey Price managed a .901 over the four games against Tampa Bay. And there’s the Bruins’ style of play – notoriously tough, fast and, at times, brutal. They will take any chance they can to punish Montreal, so the Habs have to keep their cool when possible and hope to draw some power plays.

It will be a series for the ages. The smart money is probably on Boston, but Montreal has the advantage statistically. As the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle noted, Montreal is 8-5-1 against Boston in the last three seasons.

Prediction: It may come down to Price v Rask. I’m biased for the Habs, but Bruins in 7.

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers

Having eliminated one Pennsylvania team, the New York Rangers will now face another. The Penguins finished their series against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night, but hardly walked away from the series triumphantly. The Blue Jackets gave the Pens a good test, forcing them to fight for every inch. Pesky Columbus kept themselves in games, climbing back from multiple-goal deficits and making the Penguins sweat out four wins.

Pittsburgh will have to find a way to get some of that high-powered offence working again. Evgeni Malkin was great in Game 6 (though the rest of his team almost let that lead slip away, too), but the other superstar on the Penguins roster, Sidney Crosby, has been altogether too quiet. Crosby enters the series against the Rangers having not scored a goal in his last 11 playoff games. That’s a serious drought that he must end to give his team a fighting chance. Crosby’s face-off performance also took a hit in the first round, dipping a bit to just over 50% – down from 52.5% during the regular season. The Penguins relied just as much on their defence to score in the first round as they did their technically formidable forwards. That must change.

The series against the Flyers was generally good for the Rangers, but they also showcased at times a surprising lax approach to playoff hockey (Game 6 specifically). Their win in Game 7 back at MSG was different – and more of what the Rangers will try to replicate against the Pens. Their second period especially, where they outshot the Flyers 18-5 proved decisive, as they took a 2-0 lead going into the third period. Getting plenty of shots on Pittsburgh’s goaltender, Marc-Andre Fleury, might be a good strategy. Once again, he proved to be a question mark for the Pens – including this embarrassing fumble:

Fleury fumble

That will not get you a Stanley Cup, plain and simple.

But the Rangers will also be looking to their big names to find that extra gear against the potentially deadly (though seemingly less deadly at the moment) Pittsburgh offense. Rick Nash, who still hasn’t scored yet this post-season, is on that list, as is Martin St Louis. If the Rangers can get that top line producing and guys like Dan Carcillo keep scoring (he notched his second of the playoffs against Philly Wednesday night after being a healthy scratch for Games 5 and 6), they will have a good chance.

Prediction: What the hell, Rangers in 6.


Chicago Blackhawks v Minnesota Wild

The Blackhawks are a tough team to eliminate, even when they look like they’re at their worst. They seem to thrive on adversity. There was a point this year when it looked as though the Blues would take a 3-1 lead in Round 1, but the Blackhawks found a way to pull it back. Their four-goal explosion in the third period of Game 6 against the Blues was a showcase of that tenacity. The Wild should be worried.

The first project for Minnesota will be to find a way to shut down Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews. There are other names on that list, like Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane, but Toews is key. Toews scored three goals in the first round, and they were all game-winners, including this one in overtime of Game 5:

Toews scores

That’s the kind of clutch the Blackhawks can ride for a while if permitted. The Wild managed to clamp down on Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon after he had a tremendous first couple of games against them in round one, and they’ll likely rely on Ryan Suter again to carry out that mission against Toews.

The X-factor for the Blackhawks – and the kind of thing that’s difficult to plan for if you’re the Wild – is Bryan Bickell. He was a major factor last year as the Blackhawks made their way to their championship win, grabbing 17 points and the tying goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final. Bickell is now sharing the top line with Toews and Hossa, and his physical presence, particularly in front of the net, combined with his 19 shots on goal, has been a boost for the Blackhawks.

The biggest question mark for the Wild will be in goal. Darcy Kuemper has been a good fill-in (though he allowed a lot of goals in round on), but he left Game 7 late with an injury. If he doesn’t return at full strength for this round, it might be a short one.

Prediction: I’ve already underestimated the Wild. They could grab some home wins. Blackhawks in 6.

Anaheim Ducks v LA Kings

Anaheim is a dangerous team. They have plenty of ways to score and are big, tough and fast. All of which was showcased in one way or another during their impressive, three-goal comeback in Game 6 against the Dallas Stars – the win that grabbed them the series. And yet, we should remember the Ducks had got themselves in that hole in the first place. Or, rather, Dallas had put them there.

So how is it possible to beat the Ducks? Stay out of the penalty box, for one. Anaheim punished Dallas throughout round one on the power play, amassing seven goals against the Stars through those six games, including four in Game 5. The Kings took six penalties against the Sharks in Game 7 Wednesday night. In the end, it didn't matter. They somehow managed to kill them all off. It was an impressive sight, but probably not one they’ll want to repeat against the Ducks.

The Kings will also need to find a way to shut down the Ducks’ top scorers, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Francois Beauchemain and Nick Bonino, who combined for 15 points against the Stars. And once they’ve figured that out, they’ll need to worry about the rest of the (deep) team.

But let’s not forget who they’ll be playing. LA will have a lot to counter with. All the usual suspects (Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, and Justin Williams) stepped up in round one for the Kings, after dropping three games straight to the Sharks. The rally the Kings performed – coming back from three games down to win a series – has only happened a handful of times in the history of the NHL playoffs (the last time in 2010, when the Flyers pulled it off against the Bruins). And Jonathan Quick rebounded, too, and was brilliant in backstopping his team to the series win. After lugging a .848 save percentage through the first three games, Quick improved to .965 in the last four. Impressive, but also probably a credit to the guys in front of him. “Their defence just swallowed us up,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton told the media after his team’s Game 7 loss.

And goaltending is the one area where the Ducks are still vulnerable. It remains to be seen who the Ducks will start, but Frederik Andersen was hardly terrific for them in round one. He allowed 18 goals against and posted a paltry .892 save percentage. Luckily for them, Jonas Hiller was able to play the relief role pretty well. If Hiller gets the start in Round 2 and can keep it up, that issue might be solved. Otherwise, the Kings should exploit it.

Prediction: The Kings went 1-3-1 against the Ducks this year, but the playoffs are their thing. Kings in 7.

NHL playoffs schedule


Colin Horgan

The GuardianTramp

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