When I look back on my round one predictions for these two teams, I correctly predicted both series, and got them both wrong at the same time. I picked the Sharks to beat the Canucks, but did anybody think it would be a sweep? I also thought the Blues would put up a much better fight this time around and come out on top. They did put up a great fight and were very close to leaving L.A. with a 3-1 series lead before it all fell apart. Now we have a battle of California and given how well these two matchup against each other, it's anyone's guess who will skate away victorious. Though, from a betting perspective, there is only one clear choice.
There were a lot of surprises in the first round of the NHL playoffs this year, but not when it came to these two teams. The Penguins goaltending was clearly a front and center topic heading into round one and it became an even bigger story when Vokoun supplanted Fleury for the number one spot. I suspected the Islanders could snatch a couple victories from them and they almost did more than that. Meanwhile, the Senators used their 2012 playoff experience wisely and quickly took care of a Montreal team that wasn't quite ready for prime-time. So what happens when these two square off tonight in Pittsburgh?
The New York Rangers and Washington Capitals are meeting in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years. Should we expect much of the same or have the changes on the rosters set the stage for something new?
Seeing is Believing?
If there is one series that has unknowns, this is the series. Which Ovechkin will we see? The guy who's fallen from grace over recent years or the Rocket Richard winning sniper who propelled them to a division crown? Will we get the rejuvenated Holtby who went on a tear in the final two months after getting a contract extension? Will Lundqvist raise his game to a new level and finally be the playoff goalie we've all expected of him? How will Nash do in his second playoff appearance of his career? There are lots of big questions surrounding the key players
The entire hockey world was hoping for a Habs vs Leafs first round matchup, but instead we'll get to see Montreal vs Ottawa. It may not have the history or bad blood that a Toronto series would've brought, but this is as compelling of a matchup that we'll find in round one. Let's take a closer look at the key factors.
Surprised? On paper, this should be a very close duel between Anderson and Price, but I'm going to focus on Price here because I think he is the make-or-break factor of the series. I know that's not ground-breaking analysis, but no one is quite sure what this guy is made of when the spotlight is on. He won a series in his rookie season, but nothing since then. He is often heralded as the best Canadian goaltender and praised as one of the elite. Can someone smarter than me explain how that happened? By my measure, I like to know what a guy can do in the playoffs before I declare him the best anything. Putting up nice regular season stats is nice for poolies, but I'm still not sure Price is the guy who can lead Montreal to glory.
If there's one series I don't feel good about picking, it's this one. There isn't a lot separating these teams and it could come down to random luck.
What is a Canucks preview without some goaltending discussion? The situation here is simple. Schneider is as good as they come in goal and if he's healthy, Vancouver is not a team I'd want to face. He can cover up for whatever flaws there might be in front of him and give his forwards enough time to find the back of the net. If for some reason he doesn't live up to expectations as the go-to guy, Luongo can come in as the sentimental underdog and do just fine. No one expected him to even be here, so if he's thrust into action to save the day it could be a nice final chapter to his days in Vancouver.
On the flip side, the Sharks will be relying solely on Niemi. That's not a bad thing because he's been great this season. I don't expect a dropoff in play unless something bizarre happens. With that said, I still give this duel to Schneider.