As Wings fans, we find ourselves in unfamiliar territory as the month of April comes to an end. Knocked out of the first round of the playoffs, we find ourselves turning to Tigers baseball, the Lions' offseason drafting plans, or watching the charlie foxtrot that the NHL playoffs have become in the year that obstruction rose from its coma and spread terror throughout the ranks of fans who like watching good defensive hockey AND offensive creativity.
But, contrary to popular opinion (and contrary to reason), they don't just cancel the playoffs after the Wings are eliminated. Besides, there's a tentative chance that the bloodbath may have subsided and we'll get to see some good hockey going forward. I mean, there's also a chance the sun will implode next week, but that's not important right now. Join us as we take a look at the 2nd round matchups.
THE EASTERN CONFERENCE
(1) New York Rangers vs. (7) Washington Capitals
Game 1: Saturday, April 28th 3:00pm EST on NBC
How They Got Here: Both teams are coming off a seven-game series in the first round. New York won a tightly-contested 2-1 victory over the eight-seed Ottawa Senators on Thursday while the Capitals took the two-seed Bruins to Game Seven overtime on Wednesday before escaping TD Garden with the game-winner.
The Matchup: If you would have told the experts in preseason that these two teams would meet in the 2nd round, a majority of them would have guessed the seedings would have been reversed. Both teams are kind of middle-of-the-pack offensively with some great top-end talent, but pride themselves on a defensively responsible system and on getting good goaltending (especially with the first round that Washington's Braden Holtby had). The Rangers are going to look for more out of Maran Gaborik than the three points he put up last round while Washington looks to use the tools they have to score goals like their roster indicates they should.
Key to the Series: Line matchups are going to play a big role in this one. The teams aren't too dissimilarly built.
What I Want to Happen: I'm not really pulling one way or another here. Looking at the rosters, there's about as much to like/hate on one team as on another. I hope whichever team wins this one does it in short order because I have a feeling I'll be pulling for the Eastern Conference champ in the finals this year.
What I Think Will Happen: The Rangers have the defensive tools to shut down the Capitals' weapons just a bit more than the Caps have the tools to shut down the Rangers. Rangers in 7. Goal differential for the series is 4 or less.
Game 1: Sunday, April 29th 3:00pm EST on NBC
How They Got Here: New Jersey won a double-overtime game seven thriller in Florida on Thursday night to finish off the pesky Panthers. The Flyers jumped out to a 3-0 series lead over the four-seed Penguins, dropped the next two, then finished off their cross-state rivals last Sunday.
The Matchup: These two division rivals are plenty familiar with one another after playing six games head-to-head during the season. Both teams won three games, but Philly had the aggregate goal lead 18-15. The Flyers boasted the 2nd-best offense in the league during the regular season while the Devils were 15th. Defensively, New Jersey was better thanks in no small part to having the best PK numbers of anybody. That should come in handy against a Philly squad that had the most power play opportunities. The Devils can't punch with the Flyers offensively, so look for them to try to slow down the Philly attack.
Key to the Series: Goaltending will decide this one. Both goalies are capable of either stealing games or handing them away. Whichever guy screws up less is going to give his team a great chance.
What I Want to Happen: Maybe Shea Weber slammed my head into a piece of plexiglass and maybe it was being made to look like the good guys against the Penguins, but I actually like a lot about this Philadelphia squad. I also want the Devils to lose for selfish reasons.
What I Think Will Happen: Philadelphia has too many weapons. New Jersey struggled with the Panthers and will now go up against a team that's like them except better in just about every way. New Jersey makes a series of it, but Flyers win in 6.
THE WESTERN CONFERENCE
(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings
Game 1: Saturday, April 28th 7:30pm EST on NBCSN
How They Got Here: St. Louis knocked off the preseason contender San Jose Sharks in five fairly dominant games (after dropping the first). Los Angeles did everybody a favor by jumping all over the Vancouver Canucks in five games, giving Maple Leafs fans something to talk about all summer with Roberto Luongo trade speculation.
The Matchup: Both teams are built from the back end forward and both have a solid mix of role-playing forwards, two-way dynamos, and offensive weapons. This series is a battle of the #1 and #2 overall defensive teams in the league this season. This should excite anybody looking at the fact that they were also #21 and #29 offensively. Los Angeles won three of the four regular season matchups against the Blues (including one shootout) with those four games featuring 10 actual goals. A 3-2 game would be considered blowing the doors off in this one. Size, speed and grit have a home throughout both rosters.
Key to the Series: Can the fans stay awake long enough to stand a seventeen-overtime game?
What I Want to Happen: I want the Blues to lose so badly that the NHL steps in and decides that the franchise should be folded.
What I Think Will Happen: The Blues probably played the best first-round series of any team. While the Kings do match up fairly well, I don't see them keeping it together consistently throughout the series. Blues win in 7, the NHL's Doomsday clock strikes 11:45 as the biggest remaining market in the West is silenced.
(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (4) Nashville Predators
Game 1: Friday, April 27th 9:00pm EST on NBCSN
How They Got Here: The Predators waited for their first-round opponent to beat themselves and then stepped over the ashes. Phoenix overcame the loss of Raffi Torres to put the screws to the Hawks in a series that saw 5 of 6 games go to OT.
The Matchup: Nashville is the more offensively gifted team while Phoenix actually has the better defense. Both teams got some incredible goaltending in the first round. Nashville's goalie is widely considered the better of the two and therefore the more likely to keep up the numbers. Despite Phoenix having the better defense, Nashville probably has the better blueline corps. Phoenix really lacks the kind of guy on their back end who is willing to pay $2,500 for the privilege of getting to smash a guy's face into the glass. Nashville's forwards could find solutions for Mike Smith in a hurry, but Phoenix's size and speed could create havoc for the Predators. What happens when two teams counterattack one another for an entire game?
Key to the Series: Will Hal Gill allow a single person to cross his own blue line unobstructed?
What I Want to Happen: I want both of these teams' fans to stop whining about how they don't get any respect. One of you is about to in a big way after finally making a conference finals appearance. Until then, shut up about it. Also, go Coyotes.
What I Think Will Happen: Unless Mike Smith comes out of this round as the clear-cut Conn Smythe favorite, I don't think Phoenix can hang with Nashville. Predators win in 6 and the whole world tastes bleak for a month because of what I've just predicted the Western Conference Finals to look like.
So there you have it, my predictions. I'll warn you that my first-round predictions looked just about as ugly as everybody else's and nothing in hockey makes sense right now. What do you think will happen?