I feel bad for Washington Capitals fans. Their team could not reach the Eastern Conference Final for the sixth time in as many tries (0-6 in second round series) since Alex Ovechkin joined the team, despite three editions where the team had won the Presidents’ Trophy, awarded to the team with the most regular-season points. They were eliminated, yet again, by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With the teams now set for each conference’s final round, let’s preview each series. As usual, I will provide my own predictions for the East and West!
Ottawa Senators versus Pittsburgh Penguins
Previous round results
- Ottawa eliminated Boston in six games and the New York Rangers in six games.
- Pittsburgh eliminated Columbus in five games and Washington in seven games.
In the first two rounds of the postseason, the Senators held home-ice advantage and yet were established as underdogs by bookmakers. Both times I picked them to upset their rivals. This time they don’t have home-ice advantage, and I just can’t go with them again. It is interesting to note that all eight wins by Ottawa in the postseason have been by a one-goal margin (except the last game where they scored an empty-net goal).
I take my hat off to Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. He was the main reason I picked Washington as I felt Holtby was the much superior goalie between the two. Fleury was amazing against one of the best offenses in the NHL. He posted a .921 save percentage in the second round versus .887 for Holtby. He made some key saves throughout the series.
I was really impressed by the Penguins’ collective play in Game 7 against the Caps. I thought they protected their 2-0 lead extremely well. Several teams would have dumped the puck repeatedly while getting badly outshot in such circumstances. Not Pittsburgh. They kept playing their game and held the Capitals in check most of the time. Fleury did have to make some tougher saves, but he didn’t need to be spectacular either.
On paper, this is supposed to be the easiest series for the Penguins. They first beat the team with the fourth-most points in the regular season (Columbus Blue Jackets) before eliminating Washington which racked up the most points. They now face Ottawa, which recorded the 12th most points in the regular season.
The home team won all three games of the season series. Pittsburgh won 8-5 at home before dropping the two matchups played in Ottawa (4-1 and 2-1 in extra time). The Penguins showed a plus-48 goal differential this season in spite of a rash of injuries, while the Sens finished at minus-2. Experience is also on Pittsburgh’s side. Since the 2008 playoffs, Ottawa has only won one playoff series compared to 15 for the Pens (excluding this year). The last time the Senators made it that far was 2007 where they lost in the Stanley Cup Final against the Anaheim Ducks in five matches.
Each team has to be at least a little concerned about the health of one of their star players. Sidney Crosby suffered a concussion in Game 3 of the previous series but was back on the ice for Game 5. He has a history of concussions so Pens fans must be holding their breath each time he gets hit. On Ottawa’s side, Erik Karlsson is playing despite a fracture in his left heel. He still managed to record 13 points in 12 playoff games. He is truly showing how much of a leader he is.
As mentioned above, I can’t pick Ottawa for a third consecutive series: I’m taking Pittsburgh to win the series in six games.
Nashville Predators versus Anaheim Ducks
Previous round results
- Nashville eliminated Chicago in four games and St. Louis in six games.
- Anaheim eliminated Calgary in four games and Edmonton in seven games.
The Ducks were finally able to get rid of the young guns from Edmonton. It was an awesome series featuring an epic (and controversial) comeback in Game 5, where Anaheim erased a three-goal deficit with less than four minutes left in the third period to win 4-3 in overtime.
Meanwhile, after allowing just three goals in four games in the Chicago series, Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators held the Blues to just 11 goals in six games. Overall, that’s an average of 1.4 goals allowed per game in postseason play. Rinne’s .951 save percentage is astounding. The group of defencemen in front of him also deserves credit as they have been very solid thus far.
Anaheim goalie John Gibson was far from stellar in the second round against the Oilers. He posted a .895 save percentage and he did not look good on several goals.
These teams met three times this year. The Ducks won both home games (6-1 and 4-3 in extra time) but were shutout 5-0 at Bridgestone Arena. Among all teams that qualified for the playoffs, the Predators were the team that finished the regular season the lowest (16th). Don’t count them out though, as they have been playing at a very high level.
Nashville lost Kevin Fiala for the rest of the playoffs after he fractured his left femur when crashing into the boards. Ducks D-man Kevin Bieksa hasn’t played since the first game of the previous series; he may be back in time for Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.
I’m picking the Predators to beat the Ducks in six games. Gibson has looked pretty shaky of late, which is the complete opposite of Rinne who seems in total control.