NHL playoffs: Conference semifinal series preview capsules
Apr. 30, 2015
A capsule look at the second round of the NHL playoffs (all times EDT):
NEW YORK RANGERS vs WASHINGTON CAPITALS
FIRST ROUND: Rangers beat Pittsburgh Penguins in 5. Capitals beat New York Islanders in 7.
SEASON SERIES: Rangers won 3-1.
STORY LINE: This is a familiar spring matchup, the fifth postseason meeting between these teams in the last seven years. The Capitals have not reached the conference finals since 1998, the year of their only Stanley Cup finals appearance, and they have the momentum of a grueling seven-game victory over the Islanders on their side. They have the NHL's most productive power play from the regular season, too, and the great Alex Ovechkin, of course. His two goals were part of a balanced performance against the Islanders in the first round. The Capitals have been eliminated in seven games by the Rangers in each of their last two appearances. The Rangers quickly disposed of a struggling Penguins team in the first round, moving one step closer to their first championship in 21 years.
NEW YORK'S KEY PLAYER: Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. His neck injury kept him out for most of the stretch run during the regular season, but Lundqvist was at his best in the first round, giving up one goal in four of the five games. He'll be tested by one of the league's highest-scoring teams.
WASHINGTON'S KEY PLAYER: Joel Ward. Coach Barry Trotz reunited Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom for the playoffs, putting the 34-year-old Ward on the right wing with the decorated duo. Ward's ability to scrap in the front of the net can create space for the others, and he has a decent scoring touch, too, with a total of 43 goals over the last two seasons.
GAME 1: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
PREDICTION: Rangers in 5.
MONTREAL CANADIENS vs TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
FIRST ROUND: Canadiens beat Ottawa Senators in 6. Lightning beat Detroit Red Wings in 7.
SEASON SERIES: Lightning won 5-0, with one win in overtime.
STORY LINE: The Canadiens would've liked to avoid this matchup, having lost all five games against the Lightning this season by a combined score of 21-8. The Lightning haven't forgotten their first-round sweep by the Canadiens last year, either. Ben Bishop, who missed that series last spring with a torn ligament in his right wrist, was in the net for all five games against Montreal this season. He beat Carey Price, a Hart Trophy finalist for the NHL's most valuable player award, each time. Bishop and Price were two of the five netminders who posted goals against averages under 1.95 in the first round. The Lightning were a first-year expansion team in 1992-93, the last time the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. Tampa Bay has won a title more recently, actually, in the 2003-04 season.
MONTREAL'S KEY PLAYER: Max Pacioretty. After tying for fifth in the league with 37 goals during the regular season, Pacioretty scored twice in five games after missing the series opener against the Senators with an upper body injury.
TAMPA BAY'S KEY PLAYER: Steven Stamkos. The NHL's regular season runner-up in goals with 43 was limited to three assists in the seven games against the Red Wings, while Tyler Johnson contributed the bulk of the scoring with six goals.
GAME 1: Friday, 7 p.m.
PREDICTION: Lightning in 6.
ANAHEIM DUCKS vs CALGARY FLAMES
FIRST ROUND: Ducks beat Winnipeg Jets in 4. Flames beat Vancouver Canucks in 6.
SEASON SERIES: Ducks won 3-1-1.
STORY LINE: The Ducks entered the second round with the most rest of any team, a seven-day break courtesy of the sweep they completed in Winnipeg's raucous arena with a decisive 5-2 win. They became the first team in NHL history to win three straight playoff games when trailing after two periods. They'll also have the most significant home-ice advantage of all the higher seeds in this round: The Flames have not won in Anaheim since Game 3 of their first-round playoff series on April 25, 2006. They've got a 20-game regular-season losing streak going at the Honda Center since Jan. 19, 2004, including 15 defeats in regulation. The Flames, in the playoffs for the first time since 2009, are fresh from their first postseason series victory in 10 years after vanquishing Vancouver.
ANAHEIM'S KEY PLAYER: Frederik Andersen. The young Dane's emergence made Jonas Hiller, who moved on to Calgary after five seasons with Anaheim, expendable. He started all four games against the Jets, posting a .924 save percentage.
CALGARY'S KEY PLAYER: Jiri Hudler. The veteran center, who had a career-high 31 goals during the regular season, scored three times in six games against the Canucks. He'll have to keep up the production, as well as contribute defensively, to help limit the edge the Ducks have in size.
GAME 1: Thursday, 10 p.m.
PREDICTION: Ducks in 6.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS vs MINNESOTA WILD
FIRST ROUND: Blackhawks beat Nashville Predators in 6. Wild beat St. Louis Blues in 6.
SEASON SERIES: Blackhawks won 3-2.
STORY LINE: In 2013, the Wild were overmatched by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks in a five-game, first-round series. The second-round matchup last season was more balanced, with the Blackhawks winning 2-1 in Games 5 and 6 to advance despite being outshot by the Wild 163-138 during the series. Both Wild victories against Chicago this year came after the Jan. 14 acquisition of goalie Devan Dubnyk, the point from which they've had the NHL's best record. The Blackhawks, though, still boast two of the league's most talented forwards in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, who combined for 15 points in six games against the Predators. Kane, who has bounced back from a broken collarbone, clinched the series in Minnesota last year with his overtime backhander. Corey Crawford is back in the net after getting pulled from Game 1 against Nashville for Scott Darling.
CHICAGO'S KEY PLAYER: Bryan Bickell. The powerful complement to this team's exceptional speed, Bickell will likely skate with Kane, trying to take advantage of the distraction his linemate can cause by finding more space for his 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame. Bickell scored seven goals in 11 playoff games against the Wild the last two years.
MINNESOTA'S KEY PLAYER: Thomas Vanek. Grouped with blossoming young center Charlie Coyle and fleet-footed Jason Zucker on the other wing, Vanek can be a productive, creative presence on the third line to help match the scoring threats the Blackhawks have throughout their lineup. Vanek's debut with the Wild was up and down, and he hasn't scored in a month, but he was tied for third on the Wild with 21 goals this season.
GAME 1: Friday, 9:30 p.m.
PREDICTION: Wild in 7.