At this point in the NHL playoffs, all series are worth watching. We’re down to the final 4 in each conference, and both conferences have the top seeds playing the fifth seed. Both matchups are interesting because of the varying styles of the 5 seeds.
On one hand, the Tampa Bay Lightning come into the series against Washington with a reputation as being offensively explosive, but lacking the defensive tenacity to win the east this year. That reputation has been earned from the start of the season, and the Lightning didn’t leave their offensive game in the regular season either. They scored 22 goals in 7 games on Marc Andre Fleury, who was very good at times, but ultimately didn’t do enough to get his thin squad a fourth win in the series. But the Lightning’s reputation should probably change after a Game 7 victory on the road by a score of 1-0. Sure, Pittsburgh didn’t have Crosby or Malkin, but they did fire 36 shots on Dwayne Roloson and had countless more attempts blocked, so it wasn’t for a lack of trying. It was simply that Tampa Bay played the kind of game that nobody thought they could play, and that could get a little disturbing for Washington, who probably hoped that they’d be playing the risk-taking, undisciplined division rival that they thought they knew.
Conversely, Nashville’s reputation is the polar opposite of Tampa Bay’s. Many people talk about the Predators’ defense and goaltending, and their trap style of play before ever mentioning a forward on the roster, and even that is usually to talk about Mike Fisher’s wife. But Smashville, as they are now calling themselves, has shown that they are not limited to having to win 1-0 or 2-1 games in the playoffs. In fact, the Preds scored 4 goals in each of their 4 wins. In their two losses they added 3 goals a piece. That’s a 3.33 goals per game number that actually outdid Tampa Bay’s total in round 1. Granted, the Predators were playing against one of the worse defenses in the playoffs, but numbers are numbers. Last night, the Preds lost a 1-0 opening game decision to Roberto Luongo and the Canucks. I don’t think that result really changes much about the series, except to put everyone on notice that Vancouver is ready to play, and that Nashville will provide a great opponent.
As for the 1 seeds, I feel they are in similar positions. Both Vancouver and Washington have huge expectations; probably anything shy of a Stanley Cup will be viewed by the supporters as a failure. But both teams, as they are set up now, have never even been to the conference finals. The Canucks won the west in 1994, and the Caps won the east in 1998, but those are such distant memories that they almost feel like different franchises. Both teams have even changed their jerseys and color scheme since then. So it is strange to see the de facto favorites in each conference be teams that have never even advanced past the round that we are currently in. But, despite the historical disappointments by both franchises, I still think they will both progress to the conference finals on the backs of their renewed two way play and star studded lineups at the top.
Washington over Tampa Bay in 6 — I know, good teams don’t get eliminated at home. But I like Tampa enough to give them two games, and I like Washington on the road enough to think they will win that clincher.
Vancouver over Nashville in 7 — I know, you shouldn’t make predictions after the series has already started. But I don’t think many people are actually taking Nashville to win the series, and I’m taking Vancouver in as many games as possible, so there.