Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Quarter-Finals Preview

The past few years, I've cobbled together posts previewing each match of each round of the Stanley Cup. Said posts have been everything from non-existent to late, to inconsistently published, and they may have been, on occasion, devoid of much accuracy in the way of series predictions. This year is no different, save for the fact that I'm going to say very little about each series, and instead offer links to what the more-professional sports writers are saying. That said, let's get right down to it.

The Eastern Conference, tonight

As Alan Burchardt mentioned in this morning's The Kansas City Star, "(o)nly four points separated the top five teams" in the East, and there are a couple of rivlaries that should be can't-misses.

The four-seed Pittsburgh Penguins, led by none other than Sidney Crosby (66 points, and notable missed time), defenseman Kris Letang (42 assists), and netminder Marc-Andre Fleury (2.32 goals-against average, .918 save percentage), and Head Coach Dan Bylsma, finished with 106 points in the regular-season standings.

They draw the five-seed Tampa Bay Lightning, who, coached by Guy Boucher, called the regular season a done deal with an impressive 103 points. Tampa Bay got a monster season out of Martin St. Louis who fell one point shy of the century mark (31 goals, 68 assists), defenseman Brett Clark (31 points), and goaltender Dwayne Roloson (2.59 GAA, .918 save percentage). The two clubs met four times this season, splitting the series at two wins a piece. Puck drops at 6 p.m. Central on this first-ever post-season meeting.

The pick: Tampa Bay in six

Also tonight are the one-seed Washington Capitals, who take on the New York Rangers. Caps Head Coach Bruce Boudrou led his boys to an Eastern Conference best 107 regular-season points, and saw significant production from Alexander Ovechkin (85 points), defenseman Dennis Wideman (10 goals, 30 assists), and goalie Michal Neuvirth (2.45 GAA, .914 save percentage). Washington has the historical edge over New York, and in fact, knocked out New York last year.

Rangers bench boss John Tortorella saw his squad generate spread-out production throughout the campaign, one that finished with Brandon Dubinsky atop the scoring with 54 points. Defenseman Dan Girardi was not far behind with 31, and Henrik Lundqvist was solid between the pipes, posting a 2.28 GAA, and a .923 save percentage. New York squeaked into the eight spot with two more points (93) than the Carolina Hurricanes. Action gets underway at 6:30 p.m. Central.

The pick: Washington in five

The Western Conference, tonight

Out west, where Burchardt reminds us that "two points separated the fourth- and eighth-place teams," we first get action from the (Editor's Note: Cue the boo machines) third-seed Detroit Redwings, who face the Phoenix Coyotes. Mike Babcock's Detroit squad again enters the post-season with the oldest team in the tournament, led by Henrik Zetterberg's 80 points (although he may miss significant time this series), and defenseman (Nicklas Lidstrom (16 goals, 46 assists). Jimmy Howard is your man in the crease at Joe Louis Arena. He compiled a 2.79 GAA with a .908 save percentage this season. Detroit managed 104 points during regular-season play.

Phoenix, on the other hand, comes in with 99 points, and are led by Head Coach Dave Tippett, who rallied his troops around leaders Shane Doan (20 goals, 40 assists), defenseman Keith Yandle (59 points), and Ilya Bryzgalov (2.48 GAA, .921 save percentage) assuming duties behind the mask. Detroit managed to knock of the Coyotes (Note: Pronounced "Kai-OH-tees," not "KAI-oats") last post-season, and holds a 3-0 post-season series edge over Phoenix, however, Tippett's club went 2-0-2 against Babcock's this year, so anything goes. Faceoff's at 6 p.m. Central.

The pick: Phoenix in seven

Three hours later, it's the one-seed Vancouver Canucks taking on the defending-champion Chicago Blackhawks. Jonathan Toews had another impressive campaing, totaling 76 points, and Brent Seabrook shored up the D with nine goals, 39 assists. In net for the 'Hawks is youngster Corey Crawford, who posted a 2.30 GAA, .917 save percentage. Head Coach Joel Quenneville saw his team handle Vancouver in each of the last two post-seasons, but the Canucks took the season series, 2-1-1.

For the first time in franchise history, Vancouver took home the NHL's President's Trophy. Head Coach Alain Vigneault saw, as usual, massive production from the Sedin twins (combined 198 points), and Christian Ehrhoff generated 50 points from the point as well. Roberto Luongo is most certainly the x-factor in this series. His regular-season looked something like a 2.11 GAA, and a .928 save percentage. The Canucks' trophy came via 117 points, 20 more than Chicago. They'll get after it around 9 p.m. Central.

The pick: Vancouver in five

Our third matchup of the evening involves the four-seed Anaheim Ducks and the five-seed Nashville Predators. Head Coach Randy Carlyle draws up the Xs and Os for team Anaheim, and his system appears to be one that fits Corey Perry (50 goals, 48 assists) well. Defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky had a monster season from the blue line, amassing 68 points of his own. In net for the Ducks is likely to be Jonas Hiller, although he platooned the campaign with Dan Ellis.

Barry Trotz is the man with clipboard in Tennessee, and he watched wingers Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn lead the offensive charge this year with 50 points a piece. Defenseman Shea Weber was right behind them with 48 of his own, while Pekka Rinne posted a solid 2.12 GAA, .930 save percentage stopping pucks. Both squads generated 99 points in the regular season, however Nashville took the season series, three games to one. This will be their first playoff meeting with the Ducks, and the tilt gets going half-an-hour after Vancouver/Chicago.

The pick: Anaheim in seven

Courtesy of the NHL's Twitter page:

* History will be made.

From Dave Lozo's Twitter page:

* Sixteen things you should know about this year's playoffs.

And from Sarah Spain's Twitter page:

* What to watch for in this year's playoffs.

That's it for now. Check back tomorrow for the skinny on Thursday action.