2013 NHL Playoffs: Mid-Second Round Review

2013 NHL Playoffs
2013 NHL Playoffs
May 21 2013 New York NY USA Boston Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk 55 skates off the ice with teammates after scoring against the New York Rangers during the third period in game three of the second round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden Boston won 2 1 Debby Wong USA TODAY Sports

For whatever reason, it seems that the second round of the NHL Playoffs are always a bit of a let-down. It’s probably because fans are extremely excited for the playoffs to start and there are less games for out-of-your-seat moments to happen.

The 2013 NHL Playoff second round is no exception. The games of all the series have seen their share of elongated lulls in play at some point or other but that doesn’t mean they haven’t had their share of excitement. This is how they have played out so far.

Boston Bruins (4) vs. New York Rangers (6) – Boston up 3-0

My initial thought was whoever wins the special teams battle in this series would win the series. While the Bruins technically are – they are 1-5 on the power-play this series while the Rangers are a woeful 0-10 – that’s not what has been the difference.

You can’t blame Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist. He’s made over 100 saves so far this series and while his SV% isn’t great at .912%, he’s been left hung out to dry on many plays.

Corsi is a metric that measures puck possession as a rate of shot attempts at the opposition, less attempts at your net. So far in the first three games, Boston has out-attempted the Rangers in all three games by a total of +35. Game Three was the most egregious game so far, with Boston being a +21. I guess that’s what happens when your fourth liners are getting second line minutes; New York’s fourth line that game was a (-58) Corsi-On combined and that’s not a typo.

This series is pretty much over. I don’t say that a lot in hockey but the skill isn’t there for the Rangers and their biggest detriment is the person who controls ice time. We may be seeing our second sweep of the playoffs here.

Pittsburgh Penguins (1) vs. Ottawa Senators (7) – Pittsburgh up 2-1

I picked the wrong Eastern Conference series to say that special teams will probably be the difference. So far, that has been the difference in this particular series.

Game Three saw double overtime and both teams combined for nearly 100 total shots (the finally tally was 50-48 in Pittsburgh’s favor) with Ottawa tying the game with under 30 seconds left short-handed. In Game Two, you could say that Ottawa tried to be too fine; even though they out-attempted Pittsburgh by 17 at 5 on 5, they were out-shot in the end 42-22 and gave up six power-play opportunities. Game One, however, was a special teams train-wreck for the Senators. That game saw Pittsburgh tally two power-play goals on four opportunities and they even chipped in a short-handed goal.

It’s a pretty simple formula for Ottawa; they have given up 17 power-play opportunities to Pittsburgh through three games. Even though the Senators had the best penalty kill in the regular season, the Penguins had the second-best power-play and we all know the skill they possess. With Craig Anderson playing out of this world, Ottawa is ripe to shock the world. They just need to stay out of the box.

Chicago Blackhawks (1) vs. Detroit Red Wings (7) – Detroit leads 2-1

It might be a surprise to some but it really shouldn’t be. Detroit was a very good possession team in the regular season and goaltender Jimmy Howard is playing some of the best hockey I’ve ever seen him play. He’s already had to face 40 shots in two of the first three games and is starting to approach a .940 even-strength SV% mark for the playoffs.

Chicago has had the majority of 5 on 5 possession, leading the Corsi category at +27. Special teams hasn’t been too much of a factor so far with both teams combining to go 1-21 on the power-play, the lone goal going to Chicago. So what has the difference been? The goalies.

Earlier I said Howard is playing some of the best hockey I’ve seen him play, and Corey Crawford has turned back into the Corey Cr-awful that we remember from last year when he posted a .903 SV%. Playoff hockey is about small sample sizes and there is no time for a goalie to go into a mini-funk; Crawford has a .901 SV% so far this series, a far cry from the .926 he posted in the regular season. While I haven’t read any rumors of a goalie change, it’s worth noting back-up Ray Emery was slightly behind Crawford this year with a .922 SV% in 21 appearances that saw him finish with an amazing 17-1 record.

If Crawford doesn’t turn it around or get replaced, this could be another upset in the making. Great goaltending is the ultimate equalizer in any playoff series and only one of these teams is getting it right now.

Los Angeles Kings (5) vs. San Jose Sharks (6) – Series tied 2-2

In my second round preview, I noted that the two teams had combined for only six regulation losses at home this year and that trend has continued into the playoffs. San Jose and Los Angeles have combined to go 9-0 at home so far this postseason and it looks like we are in for the clichéd “war of attrition”.

Any way you look at this series, the teams are pretty evenly matched. If there is one edge that I see from an observational standpoint, it’s that team speed probably goes to Los Angeles. This is important because anyone that watched Game Four saw a Los Angeles team completely dominate their opponent in the third period. For the last several minutes – oddly enough, until the goalie was pulled – San Jose was hanging on by a thread and Los Angeles even had a goal called back because the referee was much too quick in blowing down a supposedly “covered” puck. This was all because Los Angeles applied relentless pressure, not giving any time and space to San Jose defensemen and wingers in their own end. In fact, Los Angeles out-shot San Jose 17-7 over the final two periods.

I wonder about match-ups sometime. Even though Game Three was in San Jose and that means the Sharks got last change, Drew Doughty managed to get out against Joe Thornton more than any other Sharks forward except Brent Burns. Thornton did manage an assist on the first goal but was a minus-Corsi player overall for the game. It worked out for San Jose for one game but if this trend can continue, it has to favor Los Angeles.

Any way you look at it, you’re really splitting hairs in this series. It may come down to an extra power-play, a bad match-up for even thirty seconds or some other minor mistake. I fully expect this one to go the distance.

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Michael Clifford
Michael Clifford was born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada and is a graduate of the Unviersity of New Brunswick. He writes about fantasy hockey and baseball for XNSports and FantasyTrade411.com. He can be reached on Twitter @SlimCliffy for any fantasy hockey questions. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');