The past week, the second round of the Western Conference semi-finals got underway, and gave us an idea of how this series will play out. The Kings haven’t taken their foot off the gas from the first round, and the Coyotes continue to impress.
(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings: Kings Lead 2-0
This series is going just how I thought it would, and it wasn’t that hard to figure out. Like I said last week, when you’ve got Kopitar, Brown, Richards, Williams, and Quick all playing well–you’ve got a very good chance of advancing.
In game one David Backes got the Blues out to a 1-0 lead, but the Kings would completely take the game away. Penner had one goal and a helper, Brown and Richards each picked up an assist, and Matt Greene had a short handed goal to propel the Kings to a 3-1 win. I’m a firm believer of if you give up a short handed goal in a game–you’re not winning that game.
In game two, the Kings never let St. Louis see the light. Just 31 seconds into the game Mike Richards drilled a loose puck home to give LA the lead. Later on in the period Anze Kopitar would score short-handed which sparked the Kings to score three goals in a five minute and 22 second time period. Kopitar had two of those goals.
It looks like I was wrong when I said the Kings have this series in six games. I should’ve said four or five the way Los Angeles is working the Blues. If a 2-0 hole isn’t bad enough for St. Louis, the Kings are getting more scoring outside their core group. Dustin Penner has caught fire in this series scoring one goal and collecting three assists in the two games played. Jonathan Quick playing out of his mind for LA isn’t helping the Blues either. For an example: http://nhl.cdn.neulion.net/u/videocenter/embed.swf
As far as the Blues are concerned, they need to wake up, and they need to wake up quick. Brian Elliot is doing all he can, but he’s not getting any help from his front line. The only offense they’re getting is from their Captain David Backes who has a goal and two assists so far.
The Blues better figure something out tonight as game three takes place tonight in the Staples Center. A Kings victory tonight, and the series is essentially over for St. Louis.
(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (4) Nashville Predators
The Coyotes weren’t kidding around when they beat the Blackhawks in the first round, and they aren’t joking now. The Coyotes ability to get out to a 2-0 series lead is pretty impressive considering they almost threw away game one.
Phoenix opened up the game scoring first on a Radim Vrbata snipe shot, but then would lose it later in the period to Brandon Yip. That’s how game one went. Phoenix would score, Nashville would respond, and wouldn’t let Phoenix run away with a one goal lead. With 4:42 left in regulation the Predators were able to tie the game forcing overtime, which is unfamiliar grounds for Nashville in the playoffs. For Phoenix, it was just another day in the office. Ray Whitney would score the game winner in the Coyotes sixth overtime game in, at the time, their seventh playoff game.
In game two the Predators just didn’t show up. I’m not trying to take away any credit from Phoenix, but Nashville’s heads were in a different place. The Coyotes were skating all over them, and got to every loose puck in front of the net. Three out of Phoenix’s five goals came from rebounds in front of the net. The Predators came close, and brought the game within one in the second period on a power play goal scored by Patric Honrnqvist. That one goal deficit would only last twenty seconds as Taylor Pyatt would slam a rebound home. Pekka Rinne could’ve done a better job absorbing some shots, but you can’t put all the blame on him. Nashville defenders were caught napping, and Coyote forwards were swarming the net all game long.
Last night, in game three, the Predators would have their backs against the wall. If being down 2-0 wasn’t bad enough, Nashville would be without top six forwards Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov for breaking unspecified team rules. That was a big blow for Nashville. Radulov leads the team in scoring with one goal and six points. Kostitsyn is another big offensive contributor with three goals and four points.
Nashville would still get the job done without two of their leading post-season scorers. David Legwand stayed hot scoring the games first goal, and Mike Fisher finally scored his first goal of the 2012 playoffs as well–both goals scored in the first period.
Another factor in game three was Coyote net minder, Mike Smith. Smith didn’t play like the goalie we saw in the first round and first two games of this series. On Legwand’s goal, Smith played the puck at the side of the net, and sent it around the boards behind the net. Smith, who is usually smart with the puck, was not cognizant of his surroundings. Smith wanted to send the puck around the net for Aucoin, but didn’t realize Aucoin was busy fighting off a charging Gabriel Bourque. Bourque took the errand pass from Smith, immediately centered it for Legwand who was all alone in the slot with a wide open net to shoot at. It was that kind of night for Phoenix. The Coyotes would outshoot the Pred’s 32-26, but Pekka Rinne wasn’t about to have another poor performance, and stood on his head.
I picked the Predators in five, but this is shaping up like it could go to seven games. Nashville is 3-1 at home in the playoffs so far, and Rinne has a 1.5 goals against average on home ice. I like the Predators to win tomorrow night, sending the series back to Phoenix tied up at two game a piece.