2012 NHL Playoff Preview: Conference Championship

Phoenix Coyotes (#3) vs. LA Kings (#8)

I guess it’s time that I give the Los Angeles Kings their due. They have now handily dispatched the best two teams in the Western Conference in a mere 9 games. Goaltender Jonathan Quick has been ridiculously good with a 1.55 GAA and 94.9% save percentage. Against the Canucks they were winning close games, against St. Louis they were just plain winning averaging an extra goal per game. Apart from Dustin Brown no one has been dominating the Kings games but they have had a nice balanced attack spreading the goal scoring wealth among all 4 lines. It’s a good time to be a sports fan in LA as they have two basketball teams in the playoffs, a hot start from the Dodgers and the Kings looking like the favorite to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. The Kings certainly are following the formula of recent success in the NHL Playoffs. A low seed who guts their way through “superior” competition riding the hot hand of it’s goalie. On the other side of the ice we find a kind of Cinderella story of it’s own right in the Phoenix Coyotes. Phoenix was a three seed going into the playoffs but their historical lack of playoff success and perceived over achievement kept them fr4om getting the respect that position normally garners. Being on the better side of three out of five overtime games against the Blackhawks hardened them to then take it to the next level against the Predators.

The Preds/Yotes series was extremely close but the suffocating defense of the Coyotes coupled with the stellar play of goaltender Mike Smith was enough to carry them forward to the Conference Finals for the first time since they were the Winnipeg Jets and fodder for Gretzky’s Oilers in the 80’s. Mike Smith would perhaps be giving perhaps the best performance by a goaltender in the playoff this year if it wasn’t for the absolute dominance of Jonathan Quick so it will be interesting to see which of these two steals this series. As good as Smith has been he has also been greatly aided by the incredible amount of shot blocking Phoenix has been employing throughout the playoffs. The Coyotes has been impressive in their willingness to sacrifice the body and have shown an overall toughness that the team has been lacking in previous playoff performances. It would be a great story for lifetime Coyote Shane Doan to finally make it to the Stanley Cup Finals. Any way you cut it this should be an incredibly intense and exciting series and we should expect a lot of close games. Despite Quick’s dominance I’m going to give Phoenix the edge in this series as they have been battle tested in close games winning six games by one goals and four of those in overtime.

Prediction: Coyotes in 6

NY Rangers (#1) vs. New Jersey Devils (#6)

The New York Rangers have not made it easy on themselves this postseason taking both of their series to 7 games and just haven’t had that dominating presence that they had in the regular season. You can’t blames Lundqvist who has been playing really well but finding the back of the net has not been easy and eleven of their fourteen games so far have been decided one way or the other by one goal. This probably shouldn’t come as a huge surprise as this was kind of their MO all season long however it always seemed like they could take it to the next level when they needed to which has been harder to accomplish this post season. The onus is on Marian Gaborik, who netted 41 goals in the regular season, to elevate his game against the Devils. He hasn’t been bad but he definitely hasn’t been putting the fear of God in opponents goaltenders either.

The New Jersey Devils have been one of the more feel good stories of the post season. After taking it to the limit against the plucky Panthers in seven games the Devils grounded the Flyers handily in five games. The Devils stars Kovalchuk, Parise and Zajac have started finding the back of the net and while 40-year-old Martin Broduer has not been his old dominant self he has been solid between the pipes. This Devils teams has been kind of an enigma over the last couple of seasons alternating between utter dominance and utter futility. So far this post season they have been pretty darned good but yo never know when the bottom if going to fall out with this team. It will be interesting to see how New Jersey fares against an elite goaltender like Henrik Lundqvist because so far they have faced pretty mediocre netminders in whomever plays for Florida and the headcase that is Ilya Bryzgalov. Overall I think the Rangers still have the edge in this series talent wise and unless year 2000 Martin Broduer walks through the door the Rangers should be able to gut it out against their across river rivals.

Prediction: Rangers in 6

Best case scenario for Gary Bettman and the NHL national interest speaking is that the Rangers and Kings advance adding a chapter to the East-Coast West-Coast rivalry so you know the more likely scenario is that we get the series that almost no one will care about Phoenix vs New Jersey….

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