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NHL Playoff Observations and Analysis Round 2

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SHARKS KINGS
AP

While the games themselves have remained exciting, Round 2 has not been quite as closely contested as the opening round of the playoffs had been. There was only one sweep out of eight series in the Conference Quarterfinals while there has already been one sweep in the second round and two other teams hold 3-0 leads.

Fans have been treated to a steady diet of overtime hockey this year. With games scheduled every night, there has been only one day between April 19 and May 4 that did not include at least one contest that went to overtime.

Here are some insights and observations from each of the four second round playoff series:

Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay vs. Washington
The Capitals season again came to a premature end despite their change to a more defensive oriented system this year. Despite another early playoff exit and a disappointing sweep at the hands of division rival Tampa Bay, GM George McPhee has indicated that Bruce Boudreau should return behind the bench next season. "I expect him to be back. He's a good coach," McPhee said the day after his club was eliminated. "Someone said he's not a 'playoff coach.' There's no difference between a 'playoff coach' and a 'regular-season coach.' You're either a good coach or you're not. He's a good coach."

The Caps missed injured defenseman Mike Green against Tampa Bay but a bigger problem was the failure of some of stars like Niklas Backstrom (0 playoff goals) and Alexander Semin (1 goal vs. the Lightning) to produce offense when it counted.

The Capitals also failed to adjust to the Lightning's 1-3-1 trap during the series. A different breakout system from their own zone would have been helpful but Washington never seemed to make the necessary changes.

Defensively, the Caps could not stop the Lightning from crashing the net. While Michal Neuvirth played OK, he just didn't get enough support from his defense. Two or three Lightning players seemed to be in Neuvirth's face to screen him, give him a snow shower or try to pick up rebounds. It was effective and the result was a series sweep.

The Lightning got key contributions from a pair of ex-Islanders in the second round. Goalie Dwayne Roloson was stellar and gave the young players in front of him confidence that he could make up for their mistakes more often than not. Roloson also has extensive playoff experience and never seems to get rattled. He is 6-0 when his team is facing elimination over the course of his career.

The more surprising ex-Islander making a major contribution to the Bolts playoff run is winger Sean Bergenheim. He is tied for the league playoff lead with seven goals after scoring just 14 in 80 regular season games. Bergenheim has good speed and can hit. While with the Islanders, he was often uncertain of his role and often took foolish and ill-timed penalties. Now, he is playing smart and determined hockey and has come up big in the clutch for Tampa Bay.

Finally, Vincent Lecavalier has lifted his game in the postseason as well. The veteran has 12 points in 11 games with five of them coming on the potent Lightning power play. Three of his tallies have been game winners which ties him with Boston's David Krejci for the league lead.

Boston vs. Philadelphia

Everyone is talking about the Flyers goaltending woes and it certainly is an issue. In six of their 10 postseason games, Philadelphia used more than one goalie which is hardly a recipe for success. The bottom line is that none of the three goalies who have played for the Flyers this year have inspired much confidence, but the team's problems in the Boston series go beyond who is going to guard their net.

They really miss Chris Pronger on defense. Pronger has played in only three games in the playoffs and has been just a shell of his former self due to injuries. When healthy, Pronger plays at least half a game for the Flyers and that makes all of his fellow defensemen more effective because they play fewer minutes and aren't asked to do as much when they are on the ice. His size and toughness give the Flyers confidence, especially in their own zone. Without him, the Flyers just seem to be lacking something.

Pronger's absence aside, there have been too many times when it looks as if the Flyers are just standing still in their own zone. Their forwards don't seem to be making a consistent effort to help out on defense and as a team, the Flyers often seem a step slow and out of position in their own zone. This is not typical Flyers hockey.

It's been good news/bad news from defenseman Matt Carle. He leads all Philadelphia players with 29 blocked shots but he is also a minus-eight in 10 games.

Even if the Flyers win a few games and make a series of it, GM Paul Holmgren has to address his club's goaltending in the offseason. Trying to find a goalie on the cheap just won't cut it anymore.

It's amazing that it took the Bruins until their 10th playoff game to score their first power play goal of the postseason. If the B's power play ever got going, look out. Patrice Bergeron has had the hot hand as a set up man while Nathan Horton has reacted well to playoff pressure in his first year of Stanley Cup action with five goals, eight points and a pair of overtime game winners.

On defense, Zdeno Chara is tied for the team lead with a plus-nine rating and eats up minutes while Dennis Seidenberg has been sacrificing his body with 31 blocked shots in 10 playoff games.

But the best performance from Boston remains goalie Tim Thomas who has an impressive .935 save percentage and comes up with key saves at big moments. The 37-year-old veteran is taking full advantage of this opportunity and has continued his strong play from the regular season.

The remaining barrier right now for the Bruins is psychological. They are up 3-0 on the Flyers, just as they were a year ago before they collapsed and became just the third team in NHL history to lose a playoff series after capturing the first three games. Finishing off the Flyers quickly would go a long way towards putting those ghosts to rest.

Western Conference

Nashville vs. Vancouver

Roberto Luongo seems to have found his game for the Canucks after a shaky opening series against Chicago, but before we get too carried away, remember that the Predators don't have as many elite offensive weapons as the Blackhawks did. That is not to take anything away from Luongo's strong performance in this series which has been a key to Vancouver's 3-1 lead.

The amazing thing is that until Game 4 of this series, the Sedin twins have been relatively quiet yet the Canucks are finding ways to win anyway. Ryan Kesler continues to shine with 11 points in 11 games including a pair of game winners.

What is often overlooked with Vancouver is their very deep defense. Christian Erhoff, Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo (when healthy) and Dan Hamhuis give the Canucks a strong presence in their own zone. While none of them may get the attention of a Lidstrom or a Pronger, they are steady, smart in their own end and make good outlet passes to transition the team from defense to offense.

The Predators are still giving an all-out effort but the talent gap between them and the Canucks is large. Nashville's team defense has been good. In fact, Game 4 was the first time either of these teams scored more than three goals in a game against the other in eight meetings during the regular season and playoffs and the fourth goal came with an empty net.

Goalie Pekka Rinne really has been the Preds best player. He has kept his team in every game in a series against the team with the best record in the league despite the fact that his club has scored only six goals in the first four games of the series. The problem is that Rinne really has very little margin for error.

The Preds really need to get some offense from Sergei Kostitsyn. He led the team in goals during the regular season with 23 but has yet to find the back of the net in 10 playoff games. Meanwhile, Joel Ward continues to shine for Nashville with five goals and a team leading nine points. Ward had only 10 goals in the regular season, but has been using his size and good hockey sense to find open areas and score goals in the playoffs.

Detroit vs. San Jose

The Sharks are up 3-0 in this series but every game has been close. Between last year and this season, San Jose has now won seven of their last eight playoff games against Detroit and all seven victories have come by just one goal.

Goalie Antti Niemi has really picked up his play in the second round after looking shaky at times against the Kings. Against Detroit, Niemi has made some incredible saves including a key one in the final seconds of regulation in Game 3 that gave his team a chance to win in overtime.

Sharks captain Joe Thornton has also looked like a different player out there in this year's playoffs. It's not just the fact that he's tied with Ryane Clowe for the team lead with nine points. Thornton has showed maturity and the ability to lift his game in the postseason, something he has been criticized for not doing throughout his career. Thornton's leadership qualities have been shining through and the fact that he has a pair of game winning goals certainly doesn't hurt.

While no one player on the Sharks has been on fire offensively this postseason, the Sharks are getting balanced scoring. In nine playoff games, 11 San Jose players have tallied five points or more.

The Red Wings just haven't looked as sharp offensively as they normally do come playoff time. Their passing has not been very crisp, especially in the attack zone.

Secondary scoring has been a big problem for Detroit in this series. The Wings have just gotten five points from players other than Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in this series. Todd Bertuzzi, Dan Cleary and Johan Franzen have all been shutout in all three games against the Sharks, something that has to change in a hurry if Detroit has any hope of getting back into the series.

One player you can't blame for the 3-0 deficit is goalie Jimmy Howard. His save percentage in the series is .934. Howard has been very good but Niemi has been just a little bit better.

The penalty kill also needs to be improved. Detroit has allowed at least one power play goal to the Sharks in all three games of the series and San Jose is 4-for-15 (26.7%) overall. In tight, one goal games, special teams make a big difference.

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