Murph was .500 (4-4) with his picks in the opening round of the NHL playoffs. Here’s his take on the second round:
Beasts in the East:
(1) New York Rangers vs. (7) Washington Capitals
Murph’s Pick – Rangers in 7
Why?– The Rangers survived their ‘wake-up’ call against the plucky Ottawa Senators. Henrik Lundqvist (.945 SV %, 1.70 GAA) made timely saves to keep his club in game six in Canada, and the Rangers showed character under adversity to come back after being down 3-2 in that series. Probably the best news for the Broadway Blueshirts was that in Game Seven their D-men stood tall and got engaged in the offence (Staal, Girardi). For Washington, they did what no one predicted or wagered. They knocked off the defending Stanley Cup champions in a thrilling seven game war of attrition. Their grinding series against Boston was the first playoff series in NHL history when all seven games were decided by just one goal. Braden Holtby (.940 SV %, 2.00 GAA) was outstanding between the pipes, and really got inside the Bruins’ heads. That being said – that kind of series (four overtime games) can really wear a team out. I think the Caps reached their peak in Boston Wednesday night – and the Rangers now know what it takes to survive a scare. When the dust settles in this one, New York will have too much on both sides of the puck, and Lundqvist will be better than Holtby.
(5) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils
Murph’s Pick – Flyers in 6
Why?– What can anyone say about what the Flyers did in the first round. The incredible offensive explosions, the coming out party for Claude Giroux (6G, 8A, 14PTS) as the leader in Philly, and of course the domination over Crosby and Malkin. This was all headline grabbing stuff. What’s forgotten about the series is the fact that it was incredibly physical, with a huge emotional toll. But the Flyers have had plenty of rest this week after dispatching the Penguins in six games last Sunday. I expect they will have no hangover from the ups and downs of that huge series. The Devils of course knocked out the number three seeded Florida Panthers in a seven game thriller. They needed double overtime in the decider – and rookie Adam Henrique was the hero, with the biggest goal of his hockey life in the second extra frame. Martin Brodeur (.922 SV %, 2.06 GAA) is the emotional figure-head for this Jersey squad, and Marty looked good at times versus the Panthers. He also looked average on a few nights in the opening round – something he cannot afford against the seemingly unstoppable Flyers. The big factor here is that Philly knows they can play any style of hockey and come out on top. They are simply too deep and too polished. The Devils will play them tough, and there is no love lost here, but the Flyers will come out on top in this one.
(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings
Murph’s Pick – Blues in 7
Why?– The Blues looked beyond impressive in the opening round. They stifled Joe Thornton and the Sharks with relative ease. San Jose were never really a threat in the series, and Brian Elliott (.949 SV %, 1.37 GAA) was again brilliant for the Blues. Andy McDonald (4G, 4A) emerged as a scoring threat for St. Louis, and Alex Pietrangelo’s stock continues to rise on the blue-line. The Blues power-play was lively in the opening round (33.3 %, 6-18), and if that continues then this team will be very tough. The Kings were also dominant in the first round. Jonathan Quick (.953 SV %, 1.59 GAA) was the driving force in the demolition of #1 seed Vancouver. Captain Dustin Brown also stepped up big-time, he had four goals (two short-handed), and looked dangerous on every shift against the Canucks. This will be a surprisingly tight series. Both teams can play up-tempo hockey – and this could be the gem of the second round. At the end of the day though, I think the Blues have a better system, and are probably ahead in the coaching realm. Ken Hitchcock has really done a fantastic job behind the Blues bench, and I think they are destined for the Western Conference Final.
(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (4) Nashville Predators
Murph’s Pick – Predators in 6
Why?– The Coyotes have done well to get past the Chicago Blackhawks. It was the franchise’s first playoff series victory since 1987 when they were the old Winnipeg Jets. Mike Smith (.950 SV %, 1.81 GAA) has been rock-solid in the Phoenix goal, and Mikkel Boedker supplied the overtime heroics in back-to-back wins over the Blackhawks. On the other side of the rink stands the Predators. Some might say that they were out-played, and out-shot in the opening round against Detroit. That may be in some part true, but goaltending wins big games, and Pekka Rinne (.944 SV %, 1.81 GAA) was on form. The biggest issue for Phoenix will be the Preds’ deep defence corps. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are two of the best shut-down guys in the business, and Kevin Klein (2G, 1A) emerged as another threat against the Wings. The Coyotes have great leadership in Shane Doan, and a fantastic coach in Dave Tippett, but I think they will run out of options and steam against the bigger, nastier Predators.
You can follow Murph on Twitter throughout the NHL playoffs @MurphOnIce