Only a Game 7 between the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals
stands between the NHL and its final four. With the Bruins, Penguins, Canucks and Blues out, a mostly unlikely group of teams remains. Who's got big mo' going into conference finals?
Five of the eight Western Conference playoff teams topped
the 100-point mark in the regular season, but all have been ushered out of the
playoffs. In the East, the story has been similar as the two favorites – the
Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers – combined to win just seven games
and are now making golf plans.
So, who’s got the momentum heading into the Conference
Finals? Here’s a look at two players and two teams that are coming in with a
head of steam.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils needed double-overtime to survive
the Florida Panthers, and it looked like they had no momentum going into their
second-round matchup with the high-flying Philadelphia Flyers. But that was
before any of us realized that Philadelphia was planning to mail in the series. As a matter of fact, I picked the Flyers to win that series.
Now the Devils have won five of their last six games
overall and get to watch as the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals wear
each other out over seven games. And the Devils might be considered the team to
beat in the Eastern Conference now regardless of who wins on the series.
On one hand, the Rangers will have gone to seven games
with the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators and the seventh-seeded Washington Capitals, so
the sixth-seeded Devils will be a real handful. On the other hand, the Devils
could get home-ice advantage against the Washington Capitals and they went 3-1
against them in the regular season.
In any case, the Devils have gone from barely surviving
to being a team that has as good a shot as anyone at winning the Stanley Cup.
So you thought that it might be end of the line for
Martin Brodeur’s glorious career when he was pulled 22 minutes into Game 3 of
his first-round series with Florida? Think again.
The Hall-Of-Fame goaltender has bounced-back in a big
way, giving up just 17 goals in the nine games since. The Philadelphia Flyers
scored a whopping 30 goals in the first round, but Brodeur allowed only 11 to
them in the second round.
The scary news is that he appears to be getting stronger
as the playoffs progress, and so is his blueline in front of him. He’s the only
goaltender remaining that’s won a Stanley Cup before and that experience could
be very valuable.
Los Angeles Kings
This is an obvious one.
The Kings have won eight of their nine playoff games and
what’s scary is their opponents haven’t been close. At no point this postseason
have the Kings been threatened in any series and they’ve barely had to face any
adversity. Their best players are being their best as goaltender Jonathan Quick
has been outstanding while captain Dustin Brown is right there with him vying
for the Conn Smythe trophy honors.
And remember that lackadaisical offense that hampered
them in the regular season? The Kings are averaging 3.00 goals per game in the
postseason. Maybe even more impressive is the fact that they’ve done it without
the help of their power play.
Good luck beating them when that’s the case.
Interesting note: the Flyers have eight more years of
Ilya Bryzgalov but they could have instead signed Mike Smith last summer on a
one-year contract and probably been better off, but I digress.
Contrary to popular belief, Smith hasn’t singlehandedly
carried the Coyotes into the conference finals – the entire team has played
phenomenal – but his stellar performance has clearly led the way. Right now,
he’s just on another level.
He’s allowed just one goal in his last 168 minutes of
hockey, which is just outstanding. Overall, he’s allowed 23 goals in his last
16 games, which is nearly unheard of.
The Coyotes are a young team that hasn’t been this far in
the postseason before, but Smith is performing like the second coming of Patrick
Roy. He’s fueling the team’s confidence and making them believe they can win
each and every night.
showdown with Vezina Trophy candidate Pekka Rinne in the Western Conference
was quite lopsided and now he’s set for a similar clash with Kings
standout Jonathan Quick.