There were no huge surprises in the second round of the playoffs with the possible exception of how quickly the Chicago Blackhawks disposed of the Minnesota Wild.
The Wild can match the Hawks in many aspects of the game except one…Patrick Kane.
Kane has been a force throughout the playoffs racking up 7 goals and 13 points in 10 games and the Wild had no answer. The player they acquired to provide high level scoring…Thomas Vanek…was once again a playoff no show managing only 4 assists and a -7 in 10 games.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher has a problem on his hands with Vanek under contract for 2 more seasons at $6.5 million.
To get to the next level that will almost certainly included going through the Blackhawks, he’s going to have to add a high level scorer…we’ll se hot that plays out in the offseason.
But…on to the Final 4.
It’ll be fascinating to watch how the Anaheim/Hawks series plays out since the Ducks are skilled, big, mean and built in a manner to get past the LA Kings.
The Hawks, who don’t have the beef in the lineup that they did in their last two playoff runs are built on skill, speed and a quick transition game that depends to a large degree on stretch passes to generate offense.
I would bet that Anaheim will deploy a strategy that has their big forwards, Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler, Maroon, Belesky, Etem and Thompson, pound the Hawks defense relentlessly to try and wear them down as the series progresses….the LA Kings style.
The Hawks will have to respond with quick recovery and transition to counter attacking, if the series goes to or near the limit, I think Anaheim will prevail.
To me, the most interesting story is not so much the matchup but how quickly and completely that Steve Yzerman rebuilt a team that is in the final four.
In 2011, Yzerman’s first season with the franchise, a team led by holdover franchise icons Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis and stop-gap veterans such as Dwayne Roloson and Sean Bergenheim reached Game 7 of the conference finals at Boston.
This time, the Lightning are tailor-made by Yzerman.
“Back in the 2011 playoffs, we were all relatively new and didn’t know what to expect from our team,” Yzerman said.
“It wasn’t as expected as it is here, where the expectations are a little higher,” Yzerman said in comparing 2011 to this year’s team. “So there is more of an expectation to win.”
Four years later, only two players — Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman — remain with the team.
Now, the roster is filled with draft picks such as Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov, undrafted free-agent acquisitions such as Tyler Johnson, J.T. Brown and Andrej Sustr, along with trade or free-agent acquisitions such as Ben Bishop, Valtteri Filppula, Anton Stralman, Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle and Jason Garrison.
I would also be remiss if I failed to mention that Yzerman also signed 6’7″ 220 Czech defenseman Andrej Sustr.
With Victor Hedman leading the way, Nesterov and Sustr already playing significant minutes, 28 year old Anton Stralman under contract for another 4 seasons at a reasonable $4.5M cap hit and 2 thirty year old veterans, Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn, to provide support, the Lightning D should be formidable for the foreseeable future.
And a forward group that includes Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson,Nikita Kucherov, Andrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin ain’t no chopped liver either.
Once a phenom like DeAngelo joins the group I think the Lightning will join the elite and stay there for a long time.
They’ll be up against a Rangers team whose window is slowly closing but I like the Bolts in 6 although the bookies don’t appear to agree with me:
Odds to win the 2015 Stanley Cup
New York Rangers 2/1
Chicago Blackhawks 11/5
Anaheim Ducks 12/5
Tampa Bay Lightning 19/4