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NHL playoff preview: Can Sens stop Pens?

Posted by Eric Fisher On May 11

The Penguins won the Stanley Cup last season, their second Cup in eight seasons, and are heavy favorites to return to the final again after dispatching the Capitals in seven games.

The Ducks won the Stanley Cup 10 years ago, defeating the Senators in the finals. The Senators need to upset the Penguins to create a rematch from 2007. The Ducks must get past the Predators to keep up their half of the bargain.

The Senators will attempt to slow down the high-scoring Penguins. Keeping the scores low is the Senators’ only chance to pull off the upset.

The Ducks may have more depth than the Predators, but the Predators, who are in the conference finals for the first time, have the playoffs’ best goalie in Pekka Rinne, and they may have the best defensive corps..

Let’s take a peek inside the crystal puck, analyze the two conference finals and try to predict which teams will advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.



How the Senators got here: They eliminated the Bruins in six games in the first round, and then eliminated the Rangers in six games in the second round.

How the Penguins got here: They defeated the Blue Jackets in five games in the first round, and then eliminated the Capitals in seven games in the second round.

Senators: The Senators rely on a lower-scoring style under head coach Guy Boucher. Ottawa gave up two more goals than they scored (212) this season, the only playoff team to allow goals than it scored. Seven of the Senators’ eight playoff wins have been by one goal, with five of those victories coming in overtime. The only two-goal victory came in the series-clinching Game 6 against the Rangers, and that margin was created by an empty-net goal.The Senators’ top player is defenseman Erik Karlsson (17 goals, 54 assists), might by the leading candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy at midpoint of the playoffs. Karlsson leads all remaining players the postseason in ice time and has 11 assists, second only to the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin. Because of the Senators’ style, few players usually have eye-popping statistics. Kyle Turris (27, 28), Mike Hoffman (26, 35) and Mark Stone (22, 32) were the only Senators with more than 17 goals during the regular season, but they’ve been relatively quiet during the postseason. Fortunately for the Senators, other players have stepped up. Derick Brassard had eight points (2, 6) against the Bruins. Bobby Ryan, who scored just 13 goals during the regular season, scored four during the Bruins series and added three assists. Against the Rangers, Jean-Gabrial Pageau scored six goals after only scoring 12 during the regular season. Goalie Craig Anderson (25-11-4, 2.28 goals-against average, .926 save percentage) must not allow bad goals or else the Senators may be forced to abandon their conservative style. Former Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf provides physical play and leadership on defense.

Penguins: Penguins are all over the offensive leaderboard for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Evgeni Malkin leads postseason participants in assists (13) and points (18). Sidney Crosby and rookie Jake Guentzel are tied for fourth with 14 points, one ahead of Phil Kessel. Guentzel leads all players in the postseason with nine goals. Crosby missed one game during the series against the Capitals due to a concussion, but played in the final three games. The Senators must watch the Penguins’ stars closely, but they can’t look past Conor Sheary (23, 30),  Justin Schultz (12, 39), Patric Hornqvist (21, 23) and third-line center Nick Bonino (18, 19). Bryan Rust continues to produce important playoff goals, scoring the first goal in the 2-0 triumph over the Capitals in Game 7. Without defenseman Kris Letang (herniated disc in neck) during the postseason, the Penguins are relying on solid team defense to compensate for his absence. The biggest surprise has been goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. An emergency start after goalie Matt Murray was injured during warmups before Game 1of the Blue Jackets’ series, Fleury has been terrific (.927 save percentage), which has not been his postseason reputation in recent years.

Analysis: The Penguins scored the most goals in the NHL this season, and have continued that trend by leading the NHL in postseason goals per game (3.42). The Senators can’t afford to play run-and-gun with the Penguins. All of those one-goal victories over the Bruins and Capitals will be more difficult to achieve against the high-scoring Penguins. The Rangers only had three power play goals during the postseason. It’s almost a guarantee the Penguins will score at least that many during this series. Karlsson gives it his best shot, but the defending-champion Penguins appear headed back to the Stanley Cup Finals. Penguins in 5



How the Predators got here: They swept the top-seeded Blackhawks, and then beat the Blue in six games.

How the Ducks got here: They swept the Flames, and then needed seven games to dispatch the Oilers.

Predators: Pekka Rinne (31-19-9, 2.42 goals-against average, .918 save percentage) was outstanding during the first-round sweep of the Blackhawks, allowing just three goals while registering an NHL-best .976 save percentage. His numbers dropped during the Blues series, bt he still leads the NHL, by far, in postseason goals-against average (1.37) and save percentage (.951). The Predators don’t have many superstars, but they have plenty of depth. Twelve Predators scored in double figures during the regular season, including defensemen Ryan Ellis (16), Roman Josi (12 goals) and P.K. Subban (10). Ellis, with four goals and five assists, is tied for the team lead in points with Ryan Johansen (2 goals, 7 assists). Johansen led the Predators in assists during the regular season with 47. Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg led the Predators in goals during the regular season with 31 apiece, but they haven’t been piling up points during the playoffs. That doesn’t mean, however, that they haven’t been effective. Forsberg is second in the postseason in plus/minus rating at plus-11, and Arvidsson is plus-10. Veterans Mike Fisher (18 goals, 24 assists) and James Neal (23, 18) provide experience and depth, with Fisher being particularly valuable shorthanded and on defensive zone face-offs. Auston Watson provides a physical presence. Mattias Eckholm joins Josi, Subban and Ellis in forming the backbone of a terrific defensive corps in front of Rinne, who shut out the Blackhawks twice.

Ducks: If you asked a casual fan who led the Ducks in goals this season, the likely answer would be Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler or Corey Perry. All three answers are incorrect. Rickard Rakell led the Ducks in goals (33). The aforementioned trio wasn’t even second. Jakob Silfverberg was second with 23. But it was Getzlaf, who led the Ducks in points (15 goals, 58 assists) during the regular season, who leads the Ducks in postseason goals with eight. Silfverberg has seven goals, and Rakell has six. During the regular season, Getzlaf was followed in points by Kesler (22, 36) and Perry (19, 34). Defensemen Cam Fowler (11, 28) and Sami Vatanen missed games with injuries during the first round against the Flames, but both should be in the lineup at the start of this series. Right wing Patrick Eaves scored 11 goals in 20 games after being acquired at the trade deadline. John Gibson (25-16-9, 2.22 goals-against average, .924 save percentage) and Jonathan Bernier (21-7-4, 2.50, .915) form a formidable goalie tandem, but Gibson’s .280 goals-against average and .908 save percentage are the worst of the remaining starting goalies in the playoffs.

Analysis: The Ducks have more scoring, but the Predators have a potential game-stealing and series-stealing goalie in Rinne, who finally seems to be putting together a spectacular postseason. He certainly gives the Predators an advantage over the Ducks’ John Gibson in goal. better goaltending. The Predators have good scoring depth and an excellent defense. On the other hand, the Ducks, in addition to their stars, also have scoring depth. They also have grit and determination, scoring three times with the goalie pulled for an extra skater to force overtime in one of their wins over the Oilers. Predators head coach Peter Laviolette, the former Flyers head coach, likes to roll out four lines in an attempt to wear down the opposing defense. Predators in 6

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