SPNHL, Season 29: Playoffs! Round One Recap / Round Two Preview
By: Jake Dietrich.
50%. Mathematically, you have a 50% chance of winning a hockey game. Sometimes the odds may be against you, but you still have that 50% chance of winning. Upsets aren’t impossible in this game and can happen quite frequently, as we have seen so far this season. But with the regular season behind us, this is when those upsets become much more special.
50%. 50% of the 16 teams (that’s 8 teams for all the smart cookies out there) remain in the quest for the Stanley Cup. Of the 8 teams that remain, there are many teams who have a great chance at becoming season 29’s champions of the SPNHL. There weren’t many upsets in the first round, but let’s revisit the first round then see how our second-round playoff matchups are shaping up.
Ottawa Senators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins.
Results: Senators in 4.
A highly touted team at the beginning of the season, the Senators were not playing their best hockey heading into the playoffs, losing to a revamped Pittsburgh squad in their last week. However, Ottawa’s core of Marc of Ransom played exceptionally well, keeping Pittsburgh to 2 goals over 4 games and completing the sweep. This was a great start to the playoffs for Kozmo’s crew.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Detroit Red Wings.
Results: Leafs in 6.
For the first half of each game, Detroit seemed like the better team. However, the Leafs intimidating top line of Cupidon, Stamkos, and Jayscott proved to have more endurance than the Detroit team, as they were able to take many games based on their third period play alone. One of the SPNHL’s best lines continued their dominance and has given Toronto plenty of momentum.
Anaheim Ducks vs. Vegas Golden Knights
Results: Knights in 4.
Another first round sweep went to Season 27’s cup winners, the Knights. A series of questionable trades surrounded both teams heading into this playoff matchup, but Vegas’s moves worked out well for them. Pairing Seguin with Sudzy and Prodigy provid great offensive support for a back end highlight by Ajax and Sliyum. One of the West’s hottest teams keeps moving forward.
Winnipeg Jets vs. Colorado Avalanche
Results: Avalanche in 6.
With the return of most of their Cup-winning core, Eggman’s Avalanche squad disposed of a solid Jets team in a controversy-marred 6 game series. Eggman and Sedin proved why they are one of the best defensive pairings in the league, while Woy continued his playoff success, building on last year’s Conn Smythe worthy post-season performance. Colorado is ready for another deep run.
first round of the playoffs always acts as a tool to separate the contenders from the pretenders. Establishing yourself is essential in the first round, as now you have to face the division leaders in the second round. On that note, let’s look at each second-round playoff matchup, and highlight each team’s strengths, weaknesses, and keys to victory.
Ottawa Senators vs. New Jersey Devils.
After battling for the Adams division lead all season long, the Devils pulled away from the Sens in the last two weeks and managed to capture not only the division title, but the President’s Trophy as well. However, the Sens have had the Devils’ number all season long, and were responsible for 30% of the Devils regulation losses. Will the Devils be able to rectify that regular season record?
Senators’ Strengths: offense. Having a top offensive line of toslick, Mark, and U_1 is a great asset, and their offensive depth beyond that is very strong.
Senators’ Weaknesses: defensive depth. With only two natural defenders (Ransom and Noto), the Sens need defensive contributions from all players.
Senators’ Keys to Victory: aggression. A hard forecheck and consistent pressure on a dynamic Devils squad will shut them down and lead the Sens to victory.
Devils’ Strengths: overall depth. Even with the Art Ross winner Grammy and Norris candidate DBS, the Devils have one of the strongest teams in the league.
Devils’ Weaknesses: special teams. Their powerplay and penalty kill numbers were disastrous during the regular season, and New Jersey must rectify that.
Devils’ Keys to Victory: patience. The Devils need to take their time in the offensive zone and get creative to propel New Jersey to the Conf. finals.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Patrick division was insanely competitive this season, but it was the Bolts who were able to capture the division title, finishing second in the league. Having one of the best offensive duos in SP history helps their cause, but they are facing a scary and skilled Leafs squad. Will the Lightning be able to avoid being knocked out after having a bye for the second season in a row?
Leafs’ Strengths: that top line. LeCupidon was this season’s breakout star, and having Stamkos and Jayscott with him makes him that much more dangerous.
Leafs’ Weaknesses: goaltending. Sportsgeek is a decent starter, but his regular and post-season performance has been below expectations.
Leafs’ Keys to Victory: defensive zone play. If the Leafs want to win, they need to maintain composure and structure in their defensive zone, and not lose control.
Lightning’s Strengths: goaltending. Rancher backstopped his team to a Cup last season, and the Bolts are counting on him to do it again.
Lightning’s Weaknesses: consistency. Tampa’s record against top teams this past season wasn’t the best, so they need to buckle down against the Leafs.
Lightning’s Keys to Victory: intelligence. This Leafs team will pounce on you if you make a mistake. If the Bolts play simple and smart, they’ll take this series.
Vegas Golden Knights vs. Arizona Coyotes
Finishing atop the Western Conference, the Coyotes are coming off of a first-week bye after a very good season. However, they are going up against a Vegas team which generated tons of momentum (when they have the availability). Will the Yotes begin a possibly dominant cup run, or will the Knights continue their winning ways and find their way into the Conference Finals?
Knights’ Strengths: their zone. With Ajax and Captain defending in front of Sliyum in net, this team’s defense/goaltending combo is one of the League’s best.
Knights’ Weaknesses: depth. Besides Seguin, Prodigy, and Sudzy, Vegas does not have many solid offensive options. They must rely on their big 3.
Knights’ Keys to Victory: breakouts. With great offensive defenders and dynamic forwards, the Knights can utilize effective breakouts to take this series.
Coyotes’ Strengths: chemistry. Arizona made very few moves all season and have lots of experience with each other outside of League. Chemistry kills.
Coyotes’ Weaknesses: variety. It shows the depth of this team, but having multiple players play unnatural positions could create issues in this series.
Coyotes’ Keys to Victory: puck movement. Zone entries may be difficult, but Arizona’s lethal offense needs to move the puck well to succeed this series.
Colorado Avalanche vs. Calgary Flames
After dispatching of the Winnipeg Jets in the first round, the reigning cup champions in Colorado fight their way west and take on the Calgary Flames. The big asterisk in this series is the sequence of moves Calgary made before the playoffs. Will the Flames’ trades put them at a disadvantage for this series, or will they silence the doubters and take away the Avalanche’s chance at a repeat?
Avalanche’s Strengths: experience. 4 out of 6 of their starters went to the cup finals last season, and they have the skill and determination to make it back.
Avalanche’s Weaknesses: depth. If they don’t get full availability from that top 6, the remaining options on the Avalanche or slim to none if they want to win.
Avalanche’s Keys to Victory: offense. If the Avs can produce like they did in the first round, they will have an easy road to back-to-back Conference finals.
Flames’ Strengths: goaltending. Uber was one of the best goaltenders in the league this past season, and is a big reason for his team’s division title.
Flames’ Weaknesses: defense. Aside from Redbeard, the defensive options for Calgary are few and far between. They’ll need a strong defensive team effort.
Flames’ Keys to Victory: grit. They need to give this dominant Avs squad everything they have and then some if they want to get closer to the Cup.
Yes, there are definitely some favourites in these second round matchups, but there have been some great underdog stories in the past few seasons as well. Look at Ottawa last season: wild-card team, and they made it to the cup final. It goes back to that one number: 50%. You have a 50% chance to win each game, and it some cases, you have to take the series one game at a time.
That’s it for me for now, make sure to tune into SPNHL: Off the Ice this coming Saturday at 10 pm EST to catch all the fallout of this week’s playoffs! Tsibs will be joined by Plisk, Reap, Kozmo, myself, and other guests as we discuss all the events that happened this week and as we gear up for season 30/XXX. Good luck to all the teams remaining, and we’ll see you on the ice!