Through two rounds, the four conference finalists in this year's playoffs have appeared to be invincible. All have faced close contests, with the Bruins, Lightning and Canucks winning tight first-round series by a single game, and the Sharks overcoming a challenging Detroit Red Wings comeback in the second round. Despite their collective success to date, none of these teams is perfect, and it's worthwhile for us to try to discern where each franchise's potentially fatal weakness lies.
The Bruins barely even looked inconvenienced during a second-round rout of the Philadelphia Flyers. Perhaps even more remarkable than the victory is the fact that it happened with almost no help from their power play.
This isn't the way it was supposed to be. The Bruins were an average team with the man advantage during the regular season, but they made moves at the deadline to address that weakness, adding Tomas Kaberle (who had as many points on the power play as the Bruins' top two blueliners combined) and Rich Peverley, who recorded 12 power-play points in 54 games for the Atlanta Thrashers. Those moves backfired -- the Bruins' power play somehow fell from 14th at the deadline to 20th by the end of the season.
It's been worse in the playoffs, going 2-for-31 and scoring just one goal in 5-on-4 situations (their other goal came with a two-man advantage), and things are not looking up: The Lightning, their third-round opponent, has killed penalties at a 94.4 percent clip, the best among teams still playing.
So far, Boston has been able to outscore its power-play problems at even strength, but at some point, squandered opportunities might start costing them.
Tampa Bay Lightning
After sneaking past the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 1 with the help of a Conn Smythe-level performance from 41-year-old goaltender Dwayne Roloson, the Lightning crushed the Eastern Conference-leading Washington Capitals in Round 2, sweeping Alex Ovechkin's club in four straight games.
What the Lightning have done is remarkable -- especially when one considers the club's woeful shot differential. Through 11 contests, Tampa Bay has fired an average of just 26.7 shots per game on the opposition net, a total that ranks it 16th of the 16 clubs to play in this year's playoffs. Even the Phoenix Coyotes, who lost their first-round contest in four straight games, averaged nearly three shots more per game.
Additionally, the Lightning have allowed 35.5 shots against per game -- the worst total of any club still playing hockey, and 13th of the 16 playoff teams.
Tampa Bay has managed to overcome those figures through a combination of two things -- an incredibly high shooting percentage (13.0 percent, which would easily have led the league this season and represents more than a 30 percent jump from their regular-season rate of 9.2) and sublime goaltending from Roloson. If either of those numbers starts dropping, the Lightning's inability to outshoot their opposition could spell the end of their playoff run.
This season's Presidents' Trophy winners are a formidable club, leading the NHL during the regular season in both goals for and goals against, and featuring strength at every position, from Hart and Selke candidates up front to a blue line that runs (at least) six deep, and ending with a Vezina-caliber netminder in Roberto Luongo.
Despite their impressive regular-season run, the Canucks have at times looked beatable during the postseason, and while a number of factors could be cited, the most alarming has been the dearth of supporting offense. So far in these playoffs, offense from Vancouver's forward corps has run just four players deep.
In the first round, the Sedins struggled at times and Ryan Kesler's line was consumed with the task of neutralizing Jonathan Toews. In the second round, at times it felt like Kesler alone was propelling the Canucks past the Nashville Predators, as the Sedins struggled to score and nobody else took up the task of producing goals.
In a sport in which production from unsung heroes has become a playoff ritual (Vancouver need look no further than the vanquished Predators' leading scorer, Joel Ward), the Canucks simply haven't gotten it, and both the Sedin line and Ryan Kesler have been shut down at times. This can't continue, and eventually the Canucks need to get some production from depth players like Mason Raymond (one goal), Mikael Samuelsson (one goal) and Chris Higgins (four points) if they want to win hockey's ultimate prize.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks are a deep, capable team with quality players in all positions. They have offense both up front and on the blue line. They've got a Stanley Cup winner in net who has never lost a playoff series, and it's pretty difficult to find a glaring hole because, frankly, there aren't any.
However, looking across the board, it's difficult to compare Antti Niemi to the other three goaltenders in the conference finals. Roloson has a 0.941 playoff save percentage. Tim Thomas, the likely Vezina winner, isn't far back at 0.937. Even Luongo, who suffered through some bad games against Chicago, has a 0.917 SV percentage. Antti Niemi's save percentage? 0.906.
To be sure, Niemi had a nice run this past season. After a sub-average start to the season (0.899 SV percentage as of Jan. 1), Niemi took off in 2011, posting a 0.929 SV percentage to close out the year and finishing at the 0.920 mark. Yet his numbers last season and in last season's playoffs were average, and it is fair to argue that he is the worst of the four remaining goalies. His performance in this postseason is part of the reason the Sharks have by far the worst goals-against average of the four remaining teams.
A version of this story originally appeared at ESPN Insider .
Jonathan Willis is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
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