Tuukka Rask, Simon Gagne

2011 playoffs: Second round matchups

Now that the Eastern Conference finally caught up with the West tonight, we finally know which teams will face each other in the second round of the 2011 playoffs. In case you weren’t already aware, the NHL is wise to reward its higher seeds (well, technically it’s a reward) by re-seeding after each round. Let’s get to the matches, with some quick thoughts for your enjoyment.

(Want to know the schedule for the second round games? We’ve got you covered right here.)

Eastern Conference semifinals matchups

1. Washington Capitals vs. 5. Tampa Bay Lightning

Quick thoughts: Much like the Montreal-Boston series, this is a clash between two teams who fought for a division title this season. The Capitals ended up winning the Southeast Division and also the series. (Washington won three times in regulation and once in a shootout, Tampa Bay won once in regulation and once in overtime). Bruce Boudreau’s bunch is well-rested and has home ice advantage, but the Lightning have far less pressure to succeed.

2. Philadelphia Flyers vs. 3. Boston Bruins

Quick thoughts: If you think the Bruins got that elimination game monkey off their backs with that OT win against the Montreal Canadiens, you’re dead wrong. Boston will face question after question (and their fans will see replay after replay) of that collapse from a 3-0 lead against the Flyers in 2010. Then again, maybe the best way to address your demons is by facing them eye-to-eye. They’ll get that opportunity in what should be an intriguing second round series.

Western Conference semifinals matchups

1. Vancouver Canucks vs. 5. Nashville Predators

Quick thoughts: The Canucks once again find themselves with all the pressure to succeed against the underdog Predators. That doesn’t mean that Nashville is likely to play the “happy to be there” role, even if this is their first exposure to the second round of the playoffs. Expect a physical series, especially since the Preds wouldn’t be wise to attempt matching Vancouver’s dangerous offense.

2. San Jose Sharks vs. 3. Detroit Red Wings

Quick thoughts: This is a rematch of their 2010 second round playoff series – a series the Sharks won in five exciting games – but there are a few key differences this year. This time around, San Jose is coming off a challenging six games against the Los Angeles Kings while Detroit quickly swept the Phoenix Coyotes out of the playoffs. The Sharks face some questions in net, which isn’t a great situation to be in considering the Red Wings’ high-powered offense. In other words, it should be an awfully interesting series, especially since the Sharks seem like a more resilient (and deeper) team than they were last year.

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”

It looks like Havlat won’t make Panthers

Martin Havlat

As PHT’s mentioned before, the Florida Panthers stand as a fascinating contrast between youth and experience.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though; fresh faces usually beat out gray beards, at least when it comes to teams that are still trying to build toward contender status.

While it’s by no means official, two Panthers beat writers – the Miami Herald’s George Richards and the Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov – report that the Panthers are likely to pass on Martin Havlat.

It wasn’t just about the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad leading the charge. Other young Panthers (maybe most notably Quinton Howden and Connor Brickley) made the team, thus making Havlat less necessary.

One would assume that it might be tough for the 34-year-old to find work, at least if he insists upon only an NHL deal.

Health issues continue to dog him, but he’s no longer one of those guys who tantalizes with talent when he is healthy enough to play.

Havlat also doesn’t really bring much to the table defensively. While other veterans can kill penalties and show a little more verstaility, Havlat’s greatest selling point is scoring.

Could this be it for a solid career that may nonetheless end with a “What if?” or two?