With no real break between rounds, tonight marks the beginning of the Stanley Cup Conference Semi-Finals! The 1st round was a blast and featured the elimination of the top 3 seeded teams in the Eastern Conference. The way the Washington Capitals were eliminated was surprising to many, while the defeats of the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils was predicted by a number of people. The Western Conference saw some interesting developments – the Phoenix Coyotes and Los Angeles Kings gave the Red Wings and Canucks a few scares but ultimately couldn’t hold on. And oh yeah, the San Jose Sharks are through to the next round, no thanks to Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
For those of you wondering, I went 5 for 8 in my 1st round predictions. Here are my 2nd round predictions:
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) vs Montreal Canadiens (8)
The Montreal Canadiens shocked the entire hockey world with their amazing series come-back against the Washington Capitals. I don’t care what the truest of Habs fans say: no one saw them coming back after going down 3-1. Having said that, and as well as Jaroslav Halak has played, there’s no way the Pittsburgh Penguins will fall victim to the Canadiens the way the Capitals did. The Penguins are proven winners and have Russian stars that actually know how to show up in the post-season. Sidney Crosby is on another level in this year’s Playoffs and I don’t think the Hal Gill-Josh Gorges tandem will be able to contain him, despite their tremendous play so far. Pittsburgh will figure out within minutes of the first game how to not shoot directly at the two or three Habs defencemen who are trying to block shots…
Verdict: Pittsburgh in 6 games.
Boston Bruins (6) vs Philadelphia Flyers (7)
I’m not sure how many of us figured we’d see the Boston Bruins playing the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2nd round of the Playoffs, but this should be an interesting series. I really liked how Tuukka Rask played in the 1st round and I felt like the Bruins got stronger as their series with Buffalo went on. Milan Lucic seemed to wake up towards the end of the series and key players like Michael Ryder, Miroslav Satan and Mark Recchi stepped up in the big moments of each game. The highly anticipated return of Marc Savard should provide the Bruins with a nice emotional boost and perhaps a bit of additional scoring. Looking at the Flyers, although they are rested, they will be without the services of three very valuable players: Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere. I’m not convinced Brian Boucher is for real, nor do I believe he can outplay Rask. It’s a shame we can’t see each game of this series played at Fenway Park… or can we? No, nevermind. We can’t.
Verdict: Boston in 6 games.
San Jose Sharks (1) vs Detroit Red Wings (5)
The San Jose Sharks are now at the critical point of their season. Let’s be honest: the 1st round was a formality. While the Colorado Avalanche gave them a quick scare, it was a foregone conclusion the Sharks would/should easily win that round. For the most part, the Avalanche were badly outplayed. Evgeni Nabokov played very well too – something we can’t say has always been the case in the post-season for the Sharks. Devin Setoguchi and Joe Pavelski really elevated their play in the 1st round, and yet again, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau continue to fight the Playoff pressure. Meanwhile, the Detroit Red Wings enjoyed a scare of their own from the Phoenix Coyotes. Detroit’s leaders got stronger as the series wore on and stepped it up when it mattered most. I really liked Jimmy Howard’s play and attitude (for the most part) against the Coyotes too. My gut feeling lies with the experience of the Wings and I’m still not sold San Jose are the real deal. Still.
Verdict: Detroit in 6 games.
Chicago Blackhawks (2) vs Vancouver Canucks (3)
This is easily the best series of the 2nd round. A rematch from last year’s Conference Semi-Finals, with a slight reversal. Last year, I’d say the Chicago Blackhawks were the stronger team. This year, I’d have to say the Vancouver Canucks are the stronger team. I believe the Canucks may have the most complete forward roster of any team in the Playoffs. All the lines are firing well and appear to be healthy. While the Blackhawks offense is more lethal and battle-tested than the young Los Angeles Kings, I still give the advantage to the Canucks. Both team’s have some injuries on defence, but I think this is a series that will see Roberto Luongo will steal a game or two for Vancouver. And of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I’m looking forward to Byfuglien & Luongo’s battle royale rematch. I can’t wait for this series to start!
Verdict: Vancouver in 7 games.
There you have it. These are my 2nd round predictions. What are your predictions?
Stay classy, NHL Conference Semi-Finals.