8 Teams Remain – Still Just One Cup

6 out of 8 seems to be an awful trend these days, but honestly I didn’t think San Jose would continue their nasty habit of turning in to an amateur league team the second the playoffs began. With their amazing regular season performance I thought maybe they had gotten past that particular curse. Apparently they hadn’t. To make matters worse Hiller played like… well certainly not like Hiller, but some goalie brought to earth by the hockey gods themselves. Then in the East there was Carolina, driving home the point that the game isn’t over until the final buzzer sounds. Down by a goal, with 1:20 left on the clock before it was all said and done, Carolina scored not once, but twice to eliminate New Jersey from post season play. Let’s see how I can pick them for this round.

Eastern Confrence

Boston Bruins v. Carolina Hurricane – Boston did what everyone expected them to do, and that was to dominate the flow of the game for 60 minutes – 4 times in a row.  Montreal was outclassed going in, and the Bruins left no doubt that they are finally a team series about bringing a Cup home after all these years.  Carolina, however, will have something to say about that.  Going in to game 1 they are going to have a strong emotional high which to draw off of.  They’ll need it as the Bruins will be looking fresh having had plenty of time to work the bumps and bruises out of their system.  Still, I sometimes wonder if sweeping a series works for you in the end as maybe you have just a little bit too much time off.  Boston is going to have to come out of the gate swinging.  The Bruins knew how take it to Carolina during the regular season ; they won all four meetings against them.  Still, they say that when the playoffs begin its like the regular season never even happened.  The Bruins had 12 different goal scorers in their series with Montreal, and if they can keep spreading out the offense they’ll be hard to beat.  Carolina’s top line is going to have to face a tough playing Chara which was something Montreal couldn’t manage to beat.  For Carolina to win Staal is going to have to take advantage of any open ice he can find, while in net Cam Ward is going to have to bring his already solid game up another level.  In the end I think the Bruins will overwhelm the Hurricane.  Boston takes this series in 5.

Washington Capitals v. Pittsburgh Penguins – Malkin, Crosby, Ovechkin, it’s a who’s who of people the media love to adore.  This matchup really is a made for TV movie in the making.  If it plays anything like it’s being billed it should be one hell of a great show.  The Capitals started off slow and it nearly cost them, but a late series surge by all their key players allowed them to force a game 7 and eliminate the Rangers.  While they publicly talk about losing Brashear to suspension as a loss, I can’t help but feel he was more of a weight dragging on them – players, coaches, and fans, always wondering if this was the night he was about to do something really stupid.  Game 6 was that night.  However thanks to the lack of anything resembling intelligence by the officiating crew he got away with not only pre-game shenanigans, but a brutal, and utterly cheap hit.  There was nothing but intent to harm another player with a blow like that and his six game suspension is hardly fitting.  There are others who say it’s just part of the game – to those people: change the channel, there’s always wrestling on same channel, that’s more your style.  Anyway – the matchup – get ready for a shoot-out at the OK Coral here.  Two high flying offenses who relish the open ice, who make scoring opportunities appear out of thin air, and can flat out skate through defended like they were pylons are about to go at it.  It’s not going to be a good series for the goal tenders stat sheets – but in the end that’s what this series is going to come down to:  which goal tender can hold the fort better.  Both teams have en0ugh talent up front, and only limited defensive options for dealing with the other teams top line.  Will backup goalie for the Capitals, Varlamov, be called on to start this series?  Or will the Caps give Theodore a second chance?  The safe bet is that it is now Varlamov’s position to lose.  He hasn’t had the best of experience facing a high powered offensive team.  He did will in his time against the Rangers, but they aren’t nearly the same offensive caliber as the Penguins front 3.  Fleury isn’t exactly an A-list goaltender, but he has proven to the Penguins that when the time comes to make those big plays he can step up and make it happen.  His 45 save performance in game 4 allowed the Penguins to steal a game that looked to be safely in the Flyers hands.  That’s the goaltender the Penguins need to show up if they want to be successful against the Caps.  In the end I say this one goes to Pittsburgh in 7.

Western Conference

Detroit Red Wings v. Anaheim Ducks – Detroit breezed through the first round pummeling an inexperienced Blue Jackets squadron.  There were very few moments in which Columbus looked like it might even threaten to steal a game.  While the Ducks may be the 8th seed they shut down the Sharks.  I imagine in Anaheim there are shrines all over to Jonas Hiller who found a way to stop 220 of 230 shots over six games.  Not that the rest of the team was sleeping – but he started the seasons as the Ducks backup goalie, unproven in the playoffs, and is making a statement that he’s now the number one netminder in town.  Defensively for the Ducks Pronger did what Pronger does best: hit people.  He was a bruising force punishing people in the corners, throwing bodies around in front of the net, and making sure that many of the Sharks shots were from the outside.  He kept San Jose’s top line in check.  Still, that might not be enough when facing the Red Wings, a team that can safely roll through all four lines and know that whoever they have out on the ice can take control of the play.  It’s a tried and true formula for the defending Stanley Cup champion, and now that Osgood seems to have woken up after the worst regular season of his career the Red Wings are dangerous.  That’s the thing though, Osgood played well, but never faced a challenge.  Simply put, the Blue Jackets made him look good and I doubt he’ll get the same luxury facing the Ducks, one of the most under-rated teams in the NHL this season.  Red Wings fans may be a little cocky but the Ducks are going to give them a run for their money.  Still, even if Osgood slumps back in to bad habits the Red Wings have more than enough assets to manage.  At the end of the day this series will do to Detroit in 6.

Vancouver Cannucks v. Chicago Blackhawks – after the Cannucks dispatched the Blues handily in four games I thought, being the geek that I am, of a line from Stargate SG-1: “I believe the Cannucks of Vancouver to be superior warriors.”  I thought they would find more of a challenge against St. Louis, but the Vancouver defense punished anyone foolish enough to cross that blue line.  Add to that the best post-season netminder, Robert Luongo and the Blackhawks will be facing a team that rarely has their lamp lit.  As always defense will be the key to the Cannucks game.  They will be looking to slow down the pace of the series and keep the young guns of Chicago in check.  The Blackhawks are going to have to continue to prove that their youth is an asset at this stage and not a detriment.  They certainly accomplished that beating the much more experienced Flames team in 6 games.  They may have gotten off to a rough start, but once they found their legs they played like it was just any other game.  Their up-tempo style of offense going end to end and simply wearing down the opposition may be the key to unraveling the post seasons most stingy defense.  They answered critics who thought they couldn’t be physical when it was required – especially Dustin Byfuglien who was a one man wrecking crew, showing no fear of tangling with the best Calgary had to offer.  The wild card for the Blackhawks is their goaltender, Khabibulin, who hasn’t exactly been rock solid for the Blackhawks.  During the regular season they compensated for his lackluster performance by piling on the goals and winning some high scoring affairs.  While he certainly manned up for the last two games of the series against Calgary it’s questionable whether he’ll be able to continue that play.  Against Vancouver it’s unlikely they’ll be able to count on loads of goal scoring to see them through.  Veteran defensman Brian Campell is going to have to continue to play top-notch hockey, more than ever in this upcoming series.  Chicago has to set the pace early, and if they can steal game one they just might be able to set the tone for the series.  Call me an optimist, but I’m giving this one to the Blackhawks in 7.