Well there were only minor hiccups in the West for me that didn’t stop me from getting 4 for 4 on my picks. The East, however, is a different story. Who would have thought that going in to round 2 the highest seed remaining would be the number 4 seed? Who would have believed that all three division leaders were eliminated in the first round? That’s right, all that’s left in the East is 4, 6, 7, and 8 seeds. While Philadelphia winning their series didn’t shock me, I expected the other two division leaders to move on with flying colors. My Sabres failed me, not coming together and getting beaten down by a tenacious Boston team. Then, in an upset I am genuinely thrilled about, Team Ovechkin (the Washington Capitals) got taken down by the lowly Montreal Canadians, a team that wasn’t given a chance by anyone.
So here we go with my round 2 picks.
Pittsburgh Penguins v. Montreal Canadians
This is not the second round writeup I was expecting. A 4th seed vs. an 8th seed? That’s exactly where we stand and one thing is for certain, no one on the Penguins bench is going to overlook a Montreal team that sent the Capitals packing. Jaroslav Halak was brilliant in games 6 and 7 for the Canadians. He stopped just shy of a hundred shots in those two games, and he’s not going to have time to rest up before the barrage begins again. Sidney Crosby had 5 goals, Malkin had 4, Cooke contributed 3, and 9 other players had one or two goals. 24 goals in 6 games. Pittsburgh’s offense was hot. And who didn’t expect that. There’s a reason that this team has made an appearance in back to back Stanley Cup series. The Canadians, meanwhile, are going to look to bring back Montreal’s glory days. Like the Penguins, their goal scoring came from all over the ice. They have a solid scorer in Cammalleri. They have a goaltender who obviously has eaten his Wheaties for the post season. What they don’t have, however, is a solid blue line. Only one of their defensive players who played all seven games was a +1. The others? -1, -3, -4, -8. You get the picture. They didn’t get in the Capitals way anymore than a traffic cone would have. Halak came to their rescue and helped them on to the second round. The Penguins have more offensive weapons than the Capitals who had all eyes squarely on Ovechkin. It’s going to be hard for this Montreal team to counter the talented attack of Pittsburgh, and when the dust settles it’s going to the Penguins returning to the Conference championships.
Boston Bruins v. Philadelphia Flyers
So, you’re the number 6th seed, it’s the second round and you have home ice. What? That’s the treat the Bruins received when Montreal sent the Capitals to the links. The bad news is they are facing a well rested Flyers team. The good news is that Flyers team is going to be without Simon Gagne and Ian Laperriere. These two players are arguably the Flyers best PK’ers, and when you’re a team that spends a fair amount of time in the box you rely on those guys to get you through it. So it looks like Philly will turn to Claude Giroux to pick up the extra ice time. Wait, who? Claude Giroux led the Flyers in scoring in the first round of the playoffs, putting 4 past Brodeur. This 22 year old is making his mark with the Flyers team in the post-season, and they are going to have to turn to him to keep it up as they are going to be facing a tough Boston squad. Rask may have started as Boston’s number 2 goal when the season began, but there is no denying he is their number one guy now. After several brilliant saves and solid play he helped the rough and tumble Bruins turn aside the Sabres and dispatch them after 6 games. Boston has a similar look to Philly as they aren’t going to burn you with a all-star offense, continually lighting the lamp. They are going to look to wear their opponent down with hard hitting playing, constant screening of the goalie and staying in his face, and just plain out working teams to the puck. This game might look more like a rugby scrum than a hockey game. Expect both teams to come out of the gate making their physical presence known. In the end of the day it’s going to be which upstart goaltender can keep the fire burning and on this one my money is with Rask. I think the Dunkin Donuts crowd is going to get to see their Bruins play for the Conference title.
San Jose Sharks v. Detroit Red Wings
While I thought this would be the second round matchup it is also the hardest one to call. Even thinking about it coming up during the first round I just couldn’t get a handle on it. Detroit, led by Zetterberg, has a potent offense with a lot of experience. While I could take the time to figure out how many playoff game experience the Red Wings have, I think it’s safe to say it’s a pretty big number. They appeared in the last two Stanley Cup series, and after a slow start this season they have once again become a contender. Goaltender Jimmy Howard came out of nowhere to slam the breaks on a season that was getting away from them. With him in net the Wings turned themselves around and went from a bubble team to a solid playoff team. The veteran players on the team have certainly responded, especially in game 7 against the Coyotes. They were determined to not go gentle in to that goodnight and they out played the Coyotes, beating them to every puck and just being the hungrier team. That drive is going to have to continue as they are about to run in to the best team in the West. Nabakov seems to have shaken off the monkey on his back that has dogged him the last few playoff years. Joe Pavelski has become a post-season offensive weapon, scoring 5 goals in their 6 games against the Avalanche. They got help from all over the map with 10 different players scoring in the first round. Dan Boyle recovered from some fairly tragic play and finished the series right where he was at in the regular season, one of the best blue liners in the game. A good mix of youth and veteran players are the core of this San Jose team who has a lot to prove. Last season they went in the playoffs as the President’s Trophy winner, and had an early exit to the 8th seeded Ducks. In fact they have a long playoff history of being upset. There’s a fire to this team, and it’s going to have to turn in to a blaze against the Red Wings. I think, in the end, it’s going to be the Red Wings veterans that are a weak link. After a long 7 game series, to jump right back in to the playoffs after only a couple of nights off is going to take a toll. The Detroit players are going to want to show right away that they have plenty of energy, and can still control the pace of the game, but the Sharks won’t make it easy. With some fast players who have had a few extra days off, they are going to have more than enough in the tanks to put the pedal to the metal and take it straight to the Wings. It’s going to be a good series I’m sure, but at the end of it the Sharks are going to be playing for the title of Best in the West.
Chicago Blackhawks v. Vancouver Cannucks
This is the series. This is the kind of series you wish was for the Cup, or at least the conference title. The Cannucks come in to this matchup with not only the player with the most first round goals (Samuelsson with 7), but 12 different players contributing to the goal scoring. Averaging just over 4 goals a game this Vancouver team is explosive. Daniel Sedin has found his stride. Him and his brother Henrik are players possessed. Wherever the puck is there is at least one Sedin near by winning nearly every battle along the boards. Not a single player on this team was a minus on the score sheet. How’s that for a way to go through the first round? The only chink in the armor? Luongo allowing 17 goals over 6 games. This is not the goaltender who won a gold medal for his country. He hasn’t been himself since the Olympics, and his lackluster play has carried over in the post season. Vancouver’s potent offense has needed to be on the top of his game in order to outscore their opponents. That’s going to be a tall order as the Blackhawks have a pretty devastating offense of their own. The Blackhawks averaged 3 goals a game in their opening series, with Kane and Sharpe leading with 4 and 3 goals respectively. This has actually been a rather under-achieving affair by the Hawks. Their young gun offense is capable of a lot more than they showed against the Predators. Though Nashville’s Pekka Rinne had some fairly solid games, the offensive talent of the Hawks should have been able to amount to a lot more. The hole in the Hawks game is the same as it has been all regular season long, the netminder. Niemi may have chased Huet out to become the starting guy in net, but lets face it, Huet was playing downright miserable hockey. Any backup netminder in the NHL would have ousted him from his starting role. Niemi is a fairly solid goaltender, but he isn’t a dominating one. He’s not going to steal a game for you, and for the Hawks to advance that’s exactly what they’re going to need. If Luongo finds his stride there will be little chance for the Original Six Blackhawks (and hey, a side not, 4 of the 6 Original teams made the playoffs and all 4 are in round 2!) to move on. Despite a valiant effort by the youthful Chicago team, I have to say Vancouver is going to move on to play for the Western Conference title.