The quest for Lord Stanley's hallowed cup takes skill, will, and a little, okay, a lot of luck. Only eight teams remain, all with a legitimate chance of winning hockey's ultimate prize.
The Boston Bruins and New York Rangers secured a spot in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoff Conference Semifinals last night, solidifying the Round 2 field. The Rangers and Bruins face off on Thursday night.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, stacked with talent and experience, fought off a hardworking and young New York Islanders team to advance to Round 2, and a highly emotional series against the Ottawa Senators. Ottawa took down the No. 2 seed in the East Montréal Canadiens in a quick five games.
The Chicago Blackhawks continued regular season dominance, knocking off the Minnesota Wild in only five games. The Detroit Red Wings managed to upset the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7. The two "Original 6" teams start a second round match up on Wednesday night.
The San José Sharks upset the perennially disappointing Vancouver Canucks in a first round sweep, setting up a Round 2 bout between two California teams, as the Los Angeles Kings held off the St. Louis Blues.
Countless variables lead to teams winning or losing a playoff series, but in seven games, the better team usually wins.
Captains Henrik Zetterberg (Red) and Jonathan Toews (White) hope to advance to the Western Conference Finals.
Offensive Edge: Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks boast incredible depth at the forward position, including snipers Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, in addition to elite playmaker and captain Jonathan Toews.
Secondary scoring helped the Red Wings beat the Ducks in seven games, but the stingy Blackhawks possess a greater ability to shutdown Detroit's talented role players.
Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, two of the best game changers in the NHL, keep the Red Wings a potential upset threat, but the depth of the Blackhawks tip the scale in favor of Chicago.
Defensive Edge: Chicago Blackhawks
The Red Wings played well after the retirement of Nick Lidstrom, but definitely lacked the familiar shutdown ability on the back end. Niklas Kronwall anchors a group of capable defenders, slightly inferior to the Blackhawks back end.
Chicago possesses greater depth on the blue line with the likes of Duncan Keith, Nick Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook.
The Red Wings play a tighter team defense, balancing out the matchup, but the six Chicago defenders outmatch the six Detroit blueliners.
Goaltending Edge: Tie
Corey Crawford played lights out in net for the Chicago Blackhawks the entire season, and continued in the first round of the playoffs, posting a 1.32 goals against average and a .950 save percentage.
Jimmy Howard managed to help the Red Wings advance to the second round, and posted stellar numbers in the regular season, despite playing on a Red Wings team barely making the playoffs.
With strong regular season performances and playoff starts. At the end of the day, goaltending decides the series.
Prediction: Blackhawks, 6 games
The Blackhawks look determined and nearly unstoppable. The Red Wings always show up for the playoffs, making it a six game series, but they lack the firepower to slow down the red hot Chicago Blackhawks.
Logan Couture (White) leads the next "wave" of Sharks stars, while Jonathan Quick (Black) looks to defend Conn Smythe honors.
Offensive Edge: Tie
The Sharks boast great strength down the middle with Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Raffi Torres fit in nicely on a line with Couture and Patrick Marleau after the injury of Martin Havlat, and moving Brent Burns to the right side of Thornton from the blue line proved to be a success.
The Kings maintained many of the forwards who won the Stanley Cup last season. The renewed chemistry between Mike Richards and Jeff Carter gives the Kings a great second option behind Anze Kopitar and captain Dustin Brown.
Experience and youth balance the Sharks offense. The Kings talented bunch up front matches up well against the Sharks.
Defensive Edge: Tie
The Kings skate a very balanced defense with the offensive Drew Doughty and defensive juggernaut Rob Scuderi leading the way. Slava Voynov, 23, scored two goals, both game winners, in the opening series, and hopes to continue changing games.
Dan Boyle continued to lead the Sharks defensive crew offensively, but San José focused mainly on shutting down opponents, most noticeably the skilled forwards of the Vancouver Canucks in Round 1.
The Kings look flashier on paper, but the Sharks blueline proved to be a forced to be reckoned with against the skilled Canucks.
Goaltending Edge: Tie
Jonathan Quick started the playoffs slow, dropping two games to the St. Louis Blues before winning four games in a row, stopping 104 of 110 shots.
Antti Niemi led the NHL in regular season wins and played strong in the opening round sweep of the Vancouver Canucks.
Quick and Niemi both own Stanley Cup rings and both picked it up in the second half of the season to make a playoff push. Look for a tight goaltender battle in the battle of California.
Prediciton: Sharks, 7 Games
With two evenly matched teams ready to face off, the odd bounce or the hotter goaltender determines the series winner. The Sharks finally make the awaited postseason push.
Look for Matt Cooke (Black) and Chris Neil (White) to bring a lot of phsyicality to the series.
Offensive Edge: Pittsburgh Penguins
A lineup with three Art Ross Trophy winners, a former NHL captain on the third line, and the unsung Pascal Dupuis already with five goals in the postseason, the Penguins easily win the offensive edge. Crosby, Iginla and Malkin lead the way offensively, despite struggling at times.
Daniel Alfredsson still looked impressive in the opening round, and the younger Senators stepped up and provided offense.
The interesting battle features the tough guys. Ottawa still resents Matt Cooke for injuring star defenseman Erik Karlsson earlier in the year, and lost a regular season game trying to enact revenge on the pesky Cooke. Look for the series to turn ugly if the tough guys start going at it.
Defensive Edge: Ottawa Senators
The Senators defense features two strong offensive defensemen and a lot of size. Erik Karlsson still looks a little out of form in Round 1, but still managed six points in five games. Sergei Gonchar provides a calming presence on the back end with years of experience and a Stanley Cup ring. The rest of the defense brings size and grit to the Senators back end, and played a vital role in shutting down the speedy Canadiens.
The Penguins possess a very capable blue line crew, highlighted by Norris Trophy candidate Kris Letang, who played poorly at times in Round 1, and Round 1 hero Brooks Orpik. The addition of Doug Murray adds a lot of size and toughness to Pittsburgh's blue line, but the Penguins seem to need a better bottom two to effectively shut down the opposition.
The Penguins defense stacks up against almost any team in the league, but failed to impress in the opening round, while the size and skill of the Senators proved to be a huge asset.
Goaltending Edge: Ottawa Senators
Craig Anderson stole the opening series against the Montréal Canadiens. The Vezina Trophy nominee continued strong regular season play, which included three losses (two in shootouts) against Pittsburgh.
Tomas Vokoun stole the starting job after the collapse of Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 4. Vokoun shut out the Islanders in Game 5 and won despite poor play of the Penguins skaters in Game 6. The Penguins signed Vokoun to play in the postseason in in the event of another Fleury collapse, and the 36-year-old hopes to make the most of the opportunity.
Anderson needs to stop the Penguins early and often to help the Senators upset the Penguins, while Vokoun needs to continue to steady the ship for Pittsburgh.
Prediction: Penguins, 6 Games
The Penguins offense simply overpowers the Senators, despite solid goaltending and strong defense. Look for the Penguins to regroup in Round 2 and continue to dominate the East.
Henrik Lundqvist (Blue) backstopped the Rangers to a Round 1 victory and looks to slow down leading postseason scorer David Krejci (White).
Offense: Boston Bruins
The Bruins looked out of sync sometimes in the opening round, but still possess a lot of talent and depth up front, including many of the same players from the 2010 Stanley Cup team.
The Rangers eked out a series win against the Capitals thanks to secondary scoring from players like Derick Brassard and Mats Zuccarello. The Rangers stars need to step up if the Rangers hope to advance.
The Boston depth boasts greater skill and showed a ton of will coming back from a 4-1 deficit in Game 7 against Toronto. Boston's ability to shutdown teams likely negates New York's depth scoring, but look for the stars to start shining.
Defense: New York Rangers
The Bruins defense took a beating in the opening round against the Maple Leafs, losing stronghold Andrew Ference and suffering a slew of playable injuries.
The Rangers miss Marc Staal on the back end, but the likes of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh still managed to shutdown Alex Ovechkin and the skilled Washington Capitals forwards.
The battered Bruins blueline still skates a talented group, but the Rangers defense boast more "shutdownability."®
Goaltending: New York Rangers
Tuukka Rask played tremendously in the regular season and the opening round, for the most part, but few goaltenders match the skill level of Henrik Lundqvist.
Lundqvist showed brilliance throughout the opening round and looks to continue against the Bruins.
Predicition: New York Rangers, 7 Games
The Bruins looked shaky in the opening round. If the Rangers offense picks up the scoring, New York takes the series.