Stanley Cup Playoffs 2013: Predicting Outcomes for NHL Conference Semifinals

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Stanley Cup Playoffs 2013: Predicting Outcomes for NHL Conference Semifinals
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

Two games of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs have already been decided, as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings both took 1-0 leads in their respective series on Tuesday night.

However, two more series have yet to kick off, and as we saw with the first round of the NHL playoffs, a 1-0 series lead means little the rest of the way. 

Which second-round series will end up being the best?

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Currently, the layout is one that many did not expect. 

None of the No. 2 or No. 3 seeds made it out of the first round, as the Senators Ottawa, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks all managed to upset the higher seed and move on to the second round. The Kings also upset a higher seed, and did so after falling behind in a 2-0 hole. 

Expect more of the same unpredictability in the second round, especially with teams like the Boston Bruins and the Rangers clashing after coming off seven-game series in the first round. 

Although the conference semifinals have already started, predictions are already flying in. One such analyst making predictions is Linda Cohn:

We'll make some predictions here as well and give you some brief previews of these series before the action reaches a fever pitch later in the week. 

 

Eastern Conference

No. 7 Ottawa Senators vs. No. 1 Pittsburgh Penguins

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

The Senators dominated the shorthanded Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the NHL playoffs, but found out in Game 1 against the Penguins that things aren't going to be that easy against a Stanley Cup-driven team. 

Heading into this series, the goaltending of Craig Anderson figured to be a strong point, but he allowed four goals in the loss and the Senators could not rally around the rebound mentality they showed in the first round against the Canadiens. 

The Penguins managed two power-play goals and another shorthanded one to dismantle the Senators in Game 1. 

Things won't get any easier the rest of the way. 

Pittsburgh's star-studded trio of Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jarome Iginla are three of the top-four points leaders in the playoffs so far, and each has contributed at least six assists to help set up open teammates on the attack. Malkin leads the NHL in playoff assists with 10. 

Combine that effort with the surprising heroics of goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who took over for Marc Andre-Fleury after a Round 1 clunker, and Ottawa is truly going to have to turn this series into a physical, ugly one to have a chance to survive. 

In three games, Vokoun has allowed just four goals and leads the NHL in save percentage at .962. Pittsburgh seems to be putting it all together, and that could spell trouble for the upstart Senators. Ottawa will find a way to steal at least one game, but Pittsburgh looked like the better team in Game 1 and will remain so for the rest of the series. 

Prediction: Pittsburgh in five

 

No. 6 New York Rangers vs. No. 4 Boston Bruins

Both the Rangers and the Bruins completed thrilling, seven-game series in the first round, and that fatigue might show for both sides in the opening game of this series. 

In fact, the team that shows fewer effects from the first round might take the early advantage here. 

The New York-Boston clash will follow the tradition set between the two great U.S. cities over the years (as noted by TheHockeyNews.com) and will feature two goaltenders with high hopes toward making this a defensive battle—New York's Henrik Lundqvist and Boston's Tuukka Rask

Expect Boston to rely on center David Krejci to carry the load on the attack. 

USA TODAY Sports

He leads the NHL (tied with Malkin) in points during the postseason with 13, netting five goals (second in the league) and eight assists to help keep Boston's otherwise modest attack in balance over the course of the game. 

However, there's few teams more even in the playoffs than these two teams. 

The Rangers won the season series 2-1, but both wins went to shootouts and each team scored nine total goals in the three games (h/t USA Today). 

While conventional wisdom would give the edge to the Rangers because of their head-to-head regular-season record and a less physical series against the Washington Capitals, the Bruins have shown resilience throughout the playoffs and have a clear advantage in the offensive department over a team that has struggled to score so far. 

Expect the Bruins to win the higher-scoring games, while the Rangers will contend more in a low-scoring affair. 

Prediction: Boston in seven

 

Western Conference

No. 7 Detroit Red Wings vs. No. 1 Chicago Blackhawks

Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago and Detroit will be the only two teams in action on Wednesday night, as Game 1 of this series will get underway at the United Center in Chicago. 

These two talented squads are coming off very different wins. 

Chicago easily defeated Minnesota in five games, while Detroit had to take Anaheim to the brink before escaping with a 4-2 win in Game 7. 

Right now, this might be the most competitive series we'll see in the second round. 

Henrik Zetterberg leads the Red Wings in points right now with eight, while Chicago has been on the defensive side through its first five games. Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa both have six points to lead the Blackhawks. 

Like the Rangers-Bruins regular-season series, the Red Wings and Blackhawks' regular-season series was lopsided (4-0-0) in favor of the higher seed, but three of the four meetings went to overtime and Detroit was still figuring itself out in those games. 

Chicago has maintained its success for most of the season, but Detroit is clicking at the right time. The Red Wings will also hold the psychological advantage over the Blackhawks, having held a playoff advantage over Chicago since 1992—the last time the Blackhawks beat the Red Wings in a playoff series. 

Expect a drag-it-out, tough series between these two budding teams, and one that could be decided by the slightest mistake or controversial call down the stretch. 

Prediction: Chicago in seven

 

No. 6 San Jose Sharks vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Kings

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The two California rivals have plenty of bad blood between them, but Raffi Torres' Game 1 hit on Jarret Stoll has led to a hearing with the league and will fuel the rivalry even more if he returns to this series. 

If you'll remember, Torres had a memorable hit on Marian Hossa in the first round of last year's playoffs between the Coyotes and the Blackhawks. 

If the Kings can avoid the retaliation bug and evade a verbal or physical war with a team looking to drag them through the mud, there's a chance they can end this series earlier than expected. 

San Jose had an impressive Round 1 win, but Los Angeles comes into this series as the hot team, winning four straight games, getting an impressive set of performances from goalie Jonathan Quick and holding the current Stanley Cup trophy as motivation. 

With a balanced scoring attack and good net play, the Kings shut out the Sharks in Game 1, 2-0. San Jose will need to respond with playmakers Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture in Game 2, specifically because they cannot win the series without some offensive production. 

This match will be a true representation of which team is the better squad. That designation belongs to L.A., who moves on to the conference finals for the second straight season. 

Prediction: L.A. in 6

 

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