Eight teams are still in the running for the Stanley Cup in the 2013 NHL playoffs, and while a couple of the conference semifinals series seem to be one-sided, there is still ample time for the underdogs to make a rally.
Meanwhile, two of the other clashes have been more competitive to date and are anyone's for the taking. The defending champion Los Angeles Kings are still alive, and as a No. 8 seed last season, fortified the notion that any club could capture hockey's ultimate prize if it got hot at the right time.
The second and third seeds from each conference were knocked out in Round 1, making the Cup even more up for grabs thanks to the play of the upstart underdogs that defeated them.
Below is a breakdown of the current matchups in the postseason, including predictions as to what their final outcomes will be.
Note: All statistics, information and video, unless otherwise indicated, are courtesy of NHL.com.
(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (7) Ottawa Senators
Sunday evening's game holds a lot of weight in the series, and as of the second intermission, the Penguins have a 1-0 lead.
It's a battle of strengths—Pittsburgh's high-octane offense against the Senators' stout defense, which gave up the second-fewest goals in the regular season and also sported the league's top penalty killing unit at 88 percent.
Thus far, the Penguins have notched four goals in the first two contests, deeming it rather meaningless whether the struggling Marc-Andre Fleury or veteran fill-in Tomas Vokoun is minding the net.
SportsCenter tweeted the significance of Crosby's prolific display, which happened within the first 22 minutes of the game:
Sidney Crosby nets 2nd career playoff hat trick & becomes the 5th quickest player to 100 career playoff points as Pens beat Senators, 4-3.5/18/2013, 2:11:27 AM
There is simply too much firepower in Pittsburgh for the Sens to handle. Unless Ottawa gets far more production out of their beloved captain Daniel Alfredsson—who was brilliant in the five-game disposal of Montreal—this series will be over in short order.
Retirement may be in the cards for Alfredsson, so expect him to rise to the occasion. However, it's hard to envision the Senators nabbing more than one game from the red-hot Pens.
Prediction: Penguins in five games.
(5) Los Angeles Kings vs. (6) San Jose Sharks
This series is destined to go the full seven games because it features the two teams with the worst road records in the league remaining in the playoffs.
In that context, everything has gone according to plan—even if it took the Kings two goals in 22 seconds to steal Game 2 in the Staples Center:
The two home wins preceded a crushing 2-1 overtime loss on Saturday. It was a missed opportunity to take optimal control and wasted a marvelous effort from reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick, who denied 38 of 40 Sharks shots.
As resilient as this Kings' nucleus was in winning it all last year, San Jose showed its own mettle by pulling out a gutsy win in the face of a basically insurmountable 0-3 deficit.
Logan Couture scored the game-winning power-play goal in the extra period, despite being hobbled by a left leg injury early in the second period, per Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.
As LeBrun documents, veteran defenseman Brad Stuart went as far to call the 24-year-old Couture the leader of the team:
In my opinion, [Couture]’s probably the leader of this team. Throughout the season, he’s kind of taken that role, I think, especially on the ice. So to have him come back was huge. It’s just a boost to the guys mentally, if nothing else.
It's the type of grit that Couture displayed that can inspire a team to turn things around—especially with the season hanging in the balance. That's precisely what should happen in this instance.
The hosts will win every game of this California semifinals showdown. As a result, Los Angeles scraps its way to within four wins of representing the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals once again.
Prediction: Kings in seven games.
(4) Boston Bruins vs. (6) New York Rangers
Henrik Lundqvist is one of the premier goaltenders in the NHL, which made his allowance of five goals on 32 shots in Sunday's 5-2 loss in Boston rather shocking.
Cause for alarm in that regard is illogical, considering how brilliant Lundqvist typically is, and how he stopped 45 shots in the team's 3-2 overtime loss in Game 1.
On the other hand, the NHL's Twitter page highlighted the most disturbing trend of the postseason for the Rangers thus far—Rick Nash's lack of production:
The @NYRangers didn't get the W, but Rick Nash finally got the monkey off his back, scoring his 1st of the playoffs: http://t.co/bZIWNdYEHF5/20/2013, 1:30:23 AM
Nash was the leading goal scorer for New York during the regular campaign. This is only his second trip to the postseason, and after toiling away on horrible Columbus Blue Jackets teams for years, it's not going so well.
There needs to be more support for Lundqvist if the Rangers are meant to dig themselves out of this 2-0 hole, but that's easier said than done in some respects.
The Bruins are riding a wave of momentum after a stirring comeback in Game 7 of the quarterfinals to stun the Toronto Maple Leafs, and simply haven't looked back since. Assuming Nash gets his act together, the Rangers are capable of pulling off two wins in Madison Square Garden.
Claude Julien's club, though, seems destined to make a significant run and is playing with such emotion that it's hard to dismiss the Bruins, especially with this big of an advantage.
New York is a putrid 2-of-36 on the power play during these playoffs, and unless that substantially changes, it's simply not good enough to continue playing this late in the season.
Prediction: Bruins in seven games.
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings
The word underdog and the Red Wings' franchise aren't typically associated with each other. However, this isn't a Detroit team with the status of a perpetual Stanley Cup contender, as it was in the prior two decades.
It was impressive nevertheless that Mike Babcock's bunch rallied to win the final two games against the Anaheim Ducks just to get to this stage.
After looking over-matched in the opener, the Red Wings delivered a statement victory, beating the President's Trophy-winning Blackhawks by the same 4-1 margin they were pummeled by in Game 1.
Babcock commented on the leadership of his veteran stars in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk—while also praising Chicago captain Jonathan Toews—and how it's been crucial to the Wings' success thus far, per Nina Falcone of CSNChicago.com:
That's what makes (Blackhawks captain Jonathan) Toews, Datsyuk and Zetterberg different. Those guys, that's what they do...They just compete. When it doesn't go their way, they dig down and find a way to go harder and that's why you want them around. That's a great example for the rest of your team.
With such a strong, star-studded team across the board, it's hard to believe Chicago is in this precarious of a position entering the hostile environment of Hockeytown.
Toews and Patrick Kane possess the championship experience to get it done, though, along with veteran Marian Hossa. The magnificent play of Patrick Sharp is also significantly helping the cause.
Combine that with a rock-solid defense keyed by two-way threat Duncan Keith and the wonderful play of Corey Crawford, and this team has all the pieces for a second hoisting of Lord Stanley's Cup in four years.
The Red Wings are proving to be a formidable foe, but the Blackhawks should steal one of the next two in Joe Louis Arena. In fact, considering their 18-4-2 record away from home in the lockout-shortened season, they should close it out on the road thereafter in Game 6.
Prediction: Blackhawks in six games.
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