Star Wars: Preview of the NHL's Sensational Second Round Matchups

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Star Wars: Preview of the NHL's Sensational Second Round Matchups
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Quick Question: Could the second round of the NHL Playoffs possibly look any better?

Quick Answer: No.

After a fast-paced, heart-pounding, white-knuckle barrage of stunning and entertaining series that was the first round, the NHL's second round is looking to be one of the best in a long time, with all four series having the potential for even more edge-of-your-seat action.

The second round is going to provide the die-hard fan and the casual fan absolutely everything they could want and more.

Basically, all the top players in the league are still in the playoffs and if the first round was any indication, some of the best budding stars are ready to make a name for them as playoff studs, too.

Each series has dozens of storylines and plenty to watch for, but forget everything you remember about the playoffs in the past—from here on out, we are in for a treat.

Boston Bruins (1) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (6)

It may not be the most popular series out of the four in the second round, but that does not mean there isn't plenty to talk about.

The Boston Bruins have been sitting at home for a while now after disposing of Montreal quickly, while Carolina was 80 seconds away from being sent home by the New Jersey Devils before a jaw-dropping come back vaulted them ahead for good.

The series begins Friday night in Boston, and you can bet both teams are ready to get things started.

Both goaltenders are playing at the top of their game—Boston's, Tim Thomas, has been nominated for the Vezina Trophy as the best goalie in the league, while Carolina's Cam Ward is playing like he was when he carried the 'Canes to a Stanley Cup, a few years ago.

Each team has its share of offensive stars, along with plenty of under-the-radar talent that has gotten them where they are now.

Boston boasts one of the most spread-out offensive attacks in the NHL, as five players scored two goals or more in the first round—and that was in only four games. Both Michael Ryder and Phil Kessel had four goals, with Ryder leading the team in points with seven.

In fact, there were only three Boston skaters who played in the series that did not have a point.

The Hurricanes have quite the impressive offensive as well, with Eric Staal, Ray Whitney, and Chad LaRose all tallying seven points each (Staal leads all NHL scorers with five goals in the playoffs).

This series will be decided on defense, though, and whichever team can stop the other most effectively. Will Zdeno Chara and company is able to handle Eric Staal better than Joni Pitkanen and Co. handles Michael Ryder?

The answer will most likely be in the team that comes out on top.

The Bruins swept the season-series between the two teams, but since then, Carolina has found their game and will poise a much more difficult challenge for the Bruins in the playoffs.

X-Factor

Expect a fast and physical series, and if he can stay disciplined, watch out for Bruins power-forward Milan Lucic to set the tone.

Winner

Boston's defense is just too solid to let Staal and friends to run around like they were able to last series, but they should take notice that if the Canes are down, no matter how much time is left, they are never out—Carolina had two of their wins in the final seconds of the game in round one: Boston in six.

Washington Capitals (2) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (4)

"Welcome to the circus."

That was Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau's take on this series, and he could not have said it any better.

The storylines in this series are endless, with Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin at the forefront.

The winner of this series could also decide the Hart Trophy for the league's MVP, as both Evgeni Malkin and Ovechkin were both named as finalists (Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk was the third nominee).

Trying to compare the two team’s offenses is like lighting two sticks of dynamite and seeing which one causes the most damage—either way there's going to be an explosion.

Ovechkin, Alex Semin, and Niklas Backstrom are the weapons for Washington, while Pittsburgh has Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Chris Kunitz ready to unleash.

Any of these guys are capable of getting fans out of their seats at a moments notice and they know it.

The offense does not just end up front, though, because each team has an offensive stud on the blue line as well; both Mike Green and Sergei Gonchar can light the lamp with the best of them in the NHL, and they are looking to get going after a slow first round, statistically.

Where this series will come down to is in goal, which may sound surprising in a series that looks to be a shootout every night.

The goaltender that is better prepared mentally, and ready for the barrage of shots coming their way, will give their team the best chance to take this series.

Simeon Varlamov, the just-turned-21-year-old came into game two of the first round after a poor outing by Jose Theodore and hasn't looked back since.

In six games, he only allowed seven goals, boasting an impressive 9.52 Save Percentage and a 1.17 goals against average, not to mention two of his four wins were of the shutout variety.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the ice, Marc-Andre Fleury has posted a .922 Save Percentage and 2.39 goals against average, but is by far the more experienced goaltender of the two.

In last season's Stanley Cup run, Fleury had a 14-6 record, coming two wins shy of winning it all, and you know he is going to be prepared to get his team back to where they were last year and get the two wins they were missing, last year.

If you plan on watching only one series in the second round, and if you do that you're crazy, you should watch this one. The goals will come fast and furious and expect it to live up to the hype—and it is going to get hyped big-time!

The matchup that everyone wanted has finally arrived, and these teams do not like each other.

Don't blink.

X-Factor

Mike Green was practically a no-show in the first few games of the Rangers series, mostly due to sickness, but began to play much better in the final two games.

If he can play at the pace he did during the regular season, where he scored 31 goals, the Penguins may have a difficult time containing him while keeping the other snipers on Washington under control.

Winner

This series is basically a toss-up, with both teams having the ability to score at will, and the rivalry that has been brewing for a few years is now ready to boil over.

The Penguins added some solid playoff experience in Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz at the deadline, and with last year's deep run still in the back of their minds, look for Pittsburgh to come out with the win...barely. Penguins in seven.

Vancouver Canucks (3) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (4)

If there was ever a series where the saying, "leave it all on the ice," applied, it has got to be this one.

One month ago today, the Vancouver Canucks and Chicago Blackhawks played one of the most hate-filled games in the NHL season.

In one scrum in the third period, there were 80 minutes of penalties alone. There were even accusations of hair-pulling taking place; and you know when you get your hair pulled, you are not liked.

If you thought Chicago's first-round series with Calgary was as tough as it gets, think again—just wait until this one gets going.

This series is your typical offense vs. defense. The Vancouver Canucks are all about defense, and are full of defensive specialists. Ryan Kessler and Ryan Johnson are just two of the guys that get it done, especially when killing penalties.  

Vancouver does have their fair share of offensive threats, though, with the first line of Daniel and Henrick Sedin along side Alex Burrows being one of the biggest surprises on the team this season.

Together, those three can be lethal and with the puck-moving skills the twins have, teamed up with Burrow's ability to get to the net, they are not strangers to celebrating goals.

The Chicago Blackhawks are the youngest team in the NHL this season, but they don't play like it.

The young talent they have spread out over their lines is almost shocking to look at, and it showed in the first round against Calgary. Stars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Martin Havlat, Patrick Sharp, and Rookie of the Year candidate Kris Versteeg are dangerous whenever they step on the ice.

Six players on the team had six points or more in the first round and if they keep up the pace, Vancouver could have a tough time keeping them out of their end.

Not forgetting Chicago's outstanding defense as well, the team has some incredible talent at the back end, including Cam Barker, Brian Campbell, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith—a corps that showed they could withstand a potent attack against Calgary and look to continue to do so in round two.

The one advantage that Vancouver has, over any team, is in goal. Roberto Luongo is playing out of his mind right now, and looks more determined than he ever has to carry his team to the Cup.

In round one, Luongo lead all goalies in GAA (1.15) and SV percentage (.962), also posting a shutout in the four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues.

It seemed as if he could have single-handedly beaten the Blues with his outstanding play, and if there was ever a year for him to win the cup, it looks to be 2009.

Nikolai Khabibulin looked awfully good as well, posting a GAA of 2.52 and a SV percentage of .914. He looks like he is back to his Stanley Cup winning form from when he won in Tampa.

Don't be shocked if the parade of suspensions in the NHL continues in this series, as these teams have not forgotten about what happened the last time they played.

X-Factor

Since the Canucks signed him late in the season, Mats Sundin has looked as if age has caught up with him and he simply is not the player he used to be.

After dealing with the dreaded lower-body injury in round one, he is apparently healthy and ready to go for this series. If he can find his game, and the clutch playoff success that he is known for, the Canucks should take the series.

Winner

Calgary thought they could beat Chicago with size and toughness, but the Hawks matched that and then some and skated all over the Flames in six games.

Discipline will play a big role in this series as well and the beardless Hawks will show they can play tough while staying out of the box.

Even though Luongo is playing the best hockey of his life right now, the Blackhawks will prove to be much more talented offensively than the Blues did and stun the Canucks with their speed and skill. Blackhawks in six.

Detroit Red Wings (2) vs. Anaheim Ducks (8)

You can call them a Cinderella team if you want, but there is nothing shocking about how good the Anaheim Ducks are playing right now and as Detroit will find out quickly, this is not your usual eighth seeded team.

The Ducks took out the best team in the NHL in round one, the San Jose Sharks, and are playing what looks to be better than they did when they won the Cup in 2007.

Stars like Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Bobby Ryan are playing at the top of their game, with defensive studs Chris Pronger and Scott Neidermeyer doing what they have done for years in shutting down opposing teams' big guns.

Detroit swept the Columbus Blue Jackets in round one, to no one's surprise, with an all-out attack from all angles.

Whether it was Henrick Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk wheeling and dealing, the steady Johan Franzen working his magic in front of the net or Thomas Holmstrom battling hard in front of the net, the Red Wings got it done quickly and have been sitting at home waiting for their second-round opponent.

Defensively, Detroit is as strong as they always have been, with Nik Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski thwarting any attempts around the net.

Where this series is going to be the most interesting is in net at both ends.

36-year-old Chris Osgood is up to usual tricks in the postseason, but his play during the regular season was questionable at best and it will be a concern to the team if his play begins to slip this series.

In net for the Ducks is the unknown-until-now Jonas Hiller, who made his playoff debut by shutting down one of the best offenses in the league in San Jose.

His .957 SV percentage was just ridiculous in round one, as he shutout the Sharks twice in the six-game series.

Expect this series to be a close one, as three of the four regular season games these two teams played were decided by one goal, but Detroit did go 3-1 in the series.

X-Factor

Chris Osgood quieted the critics in round one by playing better than expected in the four games so far, but whether he will be able to sustain that or not in a longer, tougher series has yet to be seen.

The Ducks will pose as a tougher test than the Sharks because of their proven playoff success, compared to San Jose who has a team of players who are generally known as chokers come playoff time.

If Osgood plays as good as he can, Detroit should take this series. If he slips up like he did at times during the season, the Ducks could walk all over him.

Winner

The lowest-seeded team left in the playoffs will not play like it in this round. The Ducks have found their confidence that they showed two years ago, and if Jonas Hiller can keep up his outstanding play, the Red Wings could be up against more than they bargained for.

The Ducks will pepper Osgood with more shots than he is used to, which will eventually prove to be too much and his shaky play will cost the Red Wings the series.

Heck, Anaheim already took out the best team; the second best shouldn't be too tough. I'm going out on a little bit of a limb, but I say Ducks in seven.

Hold on to your hats kids, we are in for one heck-of-a ride.

Buckle up.

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