Round Two Fight: NHL Conference Semifinals
The NHL playoffs flew by, and our first round of play was chock-full of the good stuff. The second round promises to be full of the same.
Here are the Western Conference Semifinals predictions since the first series kicks off in several hours. I will have the Eastern Conference predictions tonight.
Until then, sustain your sanity and chew on this.
Western Conference: (4) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (3) Vancouver Canucks
Of all of the second round matchups, this 4v3 Western Conference Semis battle figures to be the toughest call. After all, the Canucks handily dismantled the St. Louis Blues (one of the hotter teams in the NHL coming into the postseason) and the Hawks played with a poise and grit that was more befitting of the veteran Flames whom they so readily helped.
And this does not even take into account that these two squads absolutely abhor each other. If the last time that they danced is any indication (rife with unchecked aggression and body slams), then this will be a fun, chippy, and roughneck style hockey battle.
The Hawks’ youth and scoring potential can not be overstated. In fact, forwards Kris Versteeg, Patrick Sharp, and Jonathan Toews are amongst the most productive forwards in the Western Conference this post season, and that’s with a struggling Patrick Kane.
Their blue line (namely Seabrook and Barker) has been particularly productive, as well, notching four goals between the two of them. They’ll have to be very good because Vancouver’s defensemen are big and fast and with Luongo in goal, the Hawks will have to throw everything they’ve got at them.
Most analysts have this series going in five or six but I am not so sure that it’ll be so quick. Khabibulin has been huge in goal for the Blackhawks and that alone can stretch the series to another game if it turns into a penalty fest and Chicago’s killer PP makes it count. I still think that the Canucks have the tougher goaltender and the tougher defense and, likewise, the best chance of moving on. But watch out for this one—this might be the most fun we have in the second round, folks.
Canucks in seven.
(8) Anahiem Ducks vs. (2) Detroit Redwings
The Ducks embarrassed the San Jose Sharks in the first round. While most will tell you that the Sharks showed up lame and they choked, I’ll tell you that a considerable part of it can be chalked up to how incredibly physical the Ducks are—especially on defense. Pronger’s elbows are legendary and Scotty Niedermeyer practically belongs in a cagefighting circuit.
The Sharks simply are where the Redwings were several years ago: they will have a tough time against big, bruising, physical opponents.
Fortunately for the Redwings, ex-Ducks coach Mike Babcock brought that same physicality with him to Hockeytown and now the Redwings thrive when pushed around with big forwards like Johan “The Mule” Franzen and Marian Hossa to grind things out. On the flip side, the Redwings will have their hands full with Getzlaf, who has had a monster season, and Bobby Ryan, who has emerged as a scoring threat for Anahiem.
The Ducks can put the puck in the net but their depth will be a problem once past the Pronger-Niedermeyer pairing, as the Wings will still be fielding excellent and dangerous forwards. Playoff hockey isn’t won at even strength, nor by just the top two lines. The Redwings have a sizable edge, here.
This is in spite of the significant advantage that the Ducks have coming in goal. Osgood has certainly quieted most of his critics and has played the sort of playoff caliber goaltending you'd expect from him, but Jonas Hiller has been simply out of his mind. This has happened before for the Ducks with JS Giguere and again with Bryzgalov where they ride a hot goaltender deep into the postseason. I do believe that Hiller will have to continue to be simply amazing to win this for his team, as the Wings will likely barrage him with near to 50 shots a game.
Still, the depth the Wings have is simply too much. This series will be a lot closer than either of the last round’s for either team but the Wings will prevail with home ice and depth.
Wings in seven.
Eastern Conference: (6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (1) Boston Bruins
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat so that nobody is confused later when this is a tighter series than everyone is expecting it to be: this is, for the most part, the same Carolina squad that won the Stanley Cup a few years ago. At least where it might count most and that is between the pipes; whereas the Bruins trot out Tim Thomas who was basically the best goaltender all year during the regular season, the Canes have Cam Ward going for them who, not only tightened things up down the stretch this year, but has all sorts of playoff experience including a killer run the year they won it all when nobody could score on him.
The key will be the play immediately in front of the goal. Quite frankly, as talented as the top scorers for Carolina are (they’ve reunited Stall with Cole and it has paid dividends for them as evidenced by their strong 2nd half push this regular season), the Bruins defensemen are BIG. And when I say big, I’m referring to Zdeno Chara who is simply the best blue liner in the East and BIG. Fortunately for Carolina, most of their top offensive weapons are also giants with the exception of Sergei Samsanov who, at 5’8”, is some kind of hockey midget… or at least will seem like one if he has to do battle with Chara.
Ultimately, the Bruins are a far more balanced team and if they use that to their advantage by putting out a consistent effort and pressure with stud scorers like Savard, Kessel, Ryder and Krejci (and the unending sea of role players that litter their depth chart), the Canes won’t be able to keep up. The Canes can roll with anyone at even strength with their top line but it is a dramatic drop from there and the Bruins can take advantage of that as long as they can get to Ward.
However, don’t be shocked when this thing goes 6 or 7 because Ward steals a game or two from the top seed.
Bruins in six
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (2) Washington Capitals
Everybody’s dream came true. Let us not be coy; we just want to see Sid the Kid and Ovie battle for superstardom on the national stage and with everything on the line. Thing is, this won’t end up being a battle between those two... it actually might be Evgeni Malkin who challenges Ovechkin as he’s Pitts pure scorer. It’ll be mayhem but one thing is for sure here: the Caps will have their hands far too full.
Too much, perhaps, is being made of the super-sponsored battle between the elite forwards. Much of the real nuts and bolts of this series is being overlooked. Like with every other series, the top end stuff cancels out… the real game is played between the lesser names who will make the difference and that is where the Penguins, who have now seemed to regain their touch and their poise, are superior.
The Capitals have a very highly skilled offensive attack and it doesn’t just end with Ovechkin… Alexander Semin, Michael Green (an absolute power play goal MONSTER from the blue line), and Nicklas Backstrom are all very capable scorers. The Capitals also have a plethora of talented savvy veterans in Viktor Kozlov, Sergei Federov, and Michael Nylander. However, their depth really drops off after that and their slowfooted defense is sketch at best. How they will handle Malkin, Crosby, Staal, Gonchar and Sykora will be interesting to see
The Pens are a little more balanced and have a considerable amount more playoff experience at the most key positions, including in goal where Marc-Andre Fleury, despite his struggles, can and does step up at all the right times while Varlamov, as much of a sensation in round 1 as he has been, is green, green, GREEN. Goalies can steal shows but the question remains who’s offense will crack the opposing goalie’s confidence first?
My bets are that the Pens get to Varlamov before the Caps, even with all their scoring prowess (OVIE), get to Fleury.
Penguins in six
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