Now that the first round is over, it is time for Part II of my predictions; I was 3-1 in the West and 2-2 in the East in the first round. In this article, I will predict how the rest of the playoffs will go, hopefully more accurately than in the first round, leaving regular and post-season awards for Part III...
Red Wings over Ducks in six
I fully expect the rust of so many days off to cost the Wings Game One, but the extra rest will pay off by Game Five. The Wings will not have the problem the sad-sack, toothless Sharks offence did scoring, especially with the number of power plays the Ducks put teams on.
The Ducks just do not have enough scoring to keep up, even against the sieve that is Chris Osgood.
Canucks over Blackhawks in seven
Chicago was the Western Conference pick I was least sure of in the first round because of their lack of playoff experience, but they played like veterans.
In two of their wins, they had to come back from late deficits, including one that necessitated a late third-period goal and another in overtime. They have an experienced goalie who is in the zone, a solid power play, and a variety of scorers, as well as the ability to play physical.
However, Vancouver has all of those elements as well, plus a future Hall of Fame centre for whom this may be a last chance to get his name on the Cup. They also have home-ice advantage, and they are very good at GM Place, having won 11 in a row there at one stretch late in the season.
Hurricanes over Bruins in six
I had a tough time picking this one because I respect Boston. While their first-round series was against a depleted and defeated Canadiens squad, they had the best goal differential in the league because they have great balance, being in the top ten in almost every category. They have all the elements: Tim Thomas playing well in net, primary and secondary scoring, a solid blue line...
However, Carolina has been the second-hottest team in the East since the trade deadline and is on a roll. To pull out a game on the road against arguably the greatest goaltender of all time when you are losing with 80 seconds left in your season was exhilarating; to not need overtime was phenomenal. The Hurricanes have championship experience and their one weakness—the blue line—has been playing well.
Penguins over Capitals in five
Washington was impressive in coming back from a 2-0 and 3-1 deficit to win the series, becoming just the 21st such team (out of 231) to do the latter. Sergei Varlamov has anchored them in net since the change was made, with one of his losses being 1-0. The Caps have the skaters to beat most teams despite his lack of experience.
Unfortunately for them, they have a tough draw. Since firing Michel Therrien, the Penguins have been the best team in the league. They have the deepest forwards outside of Detroit, a good blue line, solid goaltending, and the experience of last year's Eastern Conference Championship that helped them overcome a 3-0 deficit to close their series against Philadelphia with a 5-3 win.
(For the record, my original picks for this round, based on the teams I had expected to advance, were San Jose over Chicago in seven, Vancouver over Detroit in six, New York over Boston in six, and Pittsburgh over New Jersey in six.)
Canucks over Red Wings in seven
I am a big believer in goaltending, and Luongo is better than Osgood in every single game in this series. It is just enough when he is under pressure in Game Seven at home, and Vancouver has good enough forwards and defencemen to at least compete with the best skaters in the league.
Penguins over Hurricanes in five
I will take Pittsburgh in this match-up of two hot teams because they have the personnel to sustain it. Cam Ward will not be quite as impenetrable against the second-best set of skaters in the league, as the Carolina blue line will be exposed.
(My original picks for this round in the East was the Pens over the Rangers and the Canucks over the Sharks in six. I expected the latter to be worn-down and banged up thanks to the dirty play of the Ducks, but they did not have to resort to that since their opponents did not show up.)
Stanley Cup Finals (same as my original prediction)
Penguins over Canucks in six
Pittsburgh might lose early because of rust, but by the end of the series, Vancouver has little left thanks in large part to tougher series and even more thanks to all the additional travel.
In the end, Pittsburgh has the personnel and savvy to handle the extra pressure they will be under. They will overcome Roberto Luongo, becoming the first team this decade to win the Cup that did not win their division.