What an exciting night of hockey we saw last night. The Maple Leafs appeared to be a lock in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, taking a 2-1 lead in the second period, and carrying a 4-1 lead midway through the third when the collapse began. Boston bounced back with 4 straight goals, including an overtime winner, to clinch the series. In Washington, it was all Rangers, as they became the first team to win an away game in the series. New York scored late in the first, and never looked back, winning 5-0.
As round two matchups are now set, and begin tonight, I dare to give you my predictions of who will come out in top in each series.
Pittsburgh vs Ottawa
I’m not sure we got what we expected in the first round out of either of these teams. Pittsburgh showed their weaknesses, and despite my praising of the Penguins after game one, the series was a lot closer than many expected. The Islanders exploited goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, as well as the Penguins defense. At the end of the day, their offense was too much for the Islanders to manage.
In the other series, Ottawa steamrolled Montreal in only five games. The return of Craig Anderson between the pipes, and Erik Karlsson on the blue line, has strengthened the core of this team. They are much better than their six seed suggests, and showed everyone in the first round that they are capable of playing a very physical game.
Ottawa is going to prove in this series that they can compete, just as the Islanders did. However, goaltending will be the key for both teams. Craig Anderson is dependable, and capable of stealing a game or a series by himself. Meanwhile, the combination of Marc-Andre Fleury and Tomas Vokoun has been sub par thus far in the playoffs. If Ottawa can maintain their scoring power, while Anderson stands on his head, they’ll take the series and head to the conference finals.
As much as I would like to see that happen, the Penguins still have too much depth and leadership. Many of the guys in their locker room have been in these situations before, and they know exactly what to expect and what is expected of them. They have taken note of their weaknesses and will come back stronger in round two. It will be a good series, but in the end, Crosby and the Penguins will head to the conference finals.
Prediction: Penguins in 6
Boston vs New York
Two game sevens last night culminated in this matchup. Boston never should have been in the position they found themselves in, being down 4-1 in the third period of game seven. This is especially true considering they were leading the series 3-1 at one point. But at the end of the day, Patrice Bergeron found his scoring touch and helped guide the Bruins to round two.
Meanwhile, against Washington, the New York Rangers picked up two straight shutouts to eliminate the Capitals. They battled pretty closely with Washington, but showed they can win away from home and lived to see another series.
New York’s Henrik Lundqvist is getting hot at just the right time, and the Rangers would be lost without him. Consider their top offensive players (Brad Richards, Rick Nash, and Derek Stepan) have combined for only three goals and two assists in seven games. Their numbers aren’t truly awful, but on the other hand, Derek Brassard has 2 goals and 7 assists by himself in those same seven games. Brassard needs to stay hot, while helping the big names on the Rangers heat up if they want to advance.
Bergeron and Seguin have been mediocre in the playoffs thus far for Boston, and perhaps that is part of the reason why their series even reached seven games. But while they have struggled, the teams offense hasn’t been missing. In fact, David Krejci has been on a tear with 5 goals and 8 assists as he leads all playoff scorers with 13 points.
Krecji and company had their struggles against the Maple Leafs, but they are a determined group. Their offensive skills and solid defensive units will allow them to take control of this series against the Rangers. Lundqvist will only be able to handle so much, and the rest will fall on the lack of scoring for the Rangers offense. When all is said and done, the Bruins stay strong for Boston and take the series.
Prediction: Bruins in 6
San Jose vs Los Angeles
While San Jose was busy dominating the number three seed Canucks, Los Angeles was being dominated by the St. Louis Blues. Well, at least in the first two games. The Sharks completed a sweep of the Canucks in four games, and not including a couple of 2-1 losses, the Kings bounced back and ran through St. Louis in four straight.
Jonathan Quick is just as strong as he’s ever been, carrying a 1.58 goals against average through the first series against the Blues. His play is reminiscent of last years playoffs, and the Kings as a whole are finding their touch as well.
San Jose was solid on all fronts against Vancouver, but they’ve been off for six days already. They’re top guys are scoring at a good rate, but they’ll need to continue that against one of the NHL’s premier goaltenders. The Sharks have continued to make early exits from the playoffs and it appears it could be all or nothing for the team this year.
While the Kings were good against the Blues in those final four games, I think the Sharks have what it takes to make a push this year. Goaltending has been steady and the defense has been good. Expect a low scoring series, but one where the Sharks get the edge in the close battles.
Prediction: Sharks in 7
Chicago vs Detroit
Chicago clinched their series against the Wild in five games, but really, this series was anything but close. The Blackhawks have a talented and deep team, with a goalie who has been outstanding this season in Corey Crawford. He maintains the best goals against average and save percentage among starting goalies in the playoffs thus far, while the team in front of him has been equally impressive. Everyone on the Blackhawks squad has been performing as expected, save for Jonathan Toews whose two points are surprisingly low compared to the team leaders. Fortunately, the team leaders include a dominant group of players.
The Red Wings entered the playoffs as a seven seed, but were a favorite by many to win their opening series against the Ducks. They did just that in a tight seven game series, with three of their wins coming in overtime. Jimmy Howard has been outstanding, while Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk continue to lead the team offensively.
Unfortunately for the Red Wings, their postseason will come to an abrupt ending against Chicago. The Red wings made a good effort this year defeating the Ducks, but it will not continue. Chicago’s weapons include Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Andrew Shaw, and the list goes on. Add in Crawford, who has been dominant as well, and you have a team thats destined to make a serious run for the Stanley Cup.
Prediction: Blackhawks in 5
What are your thoughts headed into round two? Let us know your predictions in the comments below!