Western Conference Round 2
In the first round, I went 2 and 2 on my predictions - right on Vancouver and Nashville going on, wrong on Detroit and San Jose (there was some wishful thinking on my part on that one). It was a great round 1, and Round 2 should be great as well.
1. Vancouver vs. 5. Nashville
The real question in this series is what Roberto Luongo will show up. The one who was a Vezina nominee this year, and played so good in the first three games in the Chicago series, and was excellent in Game 7, or the one who couldn’t stop a beach ball for three games. If he plays well, than the Canucks should beat Nashville in round 2. Their forwards completely outmatch those of the Predators, and their defense is essentially a wash. The Sedins certainly need to step up as well, and Kesler needs to score against the much less experienced Predators, who have never been in Round 2 before. What the Predators have going for them is the best goalie in the Western conference in Pekka Rinne - who unlike Luongo is always great. On defense, they are led by Shea Weber - who was undoubtedly the best defensemen in the Western conference this season. Their forwards are workmanlike - led by Mike Fisher, who has fit in well here, and Martin Erat. In my mind, The Preds are the best coached team in the NHL - they should never make the playoffs, but always do because Barry Trotz knows how to get the most from his players. People in Vancouver probably think this is going to be a cakewalk - but they best not take Nashville lightly. This will be closer than many think.
Prediction: Vancouver in 7.
2. San Jose vs. 3. Detroit
A rematch of last year’s second round series, that the Sharks won surprisingly easily. The difference this year is that the Red Wings are not coming off of a long battle in round 1, as the swept the Coyotes, while the Sharks had to battle long and hard against the Kings. Like in the other Western series, I think this one hinges on the performance of a goalie - Annti Niemi. There were times where he downright sucked against the Kings - and that was without a legit sniper firing on him. How will be fare against Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Franzen, Lidstrom, et al. These teams match up well against each other - weak on defense, question marks in net, and a group of amazing forwards. If I worry about the Sharks a little, its because even against the Kings, their fourth line couldn’t do anything right - and they had to ride their top three lines hard - and as always, there were times when Thronton, Marleau and Heatley (now a separate line as the other two) disappered. Still, I think that the Sharks are once again just too much for the Red Wings. This will be a battle though.
Prediction: San Jose in 6.
Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions
Like in the West, I was 2 and 2 in my first round predictions (proving once again why I spend more time writing about movies than hockey) - predicting Washington and Boston going on, failing on Philly and Tampa. It was a great first round out East as well, so let’s hope they keep it up in round 2.
1. Washington vs. 5. Tampa Bay
Bruce Bodreau’s transfer from all offense to a more balanced game for the Caps paid dividends in the first round, fairly easily deposing of the Rangers. This team can still out score you, but now they are also comfortable playing in close games as well. And if there is any player in the league who wants to win more than Ovechkin, I don’t know who it is. Green should be healthy, and Neuvirth has answered a questions about Washington’s goaltending. For Tampa’s part, they never said die, came back from 3-1 behind to beat the Pens. Surprisingly, Tampa was able to do it even with Stamkos underperforming. Guy Boucher has this team playing tremendously well right now, and the ageless Dwayne Roloson still has something left in the tank in net. Still however, I think it’s asking too much of Tampa, who have just won their first series since winning the cup, and has struggled mightily since then to beat the Caps, a deeper, more experienced team, in the first year of their resurgence.
Prediction: Washington in 6.
2. Philidelphia vs. 3. Boston
The round two series these two teams played last year will be forever remembered, as we saw the nearly impossible when Philly came back from 3-0 down in the series and in game 7. But make no mistake about it, this Boston team is not the same as the one that blew it last year. The biggest difference will be in net, where Tim Thomas has been the best goalie in the league this year. Yes, they fought hard in 7 games against Montreal, but then again, Philly had to fight to seven against Buffalo. The question mark for Philly is whether ANY of their goalies can find some consistency. With Pronger back, and big time playoff performers like Richards, Giroux, Lieno and Briere, you know they’ll be strong outside the crease, but I wonder just how far their goaltending will get them. Out of all the round 2 series’ this is the one that I have the hardest time picking.
Prediction: Philidelphia in 7.