Saturday, April 30, 2011

Stanley Cup, Round Two

Full disclosure: I'm writing this after three of the conference semifinal series have already played their first game, but it's not changing any of the picks.

It was an amazing first round of the playoffs, and I picked six of the eight series correctly. The two I missed were Chicago over Vancouver, which went to overtime in Game Seven, and Buffalo over Philadelphia, which also went to Game Seven after Buffalo was only a few minutes away from wrapping up the series in Game Six. So I'm telling myself that I was very close to picking a clean sweep.

The main object at this point, of course, is figuring out who can stop Satan's team, the Vancouver Canucks. They nearly gagged away the first series, taking a 3-0 lead over Chicago before losing three straight, and having the Blackhawks force OT in Game Seven before the Canucks stumbled into a win.

Unfortunately, I don't think the Nashville Predators are the ones to get the job done. As I said earlier this month, I admire the Nashville organization, and the Mike Fisher/Carrie Underwood connection (see post below) makes we want something good to happen to this team. But as they showed in their Game One 1-0 loss at Vancouver, they're going to have a tough time dealing with Vancouver's speed. Let's say Canucks in five games.

The other Western Conference semifinal has San Jose facing Detroit, and San Jose took a 2-1 win in Game One Friday night. I still think Detroit will win this, however. They are well-rested after a four-game sweep of Phoenix, and everyone appears to be back from injury. My biggest concern was how goalie Jimmy Howard would play in his first big series, but he was terrific against the Coyotes, and also in the loss Friday night. It will take six games, but I think Detroit wins.

In the East, my pick to win it all - the Boston Bruins - had to go OT in Game Seven to beat Montreal in an incredible series. Montreal won the first two games in Boston and looked in control, but the Bruins won two in Montreal to even the series, before going on to win. It's too bad this was a first-round matchup, because if this had been a Stanley Cup Final series, someone would have written a book about it. As it is, no one outside of the two cities will remember it a month from now.

The win gives Boston a rematch with Philadelphia, who overcame a 3-0 deficit last year to beat the Bruins in seven games. That won't happen again. The same shaky Philly goaltending that I talked about at the start of the playoffs almost cost them the Buffalo series, and it will hurt them again here. Bruins in six.

Finally, the Capitals face Tampa Bay, and the Lightning sprung a surprise in Game One, grabbing a 4-2 win in Washington. I think that was probably the wake-up call the Capitals needed, and they should take this series in six games. Ovechkin, Semin, Backstrom and the boys just have too much talent, and Dwayne Roloson is giving Tampa great goaltending (a 36-save shutout in Game Seven against Pittsburgh), but he's 41 years old and the playoffs are a real grind. He has a reputation as a fitness and training fanatic, but let's see how he holds up.

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