Well, that felt quick. As the first round flew by, we learned a lot about what we predicted, what came true, and what effects this will have on our eventual Stanley Cup Champions. Let’s break down what to expect from the second round of NHL play:
Eastern Conference Semi-Finals
New York Rangers vs. Washington Capitals
Marc-Andre Fleury may have been the MVP of the first round series against the New York Rangers. The Pittsburgh goalie improved on recent years by allowing two goals or less in every game except, ironically, the one game the Penguins won (4-3, in NY). Now, this also goes to show that NY shut down the diminished Penguins team, who we’ve discovered since was even more severely hampered by injury (Malkin with a sprained ankle and Hornqvist with a broken rib). New York will have a much tougher test with Washington, as Alex Ovechkin and his boys in red, white and blue will be thirsty for their first Stanley Cup finally. This matchup has occurred four times in the last six years, and it never loses its luster. The teams are tied in series wins, and three of the four series has gone to seven games. Washington went the distance with the Islanders, allowing the Hempsted based Nassau Coliseum to stay open for one last game this past Saturday. While the team will be much more physical than Pittsburgh, Washington’s players may be a little tired after the turnaround. New York, after all, has had five full days of rest. I think this series will go swifter than usual, and the Capitals season will once again be bittersweet. Rangers in 6.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa also took their first-round series to seven games, and as I nervously held my tongue as my hopes for a Tampa Bay Stanley Cup were nearly dashed by Mrazek and his marvelous goaltending, they slipped by tonight to head up to Montreal for an even more difficult match-up. The biggest note from the first round is that superstar Steven Stamkos didn’t score a single goal in the first round, and while he wasn’t simply missing from the proceedings, he needs to step up against the likely Vezina winner Carey Price. Mrazek held his team in there, but Price is another level. Behind stellar defense with PK Subban and Andrei Markov, Carey Price outdueled Ottawa’s goaltending tandem of Andrew Hammond and Craig Anderson. Here I’m sure they’ll be even hungrier, as they’re getting used to spending a lot more ice time in May. Max Pacioretty seems rehabbed from the slight concussion incurred towards the end of the regular season, and Tampa players like Brian Boyle and Tyler Johnson stepped up at the right times for their team. This could easily be another seven games for the Lightning, and I’m expecting a severely close series. I have to stick to my original prediction, even though this means picking against the more likely Canadian winner left. Lightning in 7.
Western Conference Semi-Finals
Anaheim Ducks vs. Calgary Flames
In a seven game series, a team will typically have to win on the road at least once, and it is especially a given when you’re the underdog – as Calgary is. So the big problem here is that the Calgary Flames haven’t won a game in Honda Center over the past nine years. That’s right, they are 0-20 in their past 20 games against the Ducks. History might dictate that as an advantage for the former Disney darlings, but these Flames are plucky. I don’t expect them to roll over, though they might do just that in southeast Los Angeles. With the potential for star defenseman Mark Giordano to return during this series, I expect the Flames to go the distance and cause the Ducks to struggle. I do, however, believe my original pick for Stanley Cup Finals stands, and I’m going with Ducks in 6.
Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild
Chicago is swift; Chicago is tough; Chicago is ready to get to the Western Conference finals again. Unlike the last two season matchups (1st round in 2013 and 2nd round in 2014), Minnesota seems like a much more complete team. I see Zach Parise and phenom Devan Dubnyk will be the difference this time around. Last season Parise looked lost and tired, while the goaltending was questionable – Josh Harding is a trooper in his battle with MS, but as we’ve learned since he isn’t much of a mindful team player. Dubnyk, on the other hand – and I marvel still at saying stuff like this – has been one of the best goalies in the league this season. I see the scoring going high in some games, but I can see a shutout coming from both sides. Scott Darling has been interesting in net for Chicago, stifling the Predators early in the series after relieving a weary Corey Crawford, but in game 6 was pulled after giving up 3 goals on 12 shots. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville is returning to his number one goalie in the first game Friday night, so we’ll have a good idea of the way this series will go after game one. I believe in Dubnyk, though. This is Minnesota’s time to dethrone the Western dynasty. Wild in 6.
Hey, and there you have it – my predictions can roll over from the first round, at least in results. In the first round I was much better in the West, and close enough in the East. I had two incorrect teams out of eight – I was really into Ottawa making it over Montreal, and I had the Islanders winning that seventh game in DC (who knew shooting a lot of pucks on net would result in a win?). I had it right on the nose for the New York Rangers (in 5) and Minnesota (in 6), and I was one game off in the other three Western series. Here’s hoping something close to the above happens, because it’ll make this hockey fan all that happier. I still wouldn’t mind Calgary or Montreal making it to the Conference finals, as it’s been 22 years since we’ve had a Canadian champion, but I really want an Anaheim-Minnesota re-match in the West (2003, Anaheim won), and I really would be fine with any combination in the East. As my father’s a Rangers fan, and I picked Tampa Bay to begin with, I am obviously leaning that way as a fan. Here’s hoping the second round is just as fun as the first!