After going eight-for-eight in my predictions for Round 1 of the NHL playoffs, let’s see if I can improve on perfection.
Vancouver (1) vs. Nashville (5)
The Canucks managed to exorcize demons in the first round, but they are not free and clear yet. They still have a second round hurdle to get over that they have failed to get beyond since 1994 when they last made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and the Predators are going to be no pushover. The two teams split their regular season series with two wins a piece, with both teams winning once at home and on the road. This series very well could come down to a battle of Vezina Trophy finalists with both Pekka Rinne and Roberto Luongo having much to prove in the post season. Both teams have a strong defensive game and can play physical. The Predators also play a style of game that gets under the skin of opponents and that has proven to be a successful game plan against the Canucks in past playoffs — just look at last year’s loss to the Blackhawks as example. But the difference is going to come down to fire power and the Canucks just have too much of it.
Canucks in six.
San Jose (2) vs. Detroit (3)
This series is almost a coin flip. On one hand you have the perennial under-achieving Sharks. On the other is a veteran Red Wings team that knows how to win it all. However, both teams are flying a bit under the radar this year. They both match up well with multiple scoring lines, high-end skill and a solid puck moving blue-line. Even the goalies are both on uncertain ground. I don’t trust Jimmy Howard in Detroit as far as I can throw him. While I feel a little more confident in Antti Niemi in San Jose after he went through the experience of winning the Stanley Cup as the starter for the Chicago Blackhawks last season, he did not play well in the first round against the L.A. Kings. But I still think this might be the Sharks’ year, I just can’t get past Howard.
Take the Sharks in seven.
Washington (1) vs. Tampa Bay (5)
At first glance this series should be a whitewash. You got a Capitals team determined to put to rest the ghosts of past playoffs. Then you have the Lightning, a fifth seed that struggled with an undermanned Pittsburgh team in the first round. But a closer look reveals that this could be the most exciting series of the second round. Offensively I actually give the Lightning a slight edge, especially now that they have their third line of Nate Thompson, Dominic Moore and Sean Bergheim going strong. Defensively however, I give the edge to Washington, and not necessarily because of their blue-line which isn’t as strong as the Bolts’, it’s because of the team defence they play — a commitment which has led to a slight downgrade in their offence. Goaltending I give a slight edge to Dwayne Roloson in the Lightning net as he keeps showing signs he’s ready for a long playoff run, he just has to eliminate the soft goals. Still Michal Neuvirth cannot be forgotten about in Washington’s crease, not with two Calder Cups (AHL titles) to his record — this is finally his chance to prove he is more than a minor league sensation.
Washington in seven
Philadelphia (2) vs. Boston (3)
Another series that is almost a push. It is going to come down to whether or not Chris Kelly, Nathan Horton and Patrice Bergeron can continue to carry the Bruins or if they are going to get some help offensively from other members. Meanwhile, just getting Pronger back — even at 75 per cent — was a big development late in the first round for Philly. Boosting their chances is the expected return of Jeff Carter at some point this series from a knee injury he suffered in the first round. Boston’s big edge will be between the pipes where they cannot afford for Tim Thomas to have mental lapses like he did early in the first round against Montreal. Philadelphia brings the offensive skill that the Canadiens possessed but they can also match Boston’s physical play.
Take Philadelphia in six.