Joining the rest of my fellow hockey buzz enthusiasts, here are my predictions for Round Two as well as a review of Round One.
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I'll take a 6-1-1 record into the second round. I correctly predicted wins for Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh (even got the games right), Detroit, Vancouver, and Chicago. San Jose let me down, just like pretty much everyone else. I gave myself a tie because I feel like I pulled a cop-out in the NJ-Carolina series. I picked Carolina, but I said that New Jersey could take the series if Zach Parise could outscore Erik Cole and Eric Staal (he didn't) and if Martin Brodeur could shake off the rust after being on the bench most of the season (Brodeur was average - for him - at best).
Round Two - Eastern Conference
#1 Boston vs #6 Carolina
Boston is coming off a sweep of their hated rivals the Montreal Canadians while the Hurricanes finished an emotional seven game series. Don't judge this series by the first game. Boston has been sitting for a week since finishing of the Habs and that is sure to create problems for the Bruins. On the other hand Carolina will have their own problems trying to keep up with a well-rested Bruins team that can easily roll four lines against the battle-weary Canes.
Looking further into the series the Bruins have too many weapons and Tim Thomas has been a much better goaltender. Bruins in six.
#2 Washington vs #4 Pittsburgh
Christmas came early for Gary Bettman this year. After all the trash talk at the start of the season and with the exciting scoring race at the end Bettman now gets to sit back and count the money (if he can even count) that will be pouring in. Ovechkin versus Malkin. Semin versus Crosby. Gonchar versus his former team.
At the end of the day this series depends on two matchups: Fleury versus Varlamov and Pittsburgh's third line against their Washington counterparts. Fleury has proven himself in the playoffs over the last two seasons, but he's no Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur. He can steal a game when he needs to, but still lets in some soft goals. Varlamov is relatively untested. His only playoff experience came against a team that wasn't exactly offensively talented. Advantage Fleury and the Penguins.
In the battle of the third liners it's tough to give the edge to either team. Pittsburgh's third line showed they can be a shut-down defensive group or an energetic puck-possession line. Tyler Kennedy showed off for us with his two goals and ability to carry the puck from behind the net, up to the point, and then back behind the net with seemingly little effort. He did that against a Flyers defense that was certainly far better than the Capitals'. Add Matt Cooke going hard to the net and Jordan Staal's face-off ability and physical play in the corners and I have give the nod to Pittsburgh. Penguins in seven
Round Two - Western Conference
#2 Detroit vs #8 Anaheim
San Jose got the short end of the stick in round one, and now it's Detroit's turn. The Red Wings have one big advantage, though. They have two defensive experts centering their top two lines in Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Not only are the two both good defenders, they can score points too. That's pretty much the theme of the entire Red Wings team. All four lines can put the puck in the net, but not one of them is a slouch on defense. I'll take four lines over two anyday. The one x-factor here is the goaltending. Chris Osgood appears to have returned to his old playoff form, if we exclude the five goals he allowed Columbus in game four. Jonas Hiller stole games one and two from San Jose, and played just as good throughout the six game series as he did in the first two. Hiller is the better goaltender, but Detroit is the better team. Detroit in six.
#3 Vancouver vs #4 Chicago
Youth and enthusiasm took over in round one and got the Blackhawks into the second round for the first time since 1996. Now they face Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks. The two teams are built very similar. Great goaltending, a solid defensive core, and tough, physical star power up front. Neither team has much playoff experience to go off of when things get tough. I give the edge to Chicago for the way they proved themselves against a tough Calgary Flames team. Blackhawks in five.
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