Well they may be fairly biased and random, but the first round predictions for the NHL Playoffs were also 75% correct, with the only misses being for the Phoenix Coyotes and Pittsburgh Penguins. I wasn't able to predict just how exciting these playoffs would be, of course, what with nine consecutive days featuring overtime games, but as the second round gets ready to kick off, let's take a look at the match-ups and what may happen.
One thing to note about the 2011 NHL Playoffs (that maybe I'm the only person who finds at all interesting): this year in both the Eastern and Western Conference we have the no. 1, 2, 3 and 5 seeds advancing. Last season, a different number seed won each series in the first round from the two conferences meaning that the second round kicked off with each seed from 1-8 still represented. Ok, just interesting to me.
#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #5 Nashville Predators
The President's Trophy winners had quite the run-in with the defending Stanley Cup Champs, going up 3-0 in the series, before allowing Chicago to storm all the way back to even the series, tie the final game with a shorthanded goal with just over a minute to play, only to win it dramatically in overtime. For Vancouver, the monkey is off their back in a way as they've knocked off the Blackhawks for the first time in three seasons, but goalie questions loom as Roberto Luongo was scratched for Game 6 in the series and Corey Schneider played fairly well in his absence.
Ryan Kesler, however, looks like a man possessed and Vancouver remains the deepest team in the playoffs. Nashville, on the other hand, finally wins a playoff series for Barry Trotz and looks to turn it into a deep playoff run. They have the best defense in the league and a style that compliments that talent with Pekka Rinne manning the nets deftly. Can they double down on their postseason success? I'd love to say it's in the cards, but Vancouver just has too much fire power here. Canucks in 6.
#2 San Jose Sharks vs. #3 Detroit Red Wings
I've seen more than I care to of the Red Wings and they are the real deal again. They blitzkrieged through the Coyotes in the first round and have been sitting at home just waiting for the match-up to get set. With all of their experience and the potential return of leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg, they will be a formidable foe for any adversary.
San Jose didn't have quite the easy time with Los Angeles, but they did show their talent with some comebacks for the ages in the series and clutch performances from noted playoff-choke artist Joe Thornton. Last year, San Jose was able to eliminate a battle-weary Detroit team that had snuck past the Coyotes. This year, Detroit will be better rested and appears on a mission. With Pavel Datsyuk leading the charge, San Jose will need better goaltending from Antti Niemi (or Antero Niittymaki) if they want to move on. Red Wings in 6.
#1 Washington Capitals vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning
Two Southeast Division foes will square off in the first Eastern Conference Semi-final series and it should be an offensive affair. There's a lot of talent on both squads here with Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin and their respective supporting casts battling it out. It will likely come down to the roll players and grinders, guys like Jason Arnott, Mike Knuble, Todd Purcell and Dominic Moore to decide this series.
Both teams have less-heralded goaltending, but Michael Neuvirth was quite impressive in the Caps' win over the Rangers and Dwayne Roloson proved he is an ageless wonder in taking down the Penguins. Will Bruce Boudreau's more defensively minded style continue to reap playoff dividends or will Martin St. Louis spoil the fun at the Phone Booth. Capitals in 5.
#2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. #3 Boston Bruins
The Flyers became the first team in history to win a playoff series in which three different goaltenders started a game. The Flyers' adventure in net should be all the reason needed to pick against them, especially when faced with a highly motivated Bruins squad that would like nothing more than to erase the memories of last season's collapse against Philadelphia where they blew a 3-0 series lead and 3-0 lead in game 7 to drop the second round series.
So why do I think Philadelphia wins this series handily? Because despite struggling with a peskily fast Buffalo squad, the Flyers finally locked their game down in Game 7 and simply out-talented the opposition. The Flyers are one of the deepest teams both at forward and on defense in the NHL this year and with Chris Pronger returning to normal action, it adds that level of experience and simple intimidation that will put them over the top, in my opinion. No disrespect to a very good Boston squad with likely Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas in net and Zdeno Chara manning the blue line. This should be a great series and expect all the nastiness that you can imagine to be on the surface. Flyers in 6.