Hard to believe that the first round is already over, at least in the West. There are two Game 7’s tonight in the East between the Bruins and Maple Leafs, and the Rangers and Capitals. As it turns out, I did pretty well with my predictions for the first round of the series’ that have ended. In the West, I said that the Blackhawks would beat the Wild in 5 games, and they did. I had the Kings beating St. Louis in 6, and they did that as well. I thought Ottawa would win their series in 6 games, but they won it in 5 instead. The Islanders gave the Penguins a run for their money, but Pittsburgh won that one in 6 games, while I thought they’d win it in 5. The Sharks-Canucks series was pretty shocking to everyone I think. I had Vancouver in 7. As for the Duck-Wings series, I said the Ducks would win that in 6. So overall, I went 4 and 2 in predicting the series’ that are finished.
Now, let’s get to our second round predictions.
Season series: Blackhawks 4-0-0 against Red Wings.
I think it’s pretty fitting for these two rivals to have one last playoff series against each other before the Wings move to the Eastern Conference. Most people had Anaheim knocking Detroit out in the first round, but the Wings were able to pull off the upset. I think it’s safe to say that Detroit is playing their best hockey of the season right now, and Jimmy Howard is at the top of his game. The top guys of the Wings (Zetterberg and Datsyuk) really stepped up in the first round and were a big reason as to why the upset was made. While Jimmy Howard is certainly a force between the pipes, the Wings’ defense is what gives me doubts about this team. There isn’t a really great player on their blue line, and they don’t have a whole lot of depth there either. The defense and Jimmy Howard are really going to need to be outstanding in this series for the Wings to have a chance.
The Blackhawks are coming off of a pretty interesting first round victory over the Minnesota Wild. While the Hawks did win that series in just 5 games, the 8th seeded Wild gave the Blackhawks some problems. They clogged the neutral zone, limited the passing lanes, and forced the Hawks to play a dump-and-chase type of game. For a lot of that series, the Blackhawks looked slow and not in “playoff-mode.” Maybe they were playing down to the level of their competition, or maybe they just weren’t really revved up for that series. Whatever the case was, the Blackhawks need to step up their game and take it to a new level against the Wings. Corey Crawford, who was great in the first round, will need to continue his strong play. Dave Bolland will be back for the Hawks centering the third line, which is a good addition to the lineup. I think the speed and talent of the Blackhawks’ forwards will overwhelm the Wings’ blue liners in this series, and that will end up being the difference.
-Chicago wins series, 4-2.
Season series: Kings 2-1-1 against Sharks.
I don’t think any team in the league was more impressive in the first round than the San Jose Sharks. They absolutely dominated their series against the 3rd seeded Canucks and were the first team to advance to the second round after the sweep. Antti Niemi was great in the first round, just like all year, and the Sharks’ offense was clicking on all cylinders. Defensively, the Sharks were pretty impressive as well. Dan Boyle played a great series, and the decision to put Brent Burns at a forward position proved to be a key one. The Sharks’ power play came up big all series long against Vancouver, and they’re going to need that to continue. Scoring 5 on 5 against L.A. and Jonathan Quick won’t be easy. One thing that concerns me about San Jose is the fact that they played so well in the first round. This may sound odd, but I worry that the Sharks may have played the best series that they could have, and now they can only go down hill from here on out. I don’t think that they can continue playing the way they did in round one on a consistent basis moving forward. We’ll see…
As for the Kings, they bounced back rather nicely after losing the first two games in the first round against the Blues. After those two losses, L.A. won 4 straight to win that series and eliminate St. Louis for the second year in a row. Jonathan Quick was outstanding over the final 4 games in the first round, and it appears that he may now be back to his Conn Smythe mode. If so, that’s a bad sign for San Jose. The Kings’ offense was not bad in the first round, but they did have some off-nights. This was their problem during last year’s regular season, but they turned things around for their Stanley Cup run. While I don’t think that their offense will be as inconsistent as it was during the 2011-2012 season, I am not sure that they are consistent enough to win the Cup this year. However, defense and goaltending win Stanley Cups in this league, and L.A. has both. This is a team that I can see making it to the Conference Finals and maybe even the Cup, but that’s about it. This should be a good series nonetheless.
-L.A. wins series, 4-3.
Check back in the next day for my Eastern Conference predictions.