5/20/2010 7:00:00 PM
The top three seeds in the East all exited in Round 1. This opens up the door for the Bruins to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals, bolstered by the return of Marc Savard.
The first round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs are now complete, and while the four favorites won every round in the West, the top three seeds in the East were all upset, meaning that the fourth seeded and defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins are the highest remaining seed.
However, the Penguins may not survive this next round over the upstart Montreal Canadiens, who became the first NHL eight-seed in history to overcome a 3-1 series deficit to beat a one-seed, as they did just that while shocking the Washington Capitals.
Regardless of who wins the Penguins vs. Canadiens series though, we recommend you start shopping for Eastern Conference futures on the sixth-seeded Boston Bruins, who are now our choice to reach the Stanley Cup Finals! Out West, we picked the Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup before these playoffs started, and we continue to stand by that prediction.
Here are our thoughts on all four conference semifinal matchups.
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Boston Bruins
Not too many experts predicted this 6 vs. 7 matchup in Round 2, and the Flyers must be the most rusty of the teams remaining, completing their five-game upset over the New Jersey Devils back on April 22.
The big news in this series is that Bruins center Marc Savard has been cleared to play after sitting out the six-game series win over the Buffalo Sabres with a concussion. The Bruins have been playing great defense all year, in fact finishing the regular season second in the NHL in goals against at just 2.33 goals pee game, and goaltender Tuukka Rask has been sensational in these playoffs.
They can now expect some added scoring punch with Savard back, and that should be enough to propel this team to the Cup Finals, given all the top teams that have already been eliminated in the East. We do not expect a long series here, as we look for Boston to win every game at home and also to steal a game in Philadelphia.
Prediction: Bruins in five
Montreal Canadiens vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
After their nearly impossible upset over the Capitals after going down 3-1, do the Canadiens have a chance to pull of another shocker? Well, we actually feel this will be the most tightly contested of the four Round 2 series, so our answer would certainly be “Yes”.
The Penguins got involved in some crazy shootouts vs. the Ottawa Senators, while the Canadiens tightened up defensively vs. the Capitals, allowing only three goals while winning the last three games. Well, guess which style is more conducive to playoff success?
In fact, the Penguins are the only remaining playoff team that did not rank in the top half in the league in goals against, and in fact, they were the lowest ranked defensive team to make the playoffs, ranking 20th while allowing opponents to score on 10 percent of their shots.
This series will not be easy, as we do see a seven-game series. Just based on that alone though, Montreal is worth a series bet at a square price here.
Prediction: Canadiens in seven
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Detroit Red Wings vs. San Jose Sharks
This just in: the death of the Detroit Red Wings has been greatly exaggerated.
The Red Wings showed their old swagger by dominating the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 7 on the road, setting up what is not your typical 1 vs. 5 series. The top-seeded Sharks have a history of playoff futility, and we feel they will have a tough time winning in Detroit this series.
On the flip side, the Wings won three games in Phoenix in Round 1, and they seem to relish playing on the road during the playoffs. We expect them to steal a game in the Shark Tank here, and that should be enough for what would be considered an upset, based on the seedings.
Prediction: Red Wings in six
Vancouver Canucks vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Many experts picked the Canucks as darkhorse candidates to win the West, but we simply feel the young Blackhawks are too talented for them here.
Chicago has a great balance of offense and defense, and after overcoming some jitters in Game 1 vs. the Nashville Predators, they showed just how talented and resilient they are throughout the rest of the series. Now, the Canucks are also a strong team, and they are also well balanced. Surprisingly though, Roberto Luongo has been rather disappointing in net, and he will have to be the Luongo of old for Vancouver to have a chance in this series.
In the end though, look for the Hawks to go unbeaten at home and to win a game in Western Canada.
Prediction: Blackhawks in five