Okay, so I didn't post these in time, because I didn't realize the Preds/Canucks series would start so soon, but I did actually write this before the Lightning stole one from the Caps on Friday.
I don't think it was terribly difficult, but all of my first round picks were correct (only the amount of games might have been different for a couple series). The second round will be a little bit tougher to call as the matchups become more even.
Since the series has already begun, I'll start with the Canucks/Preds. After the Canucks finally overcame their perennial foe--the Blackhawks--the Canucks' postseason is starting to look like a good story if they are able to take it all the way. As far as I can tell, Nashville will just be another stop along the way.
The Canucks showed themselves to be an all-around dominant team at times. They proved they can be an offensive threat, as well as a shutdown defense. Luongo also posted a shutout and might be the sole reason the Canucks won games 1 and 7. However, all facets of their game showed significant breakdowns in the series.
Games 4 and 5 were showcases of mental weakness as the Blackhawks had Lu listening to "So You Had a Bad Day" on repeat as he cried himself to sleep. The Sedins also showed that they could be entirely shut down by the addition of one defensive forward to the roster. If I were a Canucks fan, I would be worried that the Predators defensive style might also render the Sedins impotent.
The Predators showed heart and grit in their series with the Ducks, finally advancing to the the second round of the playoffs for the first time in team history. Sadly, I think the road ends here for them. The Ducks are a good team, no doubt, but they are nothing compared to the Canucks when they're at their best. When the Canucks are on top of their game, the only team I could see stopping them is the Red Wings. Now that the Canucks have exorcised their demons against the Blackhawks, I don't think we'll see any significant collapses by the Canucks. Keep in mind, all of the Canucks' postseason collapses were against the Hawks; every other playoff series they've had in the past three years, they've looked excellent. This series, we'll see more of the Canucks team that we saw during the regular season.
Canucks in 6.
Once again, the Sharks are in the postseason after a great regular season, but once again, they will fall short of the ultimate prize. Unfortunately for the Sharks, they are already facing the seed directly below them. Even more unfortunate? They're facing a team that probably has more playoff experience in the last ten years than any other team in the league. Need we also mention that they might be a tad upset that the Sharks eliminated them last year?
The Sharks showed heart in Game 3 in Round 1 against the Kings by coming back from what I was sure was another San Jose postseason collapse. However, the series was not all positive. Former Blackhawks playoff goalie hero, Antti Niemi, looked like he'd been studying goaltending in Philadelphia, posting an embarrassing 3.99 GAA and a pathetic .863 save percentage. Things won't get any easier versus the red-hot Pavel Datsyuk and company.
The Red Wings took the Coyotes to Pound Town and they will now lay hands on the Sharks. The Wings are a playoff-tested bunch of savvy players who are simply programmed to dominate. The Sharks are no more than a brief stopover in the Red Wings' path to another Conference Finals.
Wings in 5.
Washington handled the Rangers as most would expect they should, which is a major improvement since their first round loss to the 8th seed Canadiens last year. The deadly offense combined with the new-found stingy defense means that Michal Neuvirth has the potential to become the next Antti Niemi (of last year, not this year). He posted an impressive 1.36 GAA against the Rangers in Round 1. If he can keep that up, the Capitals shouldn't have too much trouble scoring two goals in a game.
Hands down, the best acquisition the Lightning made this season was the addition of veteran goalie Dwayne Roloson. This was well-illustrated in their first round series against the Penguins. Posting a .949 save percentage and a 1.77 GAA, Rollie gave the Lightning a chance to win, most importantly in Game 7. The Lightning combine solid backstopping with Hart finalist Martin St. Louis and captain Vincent Lecavalier. However, I don't think there is enough star-power on this team to elevate the Lightning past the Caps.
Capitals in 6.
This might be the most interesting matchup of the second round. These two teams met last season at the semifinals; a series which the Bruins took a 3-0 series lead before dropping four straight, including a Game 7 which they led 3-0 at one point. It easily qualifies as the most colossal collapse in recent memory.
This time, the Flyers come in as the higher seed and the Bruins' Tim Thomas is in the midst of a Vezina-nominated season. By far, this is the toughest series to predict. The Flyers boast an exvellent offense which they showcased against one of the NHL's top netminders, Ryan Miller. However, the roulette-style goalie selection process that was happening in Peter Laviolette's head every night gives Flyers fans something to worry about. No goalie could build any consistency, nor seemingly stop a puck. Luckily, the Flyers offense bailed them out in a seven-game series that would have been monumentally embarrassing for the Flyers to lose.
The Bruins survived a goalie duel with a gritty Canadiens team and a formiddable goalie in Price. One has to respect the Bruins' rebound after losing the first two games of the series, but do they have the fortitude to do to the Flyers what the Flyers did to them last year?
This series is going to boil down to two things. Can the Flyers find an answer in net? Can the Bruins' offense match the Flyers'? My guess is that Laviolette goes with Boucher for the rest of the playoffs and he will get into a rhythym. There are very few teams who can match the Flyers' offense and the Bruins are not one of them. The Flyers' offense was great against the Sabres, and if they get Jeff Carter back, it will only get better. Thomas will steal at least two games and Boucher is due for at least one terrible game. However, the Flyers will take this series, and it will take them 7 games to do it.