After the first round where I was red hot at 7-1, let’s see how things transpire in the Conference Semi-Finals.
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (5) Nashville Predators–The Vancouver Canucks are coming off an emotionally draining series where they knocked off their top nemesis, the Chicago Blackhawks. Will they have enough in the tank? I’m saying yes. But only if the Sedins show up. Daniel and Henrik Sedin were basically absent in the final four games in the Western Conference Quarterfinal, and will need a much better showing in round two. The issue with Nashville is they have an outstanding defense corps led by Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, but do they have a forward that can play the shut down defensive role like Dave Bolland did so effectively with the Blackhawks? I don’t think so, therefore Vancouver has the edge. On offense, the Canucks are also at an advantage. Don’t forget Nashville’s top scorer was Sergei Kostitsyn with 50 points. That’s right, the same Sergei Kostitsyn who lost his way, and could not get out of his brother’s shadow in Montreal. The Canucks take this one in five.
(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (3) Detroit Red Wings–The question in San Jose is could this finally be their year? No team in the National Hockey League has dominated so much in the regular season and done so little in the postseason. The big difference though between the 2011 Sharks and the 2009, 2010 Sharks is that this San Jose now has solid secondary scoring. Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski complement the big three of Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley very well. My concern with the Sharks right now is on the back end. Veteran defenceman Dan Boyle had a poor series for the Sharks going a -1. Ian White had five assists, but was that stat an anomaly, or has he literally changed things around in San Jose after sub-par performances in Calgary and Carolina? Also, how many more bad games can goalie Antti Niemi have before head coach Todd McLellan gives him the permanent hook in favour of Antero Niittymaki? The Red Wings aren’t perfect, but have an experienced blueline led by Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski. I’ve never been a huge fan of Jimmy Howard, but I don’t think he’ll have to work as hard as Niemi. The X factor in the series is the health of Henrik Zetterberg. Detroit didn’t need him to beat Phoenix, but will need him to beat San Jose. Out with a sore knee since April 6th, Zetterberg is listed as probable for Friday night. If Zetterberg, who led Detroit in scoring with 80 points, plays close to 100%, the Red Wings win. If he doesn’t, they lose. Red Wings in seven.
(1) Washington Capitals vs. (5) Tampa Bay Lightning–Washington got by the New York Rangers with ease, playing a very defensive style in the process. The question now though is, can they play the same style effectively against the Lightning? Shutting down Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky and Derek Stepan is a lot easier than shutting down Steven Stamkos, Vincent LeCavalier and Martin St. Louis. Another factor that needs to come into play is the realization that Dwayne Roloson is becoming a big game goaltender, having posted a sizzling 1.77 goals against average and .950 save percentage in Tampa Bay’s seven game series win over Pittsburgh. Roloson has more playoff experience than Michal Neuvirth. The Capitals don’t lack skill either. Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Mike Green lead Washington offensively. But for some reason I really liked Tampa Bay’s team makeup at the beginning of the playoffs, and I still do. I’m picking Tampa Bay to win this all-Southeast Division battle in seven games.
(2) Philadelphia Flyers vs. (3) Boston Bruins–This is a rematch of last year’s dramatic playoff series where the Bruins were once up three games to none, only to make hockey history and become only the third team ever to blow the series. That’s right Philadelphia won 4-3. The identity of the two teams haven’t changed that much. The Flyers are based on power and skill up front, where the talent on the Bruins lies with their consistent depth throughout their four lines on offense and their powerful defense. Bruin goaltender Tim Thomas had a remarkable year, having a 2.00 goals against average and .938 save percentage. Zdeno Chara is a Norris Trophy candidate and will be relied upon for powerful bodychecks. Additions in Boston this year from last, are Chris Kelly from Ottawa, Rich Peverley from Atlanta, Nathan Horton from Florida and Tomas Kaberle from Toronto. Kelly, Peverley, and Horton combined for 14 points in round one versus Montreal, but more is required from Kaberle, who portrayed as an offensive-minded defenceman, only had two assists. As for the Flyers, new faces include Kris Versteeg from Toronto (five assists versus Buffalo), Andrej Meszaros from Tampa Bay (also five points versus Buffalo) and Nikolay Zherdev (recently changed the spelling of his first name from Nikolai) from Russia. The X factor in the series is the health of Flyer winger Jeff Carter. If he is able to overcome a sprained MCL, the Flyers will make the series interesting. I still don’t think they have the goaltending. They had enough last year though to get to the Stanley Cup Final. This year will be a different story. Bruins in six.
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