Rounding Second

by

Well, the good news is I went 7/8 on my first round predictions and the one I got wrong is likely the same one everyone outside the borders of Quebec got wrong as well. I’m not sure I accurately predicted the correct number of games in any of them, however. There were a number of teams that surprised me with how well they could hang with the powerhouses of the league. Whether it’s a case of overrating regular season performance or just the fact that anything can happen once the second season begins, it remains undeniable that the NHL Playoffs can be the most entertaining, exciting thing professional sports has to offer.

On to Round Two, where predictions become exponentially more difficult.

Detroit Red Wings vs San Jose Sharks – It begins tonight, seeming seconds after the first round finished up, and the same question that was asked at the beginning of that can be asked now. Is this the series where San Jose chokes? I’m going to say no. It’s not that it couldn’t happen against an excellent Detroit team that showed their talent level and experience in beating Phoenix in seven games but, the thing is, this isn’t Phoenix. San Jose is breathing a sigh of relief after surviving their series against the Avs and, one would think, have a renewed enthusiasm, a renewed hunger, for putting their best game on for this one. The place the balance gets tipped, though, is in goal I think. Evgeni Nabokov has played at a notably higher level than rookie Jimmy Howard so far in the playoffs and I sort of expect that to continue. I also like the Sharks’ complimentary players a lot better. Clowe, Pavelski and Setoguchi have been carrying the Sharks, especially Pavelski. Of course, Joe Thornton and his line will need to be better and Patrick Marleau’s injury will have to be something minor that allows him to return quickly and they’ll need a solution for Datsyuk and Zetterberg but it can happen. I’m thinking it will. Sharks in 6.

Vancouver Canucks vs Chicago Blackhawks – This one was a toughie for me initially because I’m looking at two teams that I think are just loaded with talent and I liked them both to be successful this post-season. Now that they’re up against each other, I find myself faced with my toughest pick of the playoffs so far. On offense, it’s the Sedin Twins and scoring machine Mikael Samuelsson versus the young guns of Chicago; Kane, Toews and Sharp, complimented by hired gun Marian Hossa. That’s a wash to me. On defense, Chicago might have the depth and scoring edge. In goal, Antti Niemi is still proving himself with the ‘Hawks but he really did play marvelously in round one against Nashville. And it’s no secret that I’m no Luongo guy. His 2.92 gaa and .893 svpct were, frankly, far below average and easily the worst for all surviving starting golatenders in the playoffs. Can you see the scales tipping the Chicago way? I sure can. Blackhawks in 7.

Montreal Canadiens vs Pittsburgh Penguins – Will the Cinderella story continue for the Montreal Men’s Skating Choir? Will Jaroslav Halak remain the Belle of the Ball? Can the Diving Princesses defeat Sid The Kid and The Malkin Monster to continue their amazing, storybook drive through the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs? No. Fucking. Way. In case people haven’t noticed, Halak may the the flavour of the moment but Crosby is the real deal. The legend just keeps building and, regardless of what the standings showed, he and his Defending Champs are the best team in the Eastern Conference until someone proves otherwise and this Habs team, however speedy and feisty, just aren’t at that level or anywhere near it. Expect the Penguins to march onward and do it with authority. Penguins in 5.

Look for an extended, more in-depth preview of the Bruins-Flyers series before the puck drops on Saturday afternoon.

I’ve stuck my neck out enough for one night.

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