Conference Semifinal Preview - Can it Top the First Round?
By Scott Lowe
Well, somehow I managed to go seven-for-eight with my first-round picks, nailing the correct number of games in two of the series. Not sure how that happened, because halfway through I thought I might get three or four right at best. Only missed on the Red Wings, but that was a huge swing and a miss. Detroit came out with much more energy than I expected and sustained it. Of course who knew that Bryzgalov would become a sieve or that Phoenix would try to run and gun with the skilled Wings? Ah, the beauty of postseason hockey.
So, instead of leaving well-enough alone, here goes for Round 2:
Western Conference Semifinal Predictions
Vancouver (1) vs. Nashville (5)
It remains to be seen whether we will see a galvanized Canuck team with a re-focused and confident Roberto Luongo in net or the mentally defeated club that blew defensive assignments all over the ice in games 4, 5 and 6 against Chicago. Almost all championship teams have to overcome major adversity to claim the big prize, and Vancouver certainly has done that. Certainly the Canucks have the depth and skill to defeat Nashville, but I think the gritty, defensive-minded version of the Preds will show up for this series and frustrate the Canucks at times. Still, I like Vancouver in six.
Detroit (3) vs. San Jose (2)
San Jose had its playoff breakthrough last year, advancing to the conference finals, and the Sharks have been one of the best teams in the league during the second half of the season. The Red Wings were very impressive offensively and energy-wise in their sweep of Phoenix, but were not really challenged defensively except in shorthanded situations. Neither goaltender appears to be a world-beater at this point, but Antti Niemi has gone the distance before. If the Sharks are willing to grind it out and play a postseason style, they win in seven. If they want to run and gun, the Wings have the edge. I’m going with the former and taking San Jose in seven.
Eastern Conference Semifinal Predictions
Washington (1) vs. Tampa Bay (5)
At least the Caps won’t have to answer 4,000 questions about their playoff history against the Bolts, since the teams have only met once previously (although Washington did blow a 2-0 lead in dropping a six-game decision to Tampa in 2003). So Washington should be able to continue focusing on playing playoff-style hockey. This series comes down to the third and fourth lines and the defense. There is plenty of skill to go around among both clubs’ top-six forwards, but they both got strong efforts from third and fourth liners in opening-round wins. Washington has converted to a stifling defense-first, counter-attack approach and held the Rangers to eight goals in five games in the quarters. The Bolts slowly made a similar transition vs. Pittsburgh. Michal Neuvirth was lights out in goal vs. New York and Dwayne Roloson was dominant when he needed to be against the Pens. Every now and then these teams will throw a run-and-gun thriller out there when they meet, so with the skill that will be on the ice, one of those might happen this series. But in the end the expectation is that the Caps’ forward and defensive depth will be too much for Tampa as the series wears on. Caps in six.
Philadelphia (2) vs. Boston (3)
There’s no question that the Flyers possess the offensive depth and defensive experience to make another run to the Cup finals. The Bruins are deep in both areas, just not as deep as Philly. But, and this is an important thing to think about, Boston has the league’s best goaltender this year and the Flyers don’t have a netminder who would even start for many NHL teams. Tim Thomas will make up for Boston’s breakdowns, and the motivated Bruins, still smarting from last year’s embarrassing choke job, will pull through in the end. The goalie parade ends here, with the B’s winning in seven.