Second Round Predictions

So, I’ve been neglecting my blogging duties lately for a few reasons.

One, a humungous lack of time. Two kids + a wife + a band = veeeeeeeeeery little free time and, I’ll be honest here, that free time has been spent playing either NHL ’11 or the Gears of War 3 Beta.

There. I said it. I’m a slacker.

But, I figured I’d weigh in here with my picks for the second round of the playoffs, trying to get my blogging wheels back on. The mailbag is forthcoming (probably tomorrow or Saturday at the latest) and a draft preview is as well.

Anywho, let’s get started here.

[1] Vancouver Canucks v. [5] Nashville Predators
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Look. I really wanted to pick the Preds here.

One, I don’t think that there’s a person in the world that is immune to wanting to see how absolutely epic Shea Weber’s playoff beard gets and two, it’s just a great feel-good story.

But, from top to bottom, these teams just don’t match up.

Up front, Vancouver is a juggernaut. From the Sedins to Alexandre Burrows to Ryan Kesler, their top forwards are just flat out better than Nashville’s. Their bottom six are closer to the Preds’, but the fact remains that Vancouver’s offensive unit is a force to be reckoned with and, up front, the Preds aren’t really built to do that.

On the blueline, Vancouver’s may be the best top-to-bottom defensive corps in the post season. That’s not to say, though, that the Preds are slouches defensively, though. If they’re going to win this series, the defensive end of the ice is where they’re going to win it.

Goaltending could be where these two teams are most evenly matched. Rinne may not be as experienced or lauded as Luongo, but there’s no doubt that he’s certainly up to the task of keeping the Preds’ in games and, even, stealing games here and there.

Overall, if Nashville hopes to win this series, they’re going to have to do things differently than they did against Anaheim. They let the Ducks’ top players run roughshod over them, with the RPG line, plus Selanne combining for 25 points in six games. With Vancouver, the task is made all the more daunting because of the fact that the Canucks boast players the likes of the Sedins, but also players like Mikael Samuelsson.

The Canucks, meanwhile, won’t have a cakewalk in this one, nor should they. It’s the playoffs. Things shouldn’t be easy. That being said, this one should be tilted towards Vancouver.

[2] San Jose Sharks v. [3] Detroit Red Wings
San Jose
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I had a lively discussion about this potential series with a friend of mine earlier in the week, with my standpoint being that the Sharks, this season, are built for the playoffs.

They’re not just Heatley, Marleau and Thornton. They’re deeper offensively than they’ve ever been but, I would contend that their goaltending is what is going to win them this series.

Both of these teams are a known commodity on offense. So much so that I’d say it’s a draw up front. On one hand you have the “Big Three” for San Jose, plus Clowe, Pavelski, Setoguchi and Couture. On the other side of the coin, you have Detroit’s “Big Three” of Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Franzen, plus Bertuzzi, Cleary, Filppula and Hudler. The offensive battle in this one isn’t going to be won by the “Big Three’s.” They’re going to get theirs. Where this is going to be won, up front, are the plus players and, to be honest, I like San Jose’s better than Detroit’s this season (note the this season.)

On the blue line, I think the clear edge is to Detroit. Lidstrom, Kronwall, Stuart, Rafalski…Those four in and of themselves are enough to tilt the ice that way and they’re going to need to be good to protect…

…The goaltender. Jimmy Howard vs. Antti Niemi. Neither have been spectacular this post season, both have been just good enough, but I have to give the edge to Niemi, at this point. The experience factor tilts the decision in this one. Niemi has been there before, Howard hasn’t.

All of that said, this series is the biggest toss up in the second round, in my opinion. I’m picking San Jose by a hair, but let me be clear – if this gets to Game 7, it’s anyone’s ballgame.

[1] Washington Capitals v. [5] Tampa Bay Lightning
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Let’s get this out of the way early. If Tampa’s big players don’t show up in this one, it’s over very, very quickly.

Tampa’s role players were able to out perform the Pens’ role players in the first round and (no surprise from here) Marc-Andre Fleury was out performed by Dwayne Roloson for most of the series. Had Crosby and Malkin been healthy, Tampa likely would have been blown out of the water with the lack of performance from their top players for a good chunk of the series.

Tampa isn’t going to have that luxury with Washington. If Lecavalier, St. Louis and, most importantly, Stamkos don’t show up, Washington is going to blow them out of the water.

It will be interesting to see how Tampa responds to Washington’s star power, but to me, Washington has the clear edge up front based on their role players. I like Laich and Arnott and Knuble much more than Gagne, Malone and Bergenheim. I think the latter have the potential to be more dynamic, but the former are just simply solid.

Throw in the fact that Washington just plain wants it this season? It’s going to be hard to beat them.

In fact, the only area that I’d give the edge to Tampa in would be goaltending – though, that has the potential to be the most important edge.

If Roloson is on his game, and the stars show up, Tampa has the potential to steal this series. If either one of those fails to happen, Washington will be on their way to the second round.

[2] Philadelphia Flyers v. [3] Boston Bruins
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This one is the classic match up of offense vs. defense.

Philadelphia is flat out exciting to watch. From the top on down, there aren’t many offenses that are better than Philly’s and that’s going to be a lot for the defense of Boston to deal with.

It’s not just the defensemen, though. Boston’s team defense is one of the best out there and they’re going to have to be at their best to stop Philly.

The cliché for Philly, though, is that they never have the goaltending to do it and I think that could be what this series boils down to. If Boucher, or Leighton, or Bobrovsky (that alone should tell you enough) can get hot, Philly can easily win this series. The problem is, though, that the goaltenders are going to have to win four games. Tim Thomas isn’t going to allow the Philly goalies to just not lose. They’re going to actually have to win games for the team and that is a frightening thought for Philly fans.

Boston’s offense, meanwhile, will just have to continue to be good enough. They don’t have to dominate – they just have to score once more than the Flyers.

The old adage goes that defense wins championships, and I’m going to hang my hat on that one. Philly will win their share of games in this series, but it’s ultimately going to be Boston that wins this one.

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