Western conference: Chicago (1) vs. Detroit (7)
The Hawks and Wings meet in one of two original six matchups in the second round, but unlike Boston/NYR in the east, this is a match-up of teams that are more finesse than physical.
Winnipeg’s Jonathan Toews was pretty quiet in the first round but will likely be a presence in this series with the likes of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk getting his attention.
How did Mitch do on his first round predictions?
Mitch was 2-for-4. His major swing-and-miss was picking the Canucks, with Detroit surprising him.
Mitch was 3-for-4 with the Capitals stopping him from guessing right on all the eastern matchups.
Zetterberg had seven points in the last three games of Detroit’s seven-gamer with the Ducks and is looking sharp at the head of a forward group that has impressed with its depth.
Mike Babcock split Zetterberg and Datsyuk in the final game against Anaheim to make them tougher to slow. We’ll see what the Wings boss has up his sleeve this time.
Speaking of Babcock, I covered a Wings/Coyotes series a few years back and he stressed the value of closing out series quickly because of how wear-and-tear adds up in the post-season. No doubt the Wings have more miles on them at this stage than the Hawks do.
While the teams can be compared up-front, the Hawks have Keith and Seabrook to lead their d-corps, and the Wings have Niklas Kronwall and a committee in support, which is an edge for the Presidents’ Trophy winners.
In goal, Corey Crawford of the Blackhawks and Jimmy Howard Red Wings continue to try and convince doubters they’re top guys. Crawford has a dazzling .922 save percentage in 19 career playoff games, while Howard’s at .914 in 35 games.
Howard will need to be at another level to get the Wings through, while Crawford will be under the microscope if the Hawks don’t advance.
Best guess: Chicago in six
Western conference: Los Angeles (5) vs. San Jose (6)
The Kings and Sharks each won four straight to set up this California showdown. The difference is LA came back from 2-0 down against the Blues in a majorly physical battle, while San Jose steamrolled the Canucks in a much less gruelling sweep.
But, no matter what happened in the first round, both teams have to be confident going into this matchup, and the 45-minute flight between cities will help both to be fresh for games.
Expect LA to be physical and San Jose to be less so but plenty skilled.
This is a very even match-up supported by three one-goal games in the four-game season series and the fact the Kings edged the Sharks in their final regular season game to finish two points up on them in the standings.
It could come down to the goalies, with Jonathan Quick at a dazzling .944 and 1.58 after the St. Louis series and Antti Niemi a Vezina finalist and fellow Cup winner.
I like the Kings playoff-tested success of last year as an edge.
Best guess: Los Angeles in seven
Eastern conference: Pittsburgh (1) vs. Ottawa (7)
The Ottawa Senators are Canada’s last shot at a cup, and they’ll have their hands full on that mission with the top-seeded Penguins next.
Ex-Jet Paul MacLean is doing a terrific job getting the right people on the ice, but maybe more importantly, he’s got his guys in the right frame of mind.
MacLean has been good at putting things in perspective in the media, kept things loose at times and took some of the attention off his team through a heated series with their (now more than ever before) arch-rivals from Montreal. His influence will be critical with a stiffer test on the way.
Ottawa is healthier than ever with Erik Karlsson, Milan Michalek, Jared Cowan and goalie Craig Anderson who is sharp after long injury absences and will give them more strength than their seventh seed hints.
Anderson put up a .950 save percentage against the banged-up Habs to suggest he might just steal a game or two on his own against Pittsburgh.
But, the Penguins looked a little more like the team people expected with Tomas Vokoun in goal for games five and six than they did with Marc-Andre Fleury struggling. Plus, the Pens got a combined 36 points from Crosby, Malkin, Iginla and Dupuis to put away the speedy young Islanders.
If Pittsburgh can play with confidence because their goalie is making saves, they’ve got what it takes. If not, Ottawa has a real chance.
Best guess: Penguins in six
Eastern conference: Boston (4) vs. New York Rangers (6)
Get out the ice bags, there will be some hitting between these original six teams with two teams coming off emotional first-round victories.
The Bruins will have to come down to earth from the high of snatching game seven away from the Leafs to advance, while the Rangers have their playoff game on after blanking the Caps in games six and seven to move along.
Derick Brassard led the way for the Rangers against Washington with nine points but five others scored two goals apiece. That said, Rick Nash and Brad Richards were very quiet, and their New York power play was only 2/28.
Secondary scoring needs to continue, and the big guys have to step up for the Rangers to be tough on the Bruins, unless the Bruin defence is too banged-up to make life tough.
Boston didn’t have Wade Redden (game seven) and Andrew Ferrence (games six and seven) against Toronto, then lost Dennis Seidenberg in game seven. Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski helped the team get through that first-round finale but may not stand up over time this spring, plus increasing the load on Zdeno Chara could limit the B’s.
Milan Lucic was a powerhouse late in the game seven win over Toronto and that kind of will could be huge for Boston who have quality in spades in those Krejci and Bergeron lines.
If Boston can put together a solid defence corps, it seems they have the team to find a way past the impressive Henrik Lundqvist (back-to-back shutouts vs. Washington) and the Rangers.
If the Rangers can score on the powerplay and get the same goaltending against a banged-up Boston, they can reach the conference final.
Best guess: Boston in seven