My first preview was perfect in the Western Conference. Winners, not the exact outcome. In the Eastern Conference I would like to have a do-over. Alas I can’t. Who had the Canadiens winning in seven games? Who had the Flyers beating the Devils in five? Who said the Sabres would not get any scoring out of Derek Roy and Tim Connolly in rout to losing to the Bruins? The Penguins were a given, but honestly who saw the other three series ending that way? Hopefully I will do better in the semifinals and you will see some great hockey.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 8. Montreal Canadiens
I like many other Hockey fans would have loved to have seen the Capitals face off against the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals. Too bad so sad. That’s what fans in Montreal are saying. I give them a lot of credit. Goaltender Jaroslav Halak is here to stay. He is proof once again that if your team has a hot goalie, you will go very far in the playoffs. Halak and his .939 save percentage will be a tough task for the Penguins to score against. The Habs had help on offense with Michael Cammalleri (5 G 5 A 10 P) and Tomas Plekanec (4 G 3 A 7 P). Their defense was sound with Hal Gill, Roman Hamrlik and Andrei Markov. Montreal will need a repeat performance from Halak and the defense helping him to see the shots coming his way.
The Penguins had great success from the usual suspects against the Senators. Sidney Crosby (5 G 9 A 14 P) was superb as was his line mate veteran Bill Guerin (2 G 4 A 6 P). Evgeni Malkin was great (4 G 4 A 8 P) not just on even strength, but was fantastic on the power play with 3 of his goals coming with a man advantage. The problem lies within the net for the defending champs. Marc-Andre Fleury and his .890 save percentage are not going to cut it the rest of the way. The Penguins could have gone down early, but Fleury bounced back and was good enough to get them into the semifinals. The defensemen for Pittsburgh, namely Sergei Gonchar and Kris Letang have keep up the pace and give Fleury room to see what will be coming his way.
I would like to see this go six or seven games. Mainly for the entertainment factor, but Montreal stunned a great Washington team. They won’t do the same to a great Pittsburgh club. The Penguins are just too good. Pittsburgh in 5 games.
6. Boston Bruins vs. 7. Philadelphia Flyers
The most amazing fact about the Bruins beating the Buffalo Sabres in 6 games was that they did it without anyone getting more than 5 points in the series. All that and without their best player Marc Savard. Veterans Mark Reechi and Miroslav Satan were pleasant surprises and Zdeno Chara was a beast on defense. Ultimately I and others underestimated goalie Tuukka Rask. He outplayed eventual Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller. That says a lot about your goalie if he is playing better than the other teams standout net minder. Savard will be returning in the semifinals and the Bruins hope that will give them more scoring against a better offensive team in Philadelphia.
The Flyers stunned New Jersey from start to finish in the quarterfinals. The Flyers were getting production from unexpected places. Claude Giroux chimed in with 4 goals and bruiser Daniel Carcillo added two of his own. The usual suspects of Mike Richards and Danny Briere were fantastic, but the big hero was goalie Brian Boucher. The third goalie the Flyers were using to get into the playoffs showed he still has life left in his skates. New Jersey had no answers for Boucher. It showed in the Game 5 clincher as Boucher shutout the Devils to advance. The Flyers will need a repeat performance from Boucher and more production from Simon Gagne and Kimmo Timonen to help stifle the Bruins defense which is one of the best in the NHL.
This is renewing a rivalry that goes back to the Bobby Orr and Bobby Clarke days. Ultimately it will come down to who has the better defense and goalie (go figure). I like what the Flyers have done, but Boston has showed tremendous grit and are getting Marc Savard back. Bruins in 6 games.
1. San Jose Sharks vs. 5. Detroit Red Wings
No one really likes “Hockeytown” as Detroit has come to call itself, except fans of the Red Wings. Everyone wanted to see the Phoenix Coyotes continue their great run and lets face it, it was a great story. However, we learned something from Game 7 of that series. Detroit is still a great team. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk are two of the best scorers in the game today. Valtteri Filppula is coming of age on the big stage. Johan Franzen and Nicklas Lidstrom haven’t had their best performances yet. It’s a scary thought. Goalie Jimmy Howard had an admirable series against the Coyotes. In some cases the defense let him down, but he held his own and was masterful in Game 7 against Phoenix.
San Jose was in a lose-lose situation. If Phoenix won, they would have to play against a division rival and face the pressure of not losing to a lesser team. Now that Detroit is their opponent and coming off a big margin of victory in Game 7, the Red Wings are seen as Stanley Cup contenders by almost everyone now. San Jose’s big three didn’t play up to par against Colorado. Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton seem to wilt under endless pressure this time of year. They got great production and it saved their season from Ryan Clowe, Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi. Pavelski and Setoguchi were scoring goals at will late in the series against Colorado. Clowe was setting up a lot of their scoring chances. San Jose will need more from Heatley, Marleau and Thornton to advance to a Conference Final.
Detroit is healthy and deep. San Jose is healthy and deep. Two teams that just don’t like each other and it will show throughout the series. The Sharks are the best team though. They have the right players and mix, but I just don’t trust their goalie Evgeni Nabokov in a big series. Red Wings in 6 games.
2. Chicago Blackhawks vs. 3. Vancouver Canucks
If you don’t remember what happened between these two in last years semifinals, then go to NHL.com and find out when your done reading. Chicago had a scare in the quarterfinals against the Nashville Predators, but Chicago is just too talented to let that happen. Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp came up with big goals in the entire series. Hossa had a big game winner in Game 5 that some say should not have counted due to a boarding penalty on Hossa. Chicago’s one fatal flaw showed its ugly head in the Nashville series. Goaltending and their defense was lackluster. Antti Niemi showed flashes of brilliance, but overall it was not a great showing. They will need to shore up the defense to make it to the Conference title.
Vancouver is a great team. Roberto Luongo is a great goalie and his performance in the last two games against Los Angeles was perfect. Daniel and Henrik Sedin were masterful and the signing of Mikael Samuelsson is now showing in the playoffs. Imagine if the Red Wings still had Samuelsson for their playoff run. The Cacucks defense did suffer for the first four games in the quarterfinals, but there is room for improvement as they have the best defensive unit in the Conference. Kevin Bieska must stay on the ice more and not in the penalty box against the Blackhawks.
I’m much more comfortable going with Luongo in net and with the Canucks attack on offense. However, Chicago can score just as easily as Vancouver and the Canucks penalty kill was awful against the Kings. The reason that series was that competitive was because of the Canucks lackluster defense on the power play. That doesn’t bode well against Chicago’s attack. Blackhawks in 6 games.