The second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs get underway tonight in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles. Both the second and third seeds in each conference were blasted from the playoffs in the first round, leaving me with a 4-4 record after going 7-1 in the first round last spring. That won't stop me from offering my second round predictions:
(1) Pittsburgh vs. (7) Ottawa
The Pick: Senators in 7
The Reason: Yes, the Senators were awful impressive in their quick-and-dirty dispatching of the second-seeded Canadiens in Round 1, but I had the Habs pegged as a first round flop for the last few weeks of the regular season. This pick is more about what the Penguins didn't do (play defense) in the first round against the Islanders, more than anything else. That's not a knock against the Islanders, who I believe to be a fast and scrappy team. Marc-Andre Fleury was a sieve in Round 1; he's given up 40 goals in his last two playoffs series. Tomas Vokoun was better, but I don't know if he's enough to bail out the Penguins – especially against a better opponent. It's tough to pick against Sidney Crosby, but the Senators are getting healthier (Jason Spezza is now skating in practice) and I have a funny feeling about this Ottawa team.
(4) Boston vs. (6) N.Y. Rangers
The Pick: Rangers in 6
The Reason: The Bruins will certainly be riding that comeback high for a few days. But New York blasted the Capitals, 5-0, in their own Game 7, so they seem to be on equal footing to start the series. I believe the Rangers to be a much better team, top to bottom, than the Maple Leafs – who very well should've iced Boston in Game 7. For me, this series comes down to health. Boston is missing half of their defense. Wade Redden is out. Andrew Ference is out. Dennis Seidenberg left Game 7 after just 37 seconds. Zdeno Chara played a staggering 35-plus minutes on Monday night. How long can the 6-foot-9 beast keep that up? The Rangers, with all of their shot-blocking capabilities, have the ability to frustrate a Bruins offense that went cold for the last two games (and 55 minutes) of the first round. Oh, yeah, and Henrik Lundqvist didn't allow a goal in the final 120 minutes against Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals.
(1) Chicago vs. (7) Detroit
The Pick: Blackhawks in 6
The Reason: Detroit impressed the heck out of me in the first round, knocking off a solid Anaheim team that I could have envisioned making a deep run. I just don't see that making the Red Wings competitive against the pound-for-pound heavyweight in this tournament. Chicago dispatched Minnesota in five games. They also beat the Wings in all four meetings during the regular season. In addition to their top line scoring threats, other players chipped in for Chicago (Bryan Bickell's 4 points, Andrew Shaw's 4 points) to produce an attack which comes in waves. Detroit won all four of their games in the first round by a single goal, needing overtime for three of them. Along the way, there were a few miraculous comebacks, but most all of them were by the Ducks. This series could even end in five games. The Hawks are that good.
(5) Los Angeles vs. (6) San Jose
The Pick: Kings in 6
The Reason: I was tempted to take the Kings in five games, but so few series are short these days. Three of the first eight series went to a Game 7. There was one sweep and one series which ended in five games. Los Angeles is beaten up after the most physical series of the first round. San Jose has had plenty of rest after sweeping Vancouver in four straight. I still like the battle-tested Kings, who appear every bit as solid as they did when they captured their first-ever Stanley Cup last summer. Jonathan Quick was phenomenal with a .944 save percentage. Every game in that series was a one-goal game – and the Kings scored just 12 goals in those six games – but play will open up a bit more against the Sharks. Antti Niemi (.937 SV%) was equally exceptional in net against the Canucks, and Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture (each with 8 points) were brilliant. But I have to think this is where San Jose's "feel-good story" comes to a close.
Record in Round 1: 4-4 (Pittsburgh, Ottawa, Boston and Chicago advanced).
Record since 2012 Playoffs: 14-9
For my degenerate friends, here are the series odds:
Red Wings +260
Money play: Got to go with a strong value in the Senators +220. The Islanders were an overtime goal away from pushing the Penguins to the brink in a Game 7.
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