Thursday, April 30, 2009

Day One-Hundred Nine: Round Two

Well, Vancouver just beat Chicago, 5-3, which means the second round of the playoffs must have started. (For some reason, I thought they started tomorrow)

This preview will be shorter than the last one because, well, there are half as many series. I actually did pretty well last time. Off the top of my head, I believe I picked Boston, Washington, Carolina, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Vancouver, and Chicago. Only one I missed was Anaheim/San Jose. New rule, another one of those "weird things that always happen in hockey": never pick the San Jose Sharks. Sad day.

All right, we'll start with the series that's already underway...

Blogger's spellchecker doesn't recognize either Blackhawk nor Canuck to be real words. (For the record, it doesn't recognize "Blogger's" either) So what does THAT tell you, hm???
All right, I think I said this at the beginning of the playoffs: Vancouver is a team who was downright scary-good toward the end of the season. They steamrolled over the Blues in their four-game sweep. The Blackhawks will put up a bit more of a fight, but ultimately they'll run into the same problem St. Louis ran into: this is their first dance in a long, long time, and those teams historically just don't do well. Chicago was able to get by Calgary on talent alone because Calgary's big names just weren't quite big enough (we're lookin' at YOU, Miikka Kiprusoff and Dion Phaneuf!), but to go deep in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, you have to learn what it takes to go deep in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That's one of those bogus statements that really doesn't mean anything, but the bizarre thing is it's totally true, and it proves itself through young teams year after year after year. If Chicago is to have a chance in this series, former Cup-winning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin is going to have to win some games for them. Like, at least three. And that'll be tough, because Vancouver's captain and starting netminder, the very famous Roberto Luongo, is not only one of the best in the world, but he's also got this huge chip on his shoulder. I just don't see the Blackhawks coming out of this one. My best guess: Vancouver in five.

The Wings made the Blue Jackets look like a minor league club en route to a four-game sweep in round one. The BJ's didn't put up much of a fight at all until game four, which was a barn-burning nail-biter, but the Wings still won. Much-maligned Detroit goalie Chris Osgood was as good as he needed to be, though he often didn't need to be great. He'll be tested more by Anaheim's young guns (and their old one, too) every night of this series. In the Ducks favor: they boast the deepest blue line in the NHL right now (Columbus had maybe one guy on D that could skate with Detroit's talented Euros) and have been on a tear since just before the trade deadline (right around the time when the goal crease was officially handed over to Jonas Speaking of Hiller, this guy absolutely shut down the Sharks for much of round one. The kid is good, like Cam-Ward-In-2006-Conn-Smythe-Cup-Winning-Good. On the other hand, you really can't ever count out the Red Wings. They are so freaking good. They are such a complete team it's ridiculous. The only perceived weakness has been between the pipes and in the third defensive pair. Well, so far so good for Osgood, and slow 5th and 6th defensemen are generally not going to cost you a Cup (especially when you can just throw them out against, say, Ryan Carter for a shift to give your big guys some rest). That, and those teams that make the monumental first-round upsets rarely go on to repeat the task when they're invariably up against another giant in the second round. If there's a team to do it, though, it's these Ducks. This series is the toughest to call, in my book, but since I gotta say something....Red Wings in seven.

Wow, those Hurricanes showed some serious guts in that first round matchup with the Devils! We'll be hard-pressed to find another series with that kind of drama all playoffs. (Too bad only one of the games was televised nationally...) Unfortunately for all you Caniacs out there, the Bruins are just too good. They're better than the Hurricanes at every position. They demolished an admittedly weak Montreal team in round one, but then if you're playing an admittedly weak team, the best way to beat them is to beat them badly. The Hurricanes will win the Little Engine that Could Award for their effort in this series, but in the end...Bruins in six.

It's amazing how folks are picking the Penguins to win this series almost across the board despite the fact that the Caps are the higher seed. Nevertheless, I agree with them. Most Stanley Cup runners-up don't make it past the first round the next year; the Pens have. That says something right there. The Penguins beat a tough, rough, talented Philly team two out of three times on the road in the last series. That's impressive, especially given the extremely hostile environment of a Philly crowd. The Caps are more talented than the Flyers, but they're not as mean. They also had one heck of a time squeaking by a relatively talentless Rangers team in the first round. Well, this series is already a circus. Crosby vs. Ovechkin vs. Malkin vs. Semin. Pittsburgh vs. Washington. The mild-mannered Boy Scout Eastern Conference Champs of 2008 vs. the rock-and-roll movie star X-Game up-and-comers of 2009. This is the kind of thing that can get out of hand, and I think the Pens' locker room is better composed to dealing with this kind of frenzy than is Washington's. I expect a lot of fire from the Caps early in the series, but I really think Pittsburgh has better scoring depth, more experience, and better maturity than the Capitals do, at least when you take the teams collectively. This should be a really fun series with some of the most entertaining hockey you'll ever see. My best guess: Penguins in six.

So there you have it. Enjoy the second round, everybody.