Has there been a better first round in recent memory? For my money, the answer is no. Tons of storylines emerged from the quarterfinal round. Rivalries were renewed, scores were settled, and in the case of the Vancouver Canucks, demons were exorcised. Hockey fans in Nashville finally know what it's like to win a playoff series. All but two series went at least six games, half of them went to seven... and half of the Game 7s went to overtime. Great stuff.
The second round promises to be at least as intriguing. Two more rematches from last year await us in the second round: Bruins/Flyers and Sharks/Wings, along with a divisional matchup (Caps/Bolts) and a first-time playoff winner vs. Goliath. Let's get to the predictions, shall we?
1) Washington Capitals vs. 5) Tampa Bay Lightning
There are so many similarities between these two teams that it's mind-boggling. Offensive stars are plentiful on both sides, and newer defensive systems will be employed by both teams to shut those players down. (I'm especially interested in how Tampa's 1-3-1 fares against Ovechkin, Semin and Co.) Goaltending is a wash, statistically speaking - Washington's Michal Neuvirth (1.36 GAA, .946 SV%) and Tampa's Dwayne Roloson (1.77 GAA, .949 SV%) took the top two spots in both goals-against average and save percentage in the first round. Tampa's power play clicked at nearly 30% in Round 1 and could be a difference, but I think Washington will ride a wave of momentum from finally having won a playoff series in convincing fashion. The Caps had little trouble with the Bolts during the regular season, going 4-1-1, and I believe that continues here. Caps in 6.
2) Philadelphia Flyers vs. 3) Boston Bruins
The Flyers' serious goaltending deficiency was comically exposed by the Sabres in Round 1, while the Bruins survived a serious scare from a Montreal team that knows how to win in the playoffs
1) Vancouver Canucks vs. 5) Nashville Predators
Congratulations to the Predators for finally making it to the second round. Their reward? A 117-point regular season juggernaut. Good luck with that, fellas. Now that Roberto Luongo has finally evicted the specter of the Chicago Blackhawks from his brain, I doubt the Preds will be able to keep up their 3.67 goals per game pace - meaning that Pekka Rinne is going to need to be much better than the 3.29 GAA/.876 SV% he posted in the first round for the Preds to have any chance at all. The clock is about to strike midnight for this year's Cinderella. Canucks in 5.
2) San Jose Sharks vs. 3) Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings haven't played in about five weeks after dispatching the Coyotes with shocking ease. Is that time off enough for injured stars Zetterberg and Franzen to heal? The Wings better hope so, because the Sharks are a much tougher opponent. The Sharks seem to finally be evolving into a team that not only doesn't choke, but is in fact (gasp) clutch - at least that's the impression one gets when it's a team's big-name players (Pavelski and, yes, even Joe Thornton) that are scoring overtime game-winners. Antti Niemi needs to be better in net, but it's not like he's overmatched by Jimmy Howard at the other end of the rink. I think the Sharks continue their roll, especially if Zetterberg and Franzen don't play. Sharks in 6.