As long as I’ve been sucked into this mess, I might as well see it through to its bitter conclusion. But before I deliver my highly suspect second-round picks, a few thoughts on the now-completed Round 1 and the soon-to-commence Round 2.
— It’s entirely fitting that Detroit and Chicago should meet one last time before the Wings skate off to the Eastern Conference, breaking up the league’s best rivalry. I’m mostly a fan of the NHL’s realignment plan, but this is my one big complaint. I get that Detroit plays in the Eastern time zone, but rivalries draw ratings, and this one was a TV bonanza. Much will be lost.
— On one inglorious Monday night, we were reminded that despite perceived strides or a late-season push, these are still the Maple Leafs and Capitals. The Bruins were supposedly gassed from a tough finishing stretch to the regular season. Boston’s blue line was banged up, too. It didn’t matter. Patrice Bergeron reminded us that the B’s have Stanley Cup pedigree. Toronto? The only folks up north who still have championship pedigree are exceedingly long in the tooth, if they have any teeth left at all.
But at least the Leafs put up a good fight. Washington got steamrolled by remarkable Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and an erstwhile pop-gun offense. We vow never to pick the Caps again.
— As sickening as it might be for Coyotes fans to read this, Kyle Turris is having himself a nice little playoff run for Ottawa. We know it helps when a goal bounces in off your body, but Turris still averaged a point a game against the injury-depleted Canadiens. The Sens are the official Cinderella of these playoffs.
— As much as it pains this lifelong Blackhawks fan to write it, Detroit forwards Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg are marvels. Get ready for a high-speed series. These clubs don’t muck it up. Skill, speed and skating will be in display.
— If Pittsburgh should advance to the Stanley Cup finals, will the decision to yank goalie Marc-Andre Fleury after Game 4 against the Islanders be viewed as the turning point? Well, of course it will. The only question: Why didn’t it happen sooner? Fleury was/is awful.
— We’re about to find out if that first-round Sharks sweep was a sign that this uber-talented club is finally living up to its potential or if it just ran into a team (Vancouver) that was busy imploding.
And now, our fearful predictions …
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
No. 1 Chicago vs. No. 7 Detroit
Quick thought: Detroit just concluded a grueling seven-game series with Anaheim that included lots of lengthy travel. The Wings may have some momentum early, but they lack the forward and defensive depth to stay with the ‘Hawks for an entire series unless goalie Jimmy Howard works miracles.
Prediction: Blackhawks in 6
No. 5 Los Angeles vs. No. 6 San Jose
Quick thought: I don’t think the Kings will repeat this season because they will have to endure two extremely physical series just to make the conference final. That takes a toll, but in spite of goalie Antti Niemi’s underrated play the past few seasons, I don’t see the Sharks’ nucleus having what it takes inside to muscle past the Kings – even if Raffi Torres makes things a little more interesting.
Prediction: Kings in 7
No. 1 Pittsburgh vs. No. 7 Ottawa
Quick thought: The Penguins looked vulnerable until Tomas Vokoun replaced Marc-Andre Fleury in net. I love the Senators’ story. Craig Anderson is a terrific goalie and Daniel Alfredsson is a terrific human being, but I suspect the Sens’ Round-1 win was more a product of a depleted Montreal club than a sign this team is ready for a deep playoff run.
Prediction: Penguins in 6
No. 4 Boston vs. No. 6 New York Rangers
Quick thought: I know the Bruins are supposed to be tired. I know their D is banged up, and I know Lundqvist is a brick wall, but I have no faith in the Rangers’ ability to move past this round. They beat the Caps. Seriously, what does that really amount to in the end?