|Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports|
If you're a gambling person, I advice you to bet on the opposite of my picks for round two. As proven in round one, there isn't a sure thing and home ice is barely a factor. Five of the eight series were won by the team with home ice advantage and two of four division winners were eliminated in the first round. As far as my picks for the first round, I was 3 for 8, which is pretty embarrassing considering I like to think I know a thing or two about hockey. It never fails, the first round always has at least a couple of upsets, which definitely makes it the most exciting round of the playoffs. You can't help but experience a feeling of bliss with the amount of games of high quality hockey games per night. There seemed to be at least 2-4 games a night and every series offered some kind of excitement and drama that exceeds any two weeks of the regular season.
The big surprises or maybe not so big of a surprise, was that Los Angeles and Anaheim both were eliminated. Both teams topped the Pacific division and both teams had home ice. Anaheim continued their woeful record in game 7's with an upset at the Pond to wildcard, Nashville. The Kings got their asses kicked by a superior San Jose squad that might actually go far in the playoffs. Atlantic Division leaders, Florida Panthers lost in a game 6 overtime to the Islanders with some controversy, but Florida really didn't show as much as expected as they were outworked and outplayed by an underrated Islanders squad. This year will feature a new Stanley Cup champ as the Blackhawks will not repeat after their loss in 7 games to the Blues. The series was decided by one goal from former Hawk, Troy Brouwer in the third period. With the Blues finally overcoming their first round ineptness, can they do damage in the rest of the playoffs?
WASHINGTON CAPITALS VS PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
This will be the most watched series of the second round, it's Alex vs Sid part 2. The last time these two teams met in the playoffs was in 2009, with Pittsburgh winning in 7 with the Penguins going on to win the Cup. In goal, both the Penguins, Matt Murray and the Caps, Braden Holtby will be keys. In the first round, they both played great, but with the high powered offenses and superstars galore, this could be a dandy! I think without the Ducks, Hawks and Kings in the running, the Capitals have to be the odds on favourite of the remaining teams to win the Cup, but any team that has the firepower of Crosby and Malkin can't be overlooked. The think the Caps will win, but I'd rather see the Pens win.
Penguins in 7
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING VS NEW YORK ISLANDERS
I have to admit, my interest for this series coming in was pretty low, but after watching game 1 on Wednesday it's peaked my interest slightly. What I saw was that the Islanders can strike quickly and almost without flash, a grinder team that has one superstar player in John Tavares. The Lightning have a deep forward core even without Stamkos and with the playoff addition of Jonathan Druin have the potential to score lots if they break free. Again, goaltending will be a factor and in game 1, Thomas Greiss out-duelled Ben Bishop who was brutal and was pulled after the 4th Islanders goal. Will be a close series, but do you care?
Islanders in 7
DALLAS STARS VS ST. LOUIS BLUES
Can't say I like either team since my two favourite teams share a division with the Blues and Stars and they is much bad blood. The Blues series win over the Blackhawks was a huge step for the franchise and Hitchcock was probably within a goal of losing his job. The Stars beat the Wild, but in game six the Stars took a 4-0 lead into the third period and proceeded to play one of the worst periods of the playoffs. The Wild were one goal from forcing a game 7. The Blues have the edge in goal as the Stars goalies struggled to gain the confidence from coach Ruff. The Blues have a good argument to win the series, they physically could dominate and hey, they finally beat the Hawks, that's a huge psychological hurdle. I hate the Blues though, so I hope the Stars win.
Stars in 6
SAN JOSE SHARKS VS NASHVILLE PREDATORS
Two teams that pulled somewhat surprising upsets. The Sharks 4-1 series win wasn't so much a huge surprise, but in the amount of games to eliminate the Kings was unexpected. When the Sharks lost game 3 after taking the first two in LA, you couldn't help think about the Kings 4-3 comeback series win (after being down 3-0) from two years ago. But this is a more mature, deep Sharks team that has a new coach, a new attitude and a rejuvenated, Joe Thornton. The Preds on the other hand pulled the biggest upset of the first round eliminating the Mighty Anaheim Ducks in 7 games. The fact that 3 of their 4 wins were on the road in Anaheim (including game 7) is an amazing feat. Nashville won with a very good defensive system and though they are not known as a big scoring team, they got timely goals. Pekka Rinne was the best player on Nashville and if they hope to advance to the Conference finals, he has to be the best player of the series...and more.
Sharks in 6