The second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has some mighty large shoes to fill because the first round was as exciting and entertaining as any opening round has been in recent memory.
Some quick thoughts on the first round before providing my second round predictions.
1) Sidney Crosby (photo) has pulled away from Alex Ovechkin as the game's most important player. While Ovechkin was unable to lift and inspire his teammates in the first round, clearly struggling with his own game as the Caps blew a 3-1 series lead and were kayoed by the 8th seeded Canadiens, Crosby had the opposite effect on the Penguins. Crosby, who has captained his team to two straight appearances in the Cup Finals as well as the 2009 Stanley Cup championship, posted 14 points in the opening round series win against Ottawa. Just as important, Crosby played with fire, grit, and passion, traits that clearly were lacking from Ovechkin's performance.
2) What has happened to Alexander Semin? A true NHL star, Semin was a non-factor---and one could argue, a detrimant---for the Caps, the biggest upset victims in Round One.
3) Let's hear it for unheralded goalies Antti Niemi (2 shutouts) of the Blackhawks, Tuukka Rask (2.18 goals against) of the Bruins, and Brian Boucher (.940 save percentage and 1.59 goals against) of the Flyers. Great job by Colorado's Craig Anderson in defeat, as well.
4) First Round Heroes: Crosby, Montreal's Jaroslav Halak, San Jose's Joe Pavelski, Detroit's Niklas Lidstrom, Montreal's Mike Cammalleri, Vancouver's Mikael Samuellson, Boucher, and Boston's Miroslav Satan.
5) I should have trusted my gut about the New Jersey-Philadelphia series. I picked the Devils in seven, and my gut kept telling me it would be another bad first-round defeat for New Jersey. Turns out my gut was right, and this was the worst of the Devils three straight ousters in the first round because it did not even look like they competed in the final two games. Now Lou Lamoriello is looking for yet another new head coach.
6) Turn out the lights, but what a great party it was for the Phoenix Coyotes, who capped a riveting revitalized regular season with a seven-game first round gem of a series against the Red Wings. Losing to Detroit in Game Seven hardly tarnishes their season. And the mid-ice salute to the home fans after that loss was one of the true highlights of the NHL season when you consider everything the Phoenix franchise has been through this past year.
Now on to the predictions, which I originally posted on Twitter yesterday. In the first round I was a perfect 4-for-4 in the Western Conference, but only 1-for-4 in the East.
In Round Two:
Sharks over the Red Wings in seven games
Canucks over the Blackhawks in seven games
Penguins over the Canadiens in six games
Bruins over the Flyers in six games