Friday, May 1, 2009

NHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference Preview and Schedule - 2nd Round

*Eastern/Western Conference 2nd Round Wrapups will appear Friday, May 15.
*Eastern/Western Conference Finals Schedule and Preview will appear Saturday, May 16

Western Conference - 1st Round Preview
Western Conference - 1st Round Wrapup
Western Conference - 2nd Round Preview

Eastern Conference - 1st Round Preview
Eastern Conference - 1st Round Wrapup
Eastern Conference - 2nd Round Preview


Friday, May 1 at Boston, 7:30 p.m. VS (JIP), TSN
Sunday, May 3 at Boston, 7:30 p.m. VS, TSN
Wednesday, May 6 at Carolina, 7:30 p.m. VS (JIP), TSN
Friday, May 8 at Carolina, 7:30 p.m. VS (JIP), TSN
*Sunday, May 10 at Boston, 7:30 p.m. VS, TSN
*Tuesday, May 12 at Carolina, 7:00 p.m. VS, TSN
*Thursday, May 14 at Boston, TBD TSN

In our preview, we expected Boston would hardly be challenged by Montreal in round one and that was definitely the case. It looked as if Pittsburgh would face the Bruins in the 2nd round and would expose their unseen weaknesses. Surprisingly, that all changed when Carolina mounted a shocking comeback in Game 7 against New Jersey and now will face the top seed. If you're a Bruins fan, be very thankful - Boston will likely survive another series. The Bruins are a solid and deep team and will be tough for Carolina to match up against. New Jersey lacked a shutdown defenseman like Boston's Zdeno Chara and the Hurricanes newly-formed top line of Eric Staal, Ray Whitney, and Chad LaRose walked all over them. I have a hunch Chara was a little banged up late in the season but with a long rest he should be ready to contribute big minutes for the Bruins.

If Carolina is going to win this series, I think two things need to happen. First, their powerplay has to start clicking. After coming through at a 6.9% rate in the first round, the Hurricanes will need to capitalize on any man-advantage situations they get. Much of their scoring revolves around their talented defense, especially Anton Babchuk as of late. The 6'5 Russian finished the season on a tear with eight points in his final four games, but came up empty in the first round with zero points and a healthy scratch to show for his efforts. If he and Joe Corvo can put the puck in the net, they could catch Boston sleeping. The other key to Carolina's success is going to be Cam Ward. Any goalie that outplays Martin Brodeur is dangerous and that's exactly what Ward did. If he plays to his potential, the Hurricanes could knock off Boston, but I think the Bruins are just too deep.

Prediction: Boston in 5 games


Saturday, May 2 at Washington, 1:00 p.m. NBC, CBC, RDS
Monday, May 4 at Washington, 7:00 p.m. VS, CBC, RDS
Wednesday, May 6 at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m. VS, CBC, RDS
Friday, May 8 at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m. VS, CBC, RDS
*Saturday, May 9 at Washington, 7:00 p.m. VS, CBC, RDS
*Monday, May 11 at Pittsburgh, TBD VS, CBC, RDS
*Wednesday, May 13 at Washington, 7:00 p.m. VS, CBC, RDS

"That (series against New York) wasn't a circus," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It wasn't Ringling Bros. We're playing Pittsburgh. Welcome to the circus."

In January, our 'Cold War' article took a look at one of the fastest-growing rivalries in all of sports: Washington vs. Pittsburgh. On Saturday, the rivalry will finally take the next step as both teams get to meet in a 7-game playoff series. The NHL has been waiting for this to happen for years and with so many storylines and star players, it definitely has the potential to push the NHL to the top of the sports headlines. For as much as I love the potential for fireworks to explode between these two clubs, I have a funny feeling it might be a quick series.

In Round 1, Washington found themselves trailing the NY Rangers 3-1 before rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov led the charge into the second round. Tuesday's Game 7 victory was the first of it's kind for Washington in 21 years. On top of that, the Capitals had not won a playoff series since the 1998 Eastern Conference final when they knocked off the Buffalo Sabres. Varlamov is a solid goalie and will likely become Washington's starting goalie of the future, but he was hardly tested by the hapless Rangers offense in this series. In Game 7, New York dominated the Capitals for over 40 minutes, yet finished the game with only 15 shots.

Pittsburgh was bottled up at times by Philadelphia's stingy defense, but should get back to their high-flying offensive ways in this series. Expect them to average over 40 shots a game and skate circles around the Caps lumbering defensemen. In fact, when Pittsburgh starts to put 4+ goals a game past Varlamov and Washington realizes he is not exactly the savior they had expected (yet), Jose Theodore will be back in net at some point this series. Theodore has fared well against the Penguins in his career, but unlike Varlamov in round one, Theo won't be able to salvage this series. Part of me is tempted to predict a 4-game Penguins sweep, but I think giving the Capitals one win is only fair considering their impressive home record in recent seasons.

Prediction: Pittsburgh in 5 games

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