So I went 4-4 in picking the first-round series, erring with the Blues and Canucks after flip-flopping those picks about 20 times. Perhaps no team is more perturbed about their second-round opponent than the Montreal Canadiens, who will face a Tampa Bay Lightning team that beat them in all five regular-season meetings. Will that trend continue? Will the Rangers break the Capitals’ hearts again? And can the upstart Flames and Wild slay the mighty Ducks and Blackhawks? A look now at the four second-round matchups:
Washington (2) vs. New York Rangers (1): Hello, old friend. These teams are no strangers to postseason meetings, having met in three of the previous four Stanley Cup playoffs and eight times overall. The Rangers have had Washington’s number the past two times, knocking them out in Game 7, but the all-time postseason series is tied 4-4. Washington was able to overcome a 2-1 deficit against the Islanders, but the Rangers are a little more rested and appear to be healthy at the right time. After losing the Stanley Cup Finals a year ago, it’s hard to pick against the Blueshirts, even though I expect the Caps to make it another tough battle. Prediction: Rangers in 6.
Tampa Bay (2) vs. Montreal (1): Talk about a tough draw. The Canadiens were undoubtedly rooting like heck for the Red Wings, a team they went 4-0 against in the regular season. Instead, they get the Lightning, whom they were 0-5 against. The Habs swept the Lightning out of last year’s playoffs, returning the favor a decade later after the eventual-champion 2004 Lightning team did the same to them. But the regular-season dominance has to be of concern to Montreal; the Lightning outscored them 21-8 in the five games, with Steven Stamkos netting five goals overall. Carey Price may be the NHL’s best goaltender, but Ben Bishop is picking up steam after his Game 7 shutout against Detroit. This sort of one-sided hex can wear on a team like Montreal that already seems to be fighting an uphill battle against its overall playoff failures in recent years. Prediction: Lightning in 6.
Calgary (3) vs. Anaheim (1): You’ve got to love the Flames. A team that lost star defenseman Mark Giordano earlier in the year is just that — a team. They may not conjure up memories of the 2004 Western Conference winners, but the likes of Jiri Hudler, Sean Monahan, and Johnny Gaudreau combined with the stellar netminding of former Duck Jonas Hiller has been effective and then some. But then there are the Ducks. The same Ducks that went 31-1-7 in one-goal games during the regular season and won two more during their first-round sweep of Winnipeg. Corey Perry (seven) was one of four Ducks to score at least five goals in the four-game set, and young Frederik Andersen was solid if unspectacular in net. Anaheim went 3-2 vs. Calgary during the year, and figures to be in for a scrap against the Flames. Still, I picked Anaheim back in March to win it all, and there’s no sense in straying from that now. Prediction: Ducks in 7.
Minnesota (4) vs. Chicago (1): These two teams seemed to take opposite paths to get here, with the Wild winning on the strength of red-hot goaltender Devan Dubnyk, while the Blackhawks had to withstand serious goalie questions after swapping out Corey Crawford for Scott Darling in round one. Crawford will go back into the starting role, putting more pressure on the talented scorers Chicago possesses. But like with Anaheim, I picked Minnesota to reach the conference finals earlier, and I have a gut feeling they may be ready to get over the hump against a Chicago team that has knocked them out of the playoffs each of the last two years. Keep an eye on Minnesota’s Zach Parise, who led the team with seven goals in the team’s six-game series win against St. Louis. Dubnyk will be the key though, and if Crawford struggles again, Minnesota will have a major edge in the most important facet of the game. Prediction: Wild in 6.