NHL Playoffs: Conference Semi-Final Preview

After fourteen days, the field running for the Stanley Cup has been cut in half. Of the eight series, there were only two upsets with Carolina and Anaheim being the only low seeds to make it out of the first round. Now, I’m going to try to match wits with the overpaid experts and attempt to predict the conference semi-finals.

Eastern Conference

#1 Boston Bruins vs. #6 Carolina Hurricanes (TV: TSN, Versus)
I would have said that this one is a slam dunk for the Bruins until I realized the Hurricanes have this whole last second heroics thing seemingly down to a science. Both Tim Thomas and Cam Ward have been solid in goal for each team. Offensively, the Bruins are the superior team. They’ve had 12 different forwards notch a point in the first round and had that same high-flying offense going through the whole regular season. Mind you, Carolina’s offense is no slouch either and kept them in many games this season and have been clutch in the playoffs so far. The biggest difference will come on defence. Zdeno Chara is an absolute beast on the blueline and led the complete domination of the Habs. The Bruins defence completely shutdown Montreal’s top guns. The ‘Canes defence was never that convincing in their play against the Devils. Cam Ward did as much, if not more, defensive work as the six defensemen.
Prediction: Boston in 6

#2 Washington Capitals vs. #4 Pittsburgh Penguins (TV: CBC, RDS, Versus)
While we are busy marvelling over the Caps comeback against the Rangers, Gary Bettman is celebrating with his cronies over a fix well done. Really, do you think that the Caps could have done it on their own? Similarly, they’ll get some help from the league to make this series an interesting one. Crosby and Ovechkin are the two biggest stars in the league right now and the NHL are going to milk this series for all its worth. That’s why I have this one going to seven. Washington is going to be tired after seven games against New York while the Pens are well rested. Defensively these teams are pretty even in that they aren’t strong defensive teams but I’d give Pittsburgh a slight edge. Fleury and Varlamov aren’t the best goaltenders left in the playoffs but they have stepped up when needed so things look pretty even in the playoffs. Even their offensive firepower and depth seems pretty even. What this comes down to playoff experience. The Penguins have been to the finals before while the Caps have made it out of the first round for the first time in 11 years. The Penguins know how to win and they’ll use that experience to get the upper hand in this series.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in 7

Western Conference

#2 Detroit Red Wings vs. #8 Anaheim Ducks (TV: TSN, Versus)
Detroit was absolutely dominant in their first round victory over the Blue Jackets. The Wings only looked human in game four but the offense made up for problems with the defence and goaltending. Speaking of goaltending, all those worries about Chris Osgood seem to evaporated. Like last year, he stepped up his game when called upon. Mind you, so has Anaheim’s goalie Jonas Hiller. He was handed the reins for the playoffs and has taken control, almost single-handedly taking down the Sharks. Sure Detroit won the season series while Anaheim owns the Wings in the post-season but this series will come down to special teams. Anaheim has a penchant for taking ill-timed penalties (not there are many good times to take a penalty) which will be costly against a Red Wing power play that is among the best in the league. If the Ducks penalty kill can’t keep goals off the board, we’re in for a short series.
Prediction: Detroit in 6

#3 Vancouver Canucks vs. #4 Chicago Blackhawks (TV: CBC, Versus)
This one comes down to goaltending. Both Khabibulin and Luongo are capable of standing on their heads and have done so this post-season. But when you get outside of the crease, the Blackhawks are the superior team. The have more depth of offense and their defence can play both high-pressure offense and shut-down defence. As good as Vancouver was in the first round, St. Louis was every bit as bad as the Canucks made them look. It wasn’t until game 4 that St. Louis really played. Calgary played Chicago hard and it forced them to find another level to finish the Flames off. If Chicago can find that level, not even Luongo will be able to stop them.
Prediction: Chicago in 7


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