Today, From the Pressbox:
A review of the first round results, versus my predictions, and then a look ahead to what we will see in Round 2.
Pittsburgh vs. NY Islanders
My prediction: Pittsburgh in 5 games
Actual result: Pittsburgh in 6 games
The Islanders threw a scare at Pittsburgh through the first four games, but after the Pens made the switch from a shaky Marc Andre Fleury to veteran backup Tomas Vokoun, it seemed to stabilize things for the top ranked team in the East. A 4-0 home ice shutout win in Game 5 was followed up by a dramatic 4-3 OT win on Long Island to close out this set.
The Islanders took an important step back to respectability, thanks to a young core with John Tavares as a very prominent and respected leader.
Montreal vs. Ottawa
My prediction: Ottawa in 6 games
Actual result: Ottawa in 5 games
Despite the fact that Montreal was the higher seed, my rationale for calling this upset was largely based on the return of All-Star defender Erik Karlsson and the stability provided by goalie Craig Anderson in the Ottawa net.
All season long, many observers, myself included, wondered how this Montreal roster enjoyed such a positive regular season. Well, it was as if the clock struck midnight for the Canadiens as they were slaughtered twice, by 6-1 scores, including the final game, right in Montreal. During the course of this series, Montreal was on the receiving end of much of the physical play and slowly saw that key players were sidelined by injuries and they had no way to stop the surging Sens.
Washington vs. NY Rangers
My prediction: NY Rangers in 6 games
Actual result: NY Rangers in 7 games
This series turns after the Caps established a 3-2 series lead. The Rangers were led by superstar goalie Henrik Lundqvist who posted consecutive shutouts, a 1-0 overtime win at home, followed by a 5-0 shellacking in Washington during Game 7 to clinch the series in convincing fashion.
The Caps simply could no longer penetrate the tight-checking Rangers, once they reverted to their choking defensive style. It was quite a telling aspect that New York could find a way to neutralize Alexander Ovechkin, who showed through the second half of these playoffs and the early part of this series that he was truly back in top form as one of the most imposing figures in the NHL.
Boston vs. Toronto
My prediction: Toronto in 7 games (in OT)
Actual result: Boston in 7 games (in OT)
This could have been the most impressive of my upset picks and was certainly looking like it would come to pass as the Leafs came back from a 3-1 series deficit with consecutive 2-1 wins in Games 5 and 6, before creating a 4-1 lead in Game 7, by the early stages of the third period.
Then, the Bruins staged an unprecedented Game 7 rally, which was sparked by their aggressive style and edge in experience on this stage. The Leafs simply had no answer for Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic and were at a severe disadvantage in the face-off circle throughout much of this series.
The Leafs are another playoff newcomer that has mapped out a new direction. Buoyed by the performances of goalie James Reimer, Phil Kessel, Joffrey Lupul and James Van Riemsdyk, among others, the future appears bright for the team with the youngest average age of its active roster in this playoff tournament.
Chicago vs. Minnesota
My prediction: Chicago in 4
Actual result: Chicago in 5
No real surprise here, folks. The Wild did steal one game, call it a moral victory if you will, but this result was never in doubt. Simply stated, the Hawks are a very deep team that was justified in looking at this series as a stepping-stone to bigger things in these playoffs.
For Minnesota, this series ended a season that began with much promise built around free agent signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. It ended with a team that underperformed during the regular season, but then went through some late ups (ie. acquiring Jason Pominville at the trade deadline) and downs (ie. season ending injury for Dany Heatley).
Anaheim vs. Detroit
My prediction: Anaheim in 7
Actual result: Detroit in 7
This series took as many twists and turns as any other matchup in Round 1 and I actually went against a long-held opinion that I should never bet against the veteran core of the Detroit Red Wings. In the end, the Wings overcame a 3-2 OT loss in Game 5 with a 4-3 OT win of their own on home ice, before hanging on to a 3-2 win Anaheim in Game 7.
The Ducks finished the regular season in the lofty second seed position, a testament to their strong on-ice leadership in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, both of whom were awarded long-term contract extensions to stay in Anaheim. They were very capably supported by a good mix of veterans and youth in a very deep and talented roster that bodes well for their future.
The problem they faced in this series was the battle-tested core of the Wings, led by future Hall of Famers, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, who were not ready to see their string of playoff appearances end and made a late push to qualify against long odds for these playoffs.
Vancouver vs. San Jose
My prediction: San Jose in 6
Actual result: San Jose in 4
This series was another upset pick and yet I was apparently being charitable in giving the Canucks two games here.
Despite finishing on top of their division and earning the number 3 seed for the Western Conference playoffs, Vancouver never shed the season-long cloud of the Roberto Luongo contract that hung like a cloud in the Canucks dressing room. They simply lacked a focus that is necessary at this time of year and were let down by the fact that the Sedins and their experienced defense was trumped by the same components of the Sharks and their on-ice leaders, Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and company.
With the salary cap commitments and a related lack of cap flexibility, the Canucks will be forced to make some difficult decisions this off-season and moving Luongo must top that list.
St Louis vs. Los Angeles
My prediction: Los Angeles in 5
Actual result: Los Angeles in 6
The Kings broke ahead in this set with a hard-fought 3-2 OT win in St Louis prior to going home and ending this series with an equally tight 2-1 triumph in L.A.
During the course of this series, many observers felt like it had the potential to be the most hotly contested set because, despite some early season stumbles, they were both touted as series Cup contenders (or defenders in L.A.'s case.
This was a series that would oust a very good team, in the early stages of the playoffs and for St. Louis, this early exit, while very disappointing, is not a portent of things to come.
There are better days ahead for this loaded roster, with the recent addition of Jay Bouwmeester to a deep defense which also features Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk and their offensive and goalie depth, on a relatively young team.
So in the end, I went 6-2 and could easily have swept the board.
Here's what I see for round two, which begins Tuesday night.
#1 Pittsburgh vs. #7 Ottawa
Season series: Pittsburgh sweep 3-0, outscoring Ottawa 8-4
The Pens took all three games, as noted, pinning all of the losses on Craig Anderson, so the Sens can't really hang there hat on their starting goalie based on those results. However, Ottawa's only edge in this series may still be in goal, owing to the uncertainty at the other end.
Additionally, Ottawa can feel confident that a healthy Erik Karlsson is back at an optimal level and that is another ace in the hole for Ottawa. Speaking of Karlsson, he and the Sens will get to play against Matt Cooke, who derailed the young Sen's season. That could be an interesting and raucous subplot.
As for Pittsburgh, they remain the class of the East and hang their hopes on their firepower, which they hope will override and goaltending issues. We look for Vokoun to start the series in goal, but anticipate seeing Fleury back in there at some point.
This series will be closer than the seeds imply, but I still see the Penguins having too much talent for the pesky team from Ottawa. I take Pittsburgh in 6 games.
#4 Boston vs. #6 NY Rangers
Season series: 2-1 for the Rangers, who won their games in OT and a shootout, but were outscored 9-8 by the Bruins
It's another Original Six matchup for the Bruins and there is no advantage in this schedule as both clubs were extended to a full seven-game series in Round 1.
An early advantage may go to the Rangers because injuries have limited or sidelined Andrew Ference, Wade Redden and Dennis Seidenberg, three veterans of the Bruins blueline brigade. The Rangers will begin this set without Marc Staal (eye) and Ryan Clowe (mild concussion), both big bodies who would be extremely useful against the Bruins.
David Krejci and his linemates, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic were the difference in their Round 1 series win and lead the Bruins' attack. They will need more out of their second line, which featured Jaromir Jagr, as a late series promotion alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Tyler Seguin was invisible in the opening round.
The Rangers rode the cape of their superman Henrik Lundqvist in Round 1. Oddly, Rick Nash was held to two assists, while late season trade pickup, Derek Brassard pace the New York attack with 9 points. The Rangers also got production from Taylor Pyatt (3 points) and Brian Boyle (3 points) two big bodies who will try to negate the nasty edge of the Bigger bruin players of note (Chara, Lucic and Horton).
While Tuukka Rask was sharp in Round 1, it says here that he's the second best goalie in this series. The Rangers edge in goalie and a healthier defense will propel them to a series win. I call it New York in 6 games.
#1 Chicago vs. #7 Detroit
Season series: Hawks swept this series 4-0, with one lopsided score (7-1) and the other three games decided in shootouts or overtime.
This is the third Original Six series of these playoffs -- a bonus for long-time NHL fans. The nature of this old rivalry and the close (with one noted exception) of their regular season series implies that this should be a very competitive series.
I've already stated that the Wings are such a battle-tested group and they've still got a core that has done it all. Goalie Jimmy Howard has continued a steady climb to the front ranks of experienced playoff goalies and may give the Wings some comfort and a slight edge over Corey Crawford, but the Hawks' goalie has been sensational in this post season (1.32 gaa and a .950 sv. pct.).
Defensively and offensively Chicago would appear to have an edge in depth. We have spoken at length about the big names on both rosters, so I will cut to the chase and say that, despite my high regard for the Wings, I see the Hawks as the class of the West. It won't be easy though as I see Chicago needing six games to win this series.
#5 Los Angeles vs. #6 San Jose
Season series: Split 2-2, including an S J shootout win, LA outscoring SJ, 13-10
The defending champion won't have to travel far as they face one of their cross-state rivals in Round 2. This set pits the older experience of the Sharks against the younger Kings.
The motivation for the Sharks may lie in the fact that the number of playoff runs left in Thornton, Marleau and Boyle, may be expiring soon. So the Sharks may rally around that belief. Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture each tallied eight points in the sweep of Vancouver. So all the Sharks big players are delivering right now.
The same can be said for the Kings, whose high players, Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter et all, have all made regular appearances in the playoff scoring summaries.
Despite a higher profile, Jonathan Quick has been matched almost save for save by Antti Niemi so far in these playoffs.
I think the Kings have found their Championship groove and that may the ultimate difference in this series. I see the Kings needing all 7 games to get this job done.
Paul Bruno has been writing about the fantasy sports scene for several years and is an accredited member of the sports media in Toronto for over 20 years. You are invited to send your feedback and you can follow him on Twitter (statsman22).