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NHL Second-Round Matchups Set

There are a lot (A LOT) of things that can be said following the Montreal Canadiens's upset win over the Washington Capitals. Here are just a few:

•    Wow… just, wow.
•    Holy (expletive deleted)
•    Am I dreaming? Am I dreaming? Someone pinch me, because I think I'm dreaming!
•    Boy, the Capitals really choked, eh (it helps if this last one is being said in a stereotypical Canadian accent for added effect)?
•    Conversely: Those Habs really pulled it off. They deserved it out of sheer hard work.
•    Can you award the Conn Smythe Trophy after just one round?
•    Maybe we should rename the Conn Smythe Trophy the Jaroslav Halak Trophy? Is that possible (no, it's not)?
•    I guess Habs forward Tomas Plekanec should legally change his name to Jaromir Jagr now.
•    Who's better now, Sidney Crosby, who's won a Stanley Cup, or Alexander Ovechkin, who hasn't (envision one's tongue being stuck out as this is being said; don't you just love it)?
•    Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau is quite the whiner when things don't go his way, isn't he? That Alexander Ovechkin non-goal was the right call, pure and simple. Every time that replay of him saying: "What the [you know what]?!" to the referee after immediately watching it on the big screen, well, let's just say it has been up to this point my favourite part of these playoffs.

Of course, there are a lot of other things to be said, but the fact remains that while a good portion of Habs fandom believed Montreal had a legitimate shot against Washington, Montreal did just pull off the near-impossible, becoming the first number-eight seed to erase a three-games-to-one deficit against a number-one seed. Beating the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, will be much easier said than done.

Unlike the Capitals, the Pens know how to win. They are a more complete team. They actually have goaltending (at least better goaltending than what the Caps had). They have more effective leadership. Essentially, Montreal was able to come back and beat Washington because the Caps underestimated the Habs and their ability to stick to a system until the very end. They never were able to successfully counter that system (or they were too cocky to even try). That won't happen against Pittsburgh, because captain Crosby and company won't let it happen. The Pens are now the favourites to come out of the East as they should have been from the start.

Bold prediction
: Pittsburgh Penguins over Montreal Canadiens in five games

Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers

While Boston's injury problems are subsiding (perennial offensive leader Marc Savard is returning), those of the Flyers are just beginning. Two of their premier weapons in Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne are out of the lineup, and, while it is true that winners in the playoffs usually get key goal contributions from the supporting staff of grinders and not necessarily from their stars, one of those unsung heroes in Ian Lapperiere is also injured after taking a shot in the face. Add to that the fact that the Flyers have shaky goaltending during the best of times and that the injuries in that position have been well-documented and it's hard to see any conceivable way that the Flyers could beat Boston.

Bold prediction: Boston Bruins over Philadelphia Flyers in five games

San Jose Sharks vs. Detroit Red Wings

Call it the second first round for the Red Wings, as this one presents a similar set of circumstances. Detroit, despite a lower seed, should be favoured to "upset" the conference's top seed due to a variety of factors: experience (as previously mentioned), leadership, more overall skill, and a general lack of a choking reflex (I guess the opposite of a gag reflex).

That the Sharks were able to get past the Colorado Avalanche, a lowly eighth seed, doesn't mean squat. The Avalanche had injury issues and were too young to do any definitive damage. That they were able to take two games is just an indication that the Sharks won against an inferior opponent in spite of themselves. Now they face a team that has won the Western conference championship two years in a row. The script has already been written in this one.

Bold prediction
: Detroit Red Wings over San Jose Sharks in six games

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Vancouver Canucks

Vancouver just has too many question marks to make a victory over Chicago even remotely likely: Is their defense deep enough? Can goalie Roberto Luongo keep it together, unlike last year when he let in seven goals against the Blackhawks in that series' deciding game six? Do the Canucks have the wherewithal to compete against a simply better team in this year's rematch?

If even one of those questions resulted in a 'no', that would be one 'no' too many to give Vancouver a realistic chance at beating a Stanley Cup favourite. Chicago's just too deep.

Bold prediction: Chicago Blackhawks over Vancouver Canucks in five games

In the year of the upset, up to this point, there won't be many more. Kudos to Montreal for doing the near-impossible again, but now you have the task of doing the actually impossible, beating a much better team than your first-round opposition, a team that knows what you're capable of.

All the cards are now in place for a Pittsburgh Penguins-Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Final. Up until that point, few surprises should be expected, unfortunately.