Now that the first round is behind us, we can beam with pride as we managed to go 7-1 in predicting first-round series, including three predicted lengths to the game. We hope we can call the second round as well -- and for those true hockey fans, we have some spectacular matchups on the docket.
Atlantic Final: Montreal Canadiens (A1) v. Tampa Bay Lightning (A2)
It should come as little shock to anybody that these two teams will face one another in the second round: we've predicted it all year. These are easily the two best teams in the division, and have very dynamic game styles. Montreal relies on its four-line depth, its strong blueline and MVP-caliber goaltending to blanket and stifle opposition opportunities. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, has an incredibly strong top-six, a solid defense corps, and reliable goaltending to overwhelm their prey. The resulting question (as we expect it for the entirety of the playoffs) will be: can Carey Price continue doing what he's doing? When Montreal was focused against Ottawa, they were undeniably the best team - once they hit 3-0, they coasted for a few games. If they can summon the same drive, they should overwhelm the Lightning. Worth noting: the Lightning have won every game they played against Montreal this season, going 5-0-0. If you're a person who puts big weight into regular season trending, this may be upset-worthy.
Montreal in six; Price shines again and shuts down the potent Tampa Bay offense.
Metropolitan Final: New York Rangers (M1) v. Washington Capitals (M2)
Both their first round matchups we predicted to the game -- Rangers in five, Caps in seven -- so we feel confident we can predict the outcome of this series with equal clarity. In virtually every comparable, New York holds a decisive edge: their forward depth is better, their defensemen are both better defensively and more dangerous offensively, their goaltending is better, and their coach has more experience going deep in the playoffs. They also hold the regular season record, winning three of four contests against the Caps. The deciding factor in this is simply whether New York can stay out of the box and dictate play: Washington has the best power play in the league -- so much so that it can be a decisive advantage if the Rangers aren't careful. Nonetheless, we're sure that the Blueshirts will be well-coached on this topic and find the appropriate balance between playoff aggression and going overboard. This should be the best series to watch on the East Coast.
New York in six; Rangers are simply better no matter how you slice it and advance assertively.
Pacific Final: Anaheim Ducks (P1) v. Calgary Flames (P3)
Following the Rangers/Caps, this will be the series that we'll be tuning into. We underestimated the Flames against Vancouver, but we think that the scrappy boys in red will have met their match against Anaheim. The Ducks have won three of the five meetings in the regular season, and are well rested from their opening round sweep of Winnipeg. The big tandem of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are already white-hot, and look to be ready for more of the same. Calgary decisively showed themselves the better, younger team in the first round and their weaknesses looked far less weak than advertised. As a result, we're expecting a punchy, well-fought slugfest -- but with a predominantly Ducks outcome. Anaheim is a well-built, well-coached team with a perfect blend of playoff experience and youthful exuberance. As Canadians, we'll be cheering for Calgary, but they are the decisive underdogs, and will sadly be disappointed.
Anaheim in six; the Ducks continue their rampage, rolling over the Flames in a fun series to watch.
Central Final: Chicago Blackhawks (C3) v. Minnesota Wild (W1)
Coming off their first round upset of the heavily favored St. Louis Blues, the Wild are looking to prove they're not a one-hit wonder. Unfortunately for them, they have to test their mettle against the most experienced playoff team remaining in the post-season. Reviewing the notes from the regular season contests is very much a tale of two teams: Minnesota lost all three games prior to the trade to acquire Devan Dubnyk, and won both games played following his arrival. Realistically, the team Chicago will be facing this time will resemble the latter far than the former. Minnesota's defensive system is one of the tightest since the New Jersey Devils' Trap game in the 90s, and Chicago could very easily fall prey to the smothering and limited chances the Wild allow. This could allow Minnesota to pull off a "wild" upset that many people don't expect. Then again, as we saw in the first round, when Minnesota doesn't commit to the defensive system, or their opponent is able to exploit their weaknesses, things break down in a hurry. We're split on the outcome of this series -- this has the biggest variance of any of the second round matchups. For the record, we'll take Minnesota for the upset -- but that's largely because we predicted the favorites in all the other series, and that doesn't seem likely for all four.
Minnesota in six; Wild's stifling defense and aggravating system poses too big a problem for Chicago.