A1) Montréal Canadiens vs. A3) Tampa Bay Lightning
These two teams met in the first round last year, but the turning point of that series happened before the series began. An injury to Lightning goalie Ben Bishop doomed the Bolts and they got swept in four straight games. Now with a healthy Bishop in net, the anticipated matchup that was supposed to happen last year, will happen this year. In the previous series with Detroit, the Red Wings held Steven Stamkos to zero goals in seven games. The Habs are going to be lucky to keep Stamkos from putting the puck past Carey Price. This series is no easy out for either team, even though the Bolts won all five games against the Habs in the regular season.
Prediction: MTL in 7
M1) New York Rangers vs. M2) Washington Capitals
In the last four playoff series in which the Rangers and the Capitals met, three of them went the distance. Don’t be surprised if this series will go the distance, too. As balanced as both teams are, I honestly cannot decide who’s more likely to advance to the Eastern Conference Final. But I will say this: the only way the Capitals are going to win this series is if Braden Holtby out-duels Henrik Lundqvist. It is no easy task to find a way to beat The King four times. It is possible, but it’s no easy task.
Prediction: NYR in 7
C3) Chicago Blackhawks vs. WWC1) Minnesota Wild
This will be the third straight season the Blackhawks and Wild meet in a playoff series, and the second straight year these two teams will meet in the second round. In 2013, the Wild made it into the playoffs as the 8 seed, only to be mauled over by the Hawks in 5 games. Last year, it was much pretty much a home-ice playoff series, except in Game 6, when the Hawks won in overtime from a goal by Patrick Kane. The Hawks are going to face a very different Wild team than they have seen the previous two years. In 2013, a pregame injury to Niklas Backstrom put Josh Harding in net. In 2014, injuries to Backstrom and Harding led to Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgalov sharing the net, with Bryzgalov facing Chicago in all six games. This year, the Hawks have to find a way to get through Devan Dubnyk, a career second-string goalie that finally found his niche as a starting goaltender. Running torrid throughout the season, Dubnyk literally carried the Wild to the playoffs and carried himself to a career year, finishing as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. As for Chicago, they ground it out through a six-game series against Nashville, and even though the Hawks pulled their goalies twice in the series (Game 1 and Game 6), they found ways to win. But make no mistake about this series: this will be the biggest challenge the Hawks will face all season. In the two games Dubnyk has faced Chicago as a Wild goalie, he has allowed only one goal. On the other side of the rink, Corey Crawford has to reset himself after giving up 9 goals against the Predators in only seven periods of playoff hockey played. They also have to find a way to shore up the penalty kill. In the six-game series against Nashville, they allowed six power-play goals, which is the most allowed in the playoffs so far. If you’re the Minnesota Wild, take some sage advice from the Vancouver Canucks (the last team to meet Chicago in the playoffs in three consecutive years): you will not go anywhere further, unless you find a way to “slay the dragon”.
Prediction: CHI in 7
P1) Anaheim Ducks vs. P3) Calgary Flames
During the offseason, the Ducks decided not to re-sign goalie Jonas Hiller. Needing to find a team to play for, he decided to play for a rebuilding Calgary Flames team that had zero expectations entering this season. Surprisingly, the Flames made the playoffs as the third seed in the Pacific Division, and they found a way to beat the Vancouver Canucks in the first round. Now, Hiller will get to take on the team he once played for seven seasons. The Ducks had one full week off after sweeping the Winnipeg Jets in four straight games in the previous round. Other than worrying about rink rust, the Ducks should be fine in this series, especially when they have beaten the Flames in twenty straight regular season games at Honda Center. The last time the Flames won in Anaheim, Roman Turek stopped 36 of 37 shots, and Craig Conroy had a four-assist night. THAT WAS OVER 10 YEARS AGO!!! If Calgary has a shot of contending in the series, they’re gonna have to find a way to win in Anaheim. Not just win, steal at least two games from The Pond. If the Flames can’t win in Anaheim, this playoff series will be a very short series.
Prediction: ANA in 5