2010 NHL Playoffs Preview and Free Picks – 2nd Round

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By Mike Ivcic

It was a tale of two conferences in the first round – the West held virtually true to form with only one lower seed winning (which wasn’t even really a true upset as Detroit took out Phoenix) while the East saw only the defending champion Penguins march on out of the higher seeds, meaning they’ll now have home ice for the remainder of the conference. Beware of Jaroslav Halak and the Habs, however – as Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals can attest, it’s no small task scoring against a man who, right now, is playing better than anyone else in the postseason, Sidney Crosby included.

Eastern Conference
(4) Pittsburgh vs (8) Montreal
Pittsburgh struggled with Ottawa in round one before finally winning Game 6 in overtime to oust the Senators. The Canadiens, meanwhile, became the first 8 seed to come back from down 3-1 against a 1 seed – the Capitals – in the history of the NHL playoffs. So after shutting down Ovechkin, Backstrom, Green, and Semin, the Habs and Halak now get a chance to try to stop Crosby, Malkin, Gonchar, and Staal. What a reward.

As well as the Canadiens have played in the last three games, this will not be the same type of series. The Penguins have been to the top before and will know how to dig deep for the so-called “gut check” when that time comes. If the Caps had been able to score on even two or three more powerplays than their 1-for-33 clip in the series, the Canadiens are watching this round. Expect Pittsburgh to be much better than that in this round, meaning the Habs might get a game or two, but the Pens are moving on.
Pittsburgh 4, Montreal 1

(6) Boston vs (7) Philadelphia
Both of these teams were simply happy to make the postseason, and now one of them will be playing in the conference finals. The Flyers will be without Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter – at least to start the series – which should give the Bruins an early edge, especially on home ice. The keys to this series are the respective goaltenders – Tukka Rask for Boston and Brian Boucher for Philadelphia. Neither were supposed to be their teams’ starters, but both will be responsible for carrying their teams beyond this series.

For the Bruins to win this series, they must take both game 1 and game 2 on home ice, especially if Gagne and Carter miss both games. The Flyers will have been off for over a week by the time the puck drops on Saturday, so Boston has to jump on them early. Philly, meanwhile, should look for the split and try to get the series back home with a chance to take control. Since both teams have some big flaws, the series will likely be won by the team that takes advantage of the other’s weaknesses, as well as special teams. Boston didn’t allow a power play goal to Buffalo; the Flyers scored 8 against New Jersey in just five games. Something will give here, and the ultimate difference – game 7 in is Beantown.
Boston 4, Philadelphia 3

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Western Conference
(1) San Jose vs (5) Detroit
The Sharks are breathing huge sighs of relief right now. First, they escaped a tough first-round matchup with Colorado. Then, they drew the league’s hottest team in the Red Wings. Finally, Washington imploded against Montreal. All of that adds up to keep the Sharks from feeling really ANY heat if they can’t move on to the conference finals. Still, the best team remaining in the playoffs certainly has their work cut out for them in this round.

The Red Wings got by Phoenix by showing the grit and determination of a team that’s won two straight conference championships. Their issue is still goaltending, where Jimmy Howard has waffled between outstanding and subpar. We know the Sharks can score, but can they do it when it matters? We know the Wings can score, too, but can Evgeni Nabokov outplay Howard? If the Sharks can get ahead early (and it should be easy with the travel and short turn-around for Detroit) it could have a lasting effect on the series. If Howard can gain confidence, it could be déjà vu all over again for San Jose. I think Detroit runs out of gas here after a grueling series with the Coyotes.
San Jose 4, Detroit 2

(2) Chicago vs (3) Vancouver
They meet again in round two. Both of these teams won round one in six games, but both should feel very fortunate to even still be playing. The Hawks were 13 seconds away from heading to Nashville down 3-2, while the Canucks were outplayed for most of the series by Los Angeles and relied on some key stops by Roberto Luongo in games 4 and 6 to steal the series from the Kings. Last year, Chicago solved Luongo and advanced to the conference finals without home ice advantage. This year, they get it, which could become a factor.

The key for Chicago is special teams. They must shut down the Sedin twins on power play chances (or just don’t go to the box) and they need to take advantage of a weak Vancouver penalty kill in order to solve Luongo, who seems to have rebounded after a tough game 3. No doubt he still remembers the seven goal Chicago scored on him last season to advance past Vancouver, so maybe a little redemption is on his mind. That said, the Blackhawks are deeper than Vancouver, and if Antti Niemi can remain as strong as he was against Nashville, then we’re looking at a top 2 final in the West.
Chicago 4, Vancouver 2

First Round: A very disappointing 4-4

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