Is it just me or did the first round of the NHL playoffs seem like it lasted for a month?  Let me re-phrase that.  Didn’t the first round of the Eastern Conference NHL playoffs seem to go on forever? 

Even the final game of the final series just refused to end!  When the Devils’ Adam Henrique finally punched through the winning goal at the 3:47 mark of the second overtime to win game seven and the series over the Florida Panthers, the rest of the hockey world was finally able to let out a huge sigh, since they had been holding their collective breath waiting for the first round to end for what seemed like the entire month of April. 

When we compare the Eastern Conference playoffs to the Western Conference playoffs, the contrast is astounding. 

For example, three of the four Western Conference series ended in five games and the other one was done in six games.  Back east, one series was done in six games while the other three went the full seven, with two of those game sevens finishing in overtime! 

As far as upsets, both conferences had two upsets; although which series were actually upsets is wide open for debate. 

Many experts picked Chicago over Phoenix, while the Nashville/Detroit series was split down the middle.  I personally had picked Phoenixin six, but went with Detroit to knock off Nashville.  I’m not sure anyone outside of southern California had the Kings taking out Vancouver. 

In the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh/Philadelphia series and the New Jersey/Florida series were both fairly even as far as favorites go.  I had correctly picked New Jersey, but dropped the ball (or puck) when I called for a Pittsburgh victory.  Washington knocking off the former champions Boston Bruins was a big surprise. 

So here we are, ready to hit the conference semifinals.  The western teams are all well rested, since they have all been waiting for the Eastern Conference to wrap things up, so the advantage that Nashville thought they were going to have over Phoenix may have evaporated.  Which leads us to the highly anticipated (okay, maybe not highly, but I know some people who are curious) projections for the second round. 

Western Conference: 

#4 Nashville Predators vs. #3 Phoenix Coyotes – I may jinx the series by saying this, but this may be the best series of the round.  Neither team is necessarily regarded as a scoring machine, although both teams have plenty of talent to light it up.  However, the two hottest goalies in the league right now will be squaring up in Coyote Mike Smith and Predator Pekka Rinne.  Plan on seeing a lot of 1-0 and 2-1 games.  If these games end up in overtime, look for the edge to shift to Phoenix, having just played five out of six overtime games in their series against Chicago.  Also, forget about the home ice advantage.  In Nashville’s round one victory over Detroit, only two out of five games were won by the home team.  In Phoenix’ victory over Chicago, only one out of six games was won by the home team.  Both goalies are incredible, so the series will come down to the less glamorous statistics, like hits, blocks and shots on goal.  I’d love to pick my home town Coyotes, but I’m going with Nashville in seven!  Nashville Predators 4-3. 

#8 Los Angeles Kings vs. #2 St. Louis Blues – My first instinct is to say that the Kings had a good run, but now they’ve met their match.  The problem is, that’s pretty much what I was saying before round one, when they were matched up with the President’s Cup winners Vancouver.  Then they proceeded to dispatch them with relative ease in five games, including all three in Vancouver.  St. Louis finished off the regular season in disappointing fashion, giving up the Presidents Cup that they seemed to have secured with a week remaining, by playing lackluster hockey.  That carried into game #1 against San Jose, when they lost at home in overtime.  Unfortunately for the Sharks (and perhaps the Kings), they woke up and won the next four games to end their series in five games.  I believe they will do the same thing again in round two.  St. Louis Blues 4-1. 

Eastern Conference: 

#6 New Jersey Devils vs. #5 Philadelphia Flyers – When the first round began, I had figured that the Devils would storm through Florida quickly, and then take on #1 New York, where they would battle them to the wire.  However, after watching them fight for their lives against the Panthers, and not look very good doing it, my confidence level has dropped severely.  Philadelphia, on the other hand, won their series against Pittsburgh with very little, if any defense.  Then again, when you average more than six goals a game in each of their four victories, I guess defense isn’t a very big concern.  I believe the Flyers will need to tighten up their defense eventually, but this round should still belong to them.  Philadelphia Flyers 4-2. 

#7 Washington Capitols vs. #1 New York Rangers – The Rangers almost fell victim in round one, just like their western counterparts Vancouver did.  However, they managed to get past the pesky Ottawa Senators in seven games.  Now they need to worry about the Capitols.  You see Washington just took out the former champions and #2 Boston Bruins, so they aren’t afraid of New York just because they finished first in the east!  The Rangers need to do what Boston couldn’t do, and that is to take Washington out quickly.  As high as the Capitol’s confidence is right now, as long as they hang around they may find a way to pull out a couple of victories.  I think New York has learned their lesson and are ready to take control of the Eastern Conference.  New York Rangers 4-1. 

There you go.  I batted .500 in the first round, so we’ll see how things go in round two.  Let me know what you think and who you’re picking in this round!



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