After successfully picking every Round 1 winner of the NHL playoffs, I thought it would be a good idea to put my Round 2 picks into writing. Let's start with the East:
Eastern Conference Semi-Finals Series 1: (1) Boston Bruins vs (6) Carolina Hurricanes.
I think this series has potential to be the best of the four. After edging out the New Jersey Devils in one of the most stunning series in recent memory, the Hurricanes have all the momentum going into Round 2. That said, Boston isn't going to roll over like New Jersey did. But unlike most people, I put absolutely no weight on the fact that Boston swept the regular season series. First of all, Carolina's defense really only came together towards the latter half of the season, and is now much better suited to handle's Boston's four scoring lines. Secondly, the addition of Paul Maurice, Jussi Jokinen, and Erik Cole so dramatically changed the team that they ended the season as one of the hottest in the NHL. Look for Carolina to come out strong in Game 1, taking advantage of the Bruins' week and a half hiatus. I think Cam Ward is going to prove why he has a Conn Smythe trophy, a Stanley Cup ring, and two playoff series wins against Martin Brodeur under his belt. It will be interesting to see how the Boston defensive corps (notably Zdeno Chara) will match up against the Larose, Staal, Whitney line - If they have another 9 point game, this could be a long series for Boston. This is the first time they've won a playoff series since 1999. There's a serious choke factor involved. So I think if we see some production from Ruutu, Jokinen, and Samsonov, you should see Carolina competing for the Prince of Wales.
Carolina in 7.
Eastern Conference Semi-Finals Series 2: (2) Washington Capitals vs (4) Pittsburgh Penguins.
Washington managed to prevent the Rangers' upset, but it's unlikely to happen again. I don't care how well Simeon Varlamov played against New York - he is simply not going to shut down Malkin or Crosby. He faced the least shots of any goalie to play 6 games in the playoffs, and against a struggling Rangers team at that. I don't think we're looking at another rookie goalie playoff sensation. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw Theodore back in net before long. I like Marc-Andre Fleury's chances against Ovechkin and Semin much more. This is going to be a tremendous, high-scoring series. But I'm still calling 2 upsets in the east.
Penguins in 6.
Western Conference Semi-Finals Series 1: (2) Detroit vs (8) Anaheim.
This is the best series in the west. Sure, Anaheim pulled off the biggest upset of the playoffs, by knocking out the President's trophy winning San Jose Sharks. But the Sharks are a team that perpetually choke in the second round of the playoffs. It wasn't going to be long before they choked early. But it would be shortsighted to overlook Anaheim's talent. Let's not forget that they won the Stanley Cup just 2 years ago, and have 11 veterans of that run on the team now. This is a very, very skilled hockey club. But there are some questions. Notably, can Jonas Hiller keep up his performance against the countless scoring threats on the Red Wings' roster? The Anaheim Ducks were the 2nd most penalized team in the NHL this season, and the Red Wings have had the best power play in the league all year long. If the Ducks don't stay disciplined, their cup hopes could be over very fast. In the end, I see Chris Osgood winning the goaltender duel, and shutting down Selanne, Getzlaf, etc. But watch out, there is certainly some upset potential here.
Detroit in 6.
Western Conference Semi-Finals Series 2: (3) Vancouver vs (4) Chicago
This is a tough series to call. It comes down to so many different factors. First of all, there's the goalie situation - Luongo vs. Khabibulin. I think Luongo is a much more consistent goalie, and he comes into Round 2 with the highest GAA in the playoffs. On the other hand, Nikolai Khabibulin's 2.52 GAA is the lowest of all goalies with 4 wins in the playoffs. However, he won't be facing as potent of an offense as he did in Round 1 vs Calgary. Sure, he's still going to have to face the Sedin twins, Burrows, and Kesler. But this doesn't compare to what Luongo is facing at the other end of the ice: Jonathan Toews, Martin Havlat, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Kris Versteeg, just to name a few. So even if Luongo plays better than Khabibulin, I think Chicago has a legitimate chance of winning. Khabibulin only needs to be good. Luongo is going to have to be amazing.
Chicago in 7.