Stanley Cup predictions: Conference semifinals
Winning a division title in the NHL's Eastern Conference this season will get you a banner in the rafters at the arena, and nothing more.
A crazy first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs saw the Eastern Conference's division winners, New Jersey (Atlantic), Buffalo (Northeast) and Washington (Southeast), getting bounced in the conference quarterfinals. New Jersey's loss to my Flyers in five games didn’t shock me, although I am not getting any respect from Devils fan and one of my best friends from college, Aggie Tkac. She is still rubbing it in my face about the Devils’ three Stanley Cups to the Flyers’ two.
Buffalo’s loss to Boston was stunning because the Bruins, who struggled to score goals during the regular season, found ways to beat Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.
But no one could have predicted Montreal's shocking upset of Washington, the top team in the league. The Capitals were up, 3-1, and seemingly in control in the series. Then, Canadiens goalie Jaroslav Halak turned into Patrick Roy Jr., stopping 131 of 134 shots over the final three games of the series to help Montreal oust Washington.
That sound you just heard were the executives at NBC and Versus banging their heads over the loss of a potential ratings bonanza with the Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference final. Oh well.
By the way, this is why the NHL playoffs are a million times better than the NBA playoffs. There is more unpredictably in the NHL postseason.
After posting a 5-3 record in my conference quarterfinal predictions, it's time for my conference semifinal picks. If you would like to make your picks, post them below, or e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
No. 4 Pittsburgh vs. No. 8 Montreal — Had the top three seeds won, Pittsburgh would have faced Washington in this round. Now, the Penguins are the top remaining seed in the East. That's the good news.
The bad news is they have to find a way to get pucks past Halak. With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the way, you would think the Penguins would have no problems.
I thought the same thing about the Capitals. Still, I am leaning toward the Penguins in six.
No. 6 Boston vs. No. 8 Philadelphia — A month ago, these two teams, who met in the Winter Classic at Fenway Park in January, were battling for their playoff lives. Now, they are fighting for a spot in the conference final.
My Gazette colleague, Mike MacAdam, is a devout Bruins fan. We will have to be separated a few times in the office over the next couple of weeks.
It's the first playoff meeting between the two teams since 1978, which capped four series in five years. The Flyers won their first Stanley Cup in 1974 by beating the Bruins in six games. Two years later, the Flyers eliminated the Bruins in five games in the semifinals. The next two years, the Bruins won in the semifinals.
Of course, that has nothing to do with the here and now. Both teams played very well. The Flyers are hurting, though. They lost two of their top scorers, Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne, with foot injuries against the Devils. And the inspirational Ian Laperriere suffered a potential playoff-ending concussion when he blocked a shot with his face against the Devils in Game 5.
Still, I have to with my boys. The Flyers proved they can win without Carter and Gagne. The Flyers win in six.
No. 1. San Jose vs. No. 5 Detroit — San Jose survived defenseman Dan Boyle scoring into his own net in overtime of Game 3 against Colorado to advance. Detroit rolled past Phoenix in Game 7 in Glendale, Ariz., and I survived bodily harm from my devout Red Wings fan, Sue Lefever, who was going to kill me if the Red Wings lost.
I am not out of the woods with her yet. The Red Wings are Cup-savvy, and the Sharks aren't. And San Jose's Joe Thornton still doesn't know the playoffs have started.
I am taking a chance with my life. Red Wings in six.
No. 2 Chicago vs. No. 3 Vancouver — This is a rematch of last year’s conference semifinals, won by Chicago in six. Vancouver had home ice last year; Chicago gets it this time.
Both teams survived tests in the first round. Chicago took out Nashville in six games, while Vancouver disposed of Los Angeles in six.
Both teams have had inconsistent goaltending. But, to me, the Canucks' Roberto Luongo fails to show up in the big games. I’ll take the Blackhawks in seven.