With an exhilarating first round in the books, now comes the time where we will truly see who the contenders and pretenders are. Teams with high expectations delivered in the first round, which featured many exciting series. Other teams will have to wait another year to contend for the Cup again. For those who remain, crisp hockey will be the difference in their quest for the Cup. The second round features plenty of intriguing matchups along with an epic Original Six rivalry series. By the end of the second round, our perception on who should be hoisting the Cup by postseasons end should begin to solidify itself.
The four teams remaining in the East all have Stanley Cup caliber. The Bruins remain the frontrunners for the title, while the Habs, Pens, and Rangers are on the verge of becoming true contenders. The second round in the East should see both matchups going to seven games.
Boston V.S. Montreal
Ah, a good ole Orginal Six matchup. Boston, when it comes to the numbers, the Bruins should win in relatively easy fashion. But the Habs have given the Boston trouble all season long, only letting up one Boston win in a four-game regular season series. Tuukka Rask’s play will as always be the main focus. Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban along with the rest of the hungry Montreal squad has a great chance to silence all doubters. You should expect the series to be highly defensively based, with few goals scored each game. I would take Boston any other day, but Montreal always seems to play their best hockey when facing the Bruins. Canadiens: 4-3
Pittsburgh V.S. New York
Another rivalry series to be excited about. Pitt is coming off what was not an easy 4-2 besting over Columbus while New York is fresh off a seven-game grinder against Philadelphia. The main stars on the Pitt cast did not score a goal all series save for Evgeni Malkin, who netted a hat-trick in Game 6 in a 4-3 series-clinching win. The Pitt defense has looked stifled at times, and the inconsistent play of Marc-Andre Fleury was what made the series against Columbus competitive in the end.
On the other side are the Rangers. The acquisition of Martin St. Louis has proved to be vital, as he was a key factor in New York’s edging over the Flyers. But, as always, the spotlight rests on Henrik Lundqvist, who has become in my eyes the face of the Rangers. His habit of making clutch saves have been a remarkable trend of his throughout his years in the NHL. The Rangers offense does enough to support him as well, and with the state of the Pens defense, we should see another seven-game series. Given the goaltender matchup, it is all a matter of who will step up in the end, and I would safely bet on Lundqvist. Rangers: 4-3
The West features two potentially great series. Chicago and Minnesota will be an old fashion slugfest. For the second time, two teams from California will battle for bragging rights and a closer distance to the Cup. All four teams are uniquely good in their own rights, and that is what always makes for great hockey.
Los Angeles V.S. Anaheim
Hart trophy finalist, Ryan Getzlaf and the Mighty Ducks are primed to steal the California bragging rights. Jonathan Quick and the Kings will have to get off to a much better start than they did against the Sharks. You can be in awe and call it an awesome comeback, but San Jose choked, plain and simple. Anze Kopitar will have to turn in an outstanding performance if the Kings are to move on, and Quick remains a wild card. If indeed LA starts off slow, the Ducks will not be as nearly as forgiving as the Sharks. Ducks: 4-2
Chicago V.S. Minnesota
After starting off two games down against the Blues in which those those first two were both decided in triple OT, the Hawks picked it up the rest of the way and never looked back. Toews and Kane spearheaded a revived Chicago squad that played very well with the support of Corey Crawford in net. Zach Parise will be the focus for Minnesota, who traded wins and losses with the Avs enroute to a 4-3 series win. The Wild’s offense will be what keeps this series interesting, along with the ever-improving play of Crawford. Chicago by series end should be punching their ticket to the conference finals for the third time in four years. Blackhawks: 4-2