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The Hockey News NHL Playoff Preview - Round 2

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Maybe it’s wrong to refer to a group of grown men as a ‘Cinderella team,’ but for Anaheim and Carolina, upsetting their higher-seeded opponents in Round 1 will probably make up for it.

Whether the Ducks can usurp the powerhouse Detroit Red Wings in the latest post-season clash between these rivals is another matter. Similarly, the Canes must weather their own storm when the mighty Boston Bruins come calling in Round 2.

But the most anticipated non-Stanley Cup final series in recent memory will go down on the Eastern Seaboard when Alex Ovechkin’s Capitals take on archrival Sidney Crosby’s Penguins for the first time in the post-season.

Due west of there, Canada’s last hope, the Vancouver Canucks, will take on the resurgent Chicago Blackhawks. Can Jonathan Toews and company break the hearts of more western Canadians after dousing the Flames in Round 1? There’s no doubting these kids now – until you weigh the fact Roberto Luongo will be in the opposite crease.

After going 6-2 with our opening-round picks - thanks a lot, San Jose and Calgary - here’s how we see the second round of the playoffs going down:


San Jose Sharks DETROIT RED WINGS vs. ANAHEIM DUCKS Anaheim Ducks

SEASON SERIES
Detroit - 3-0-1 (15 GF, 11 GA)
Anaheim - 1-3-0 (11 GF, 15 GA)

LEADING SCORERS VS. OPPONENT
Detroit - Pavel Datsyuk 7 (3G, 4A)
Anaheim - Ryan Getzlaf 9 (2G, 7A)

SPECIAL TEAMS
The Red Wings, best in the NHL with the man advantage during the regular season, continued their league-leading ways in Round 1, connecting on 31.8 percent of their chances against Columbus. The Ducks, a group that likes to play on the edge (fourth in shorthanded situations during the season) will need to play more disciplined 5-on-5 or risk death by PP. On the flip side, Detroit's PK has been a weakness all season. If the re-energized Ducks can expose one of the Wings few flaws, it could level the ice surface. Edge: Detroit

FORWARDS
Anaheim has one of the most powerful top units in the game, with Ryan Getzlaf playing between Corey Perry and NHL rookie scoring leader Bobby Ryan. Detroit counters with unparalleled depth, featuring three lines capable of scoring and shutting down and an efficient fourth unit. This is where the Wings can make hay, getting favorable matchups as they move down Anaheim's depth chart. Edge: Detroit

DEFENSE
This series may feature the two best bluelines in the game. The Ducks defense, both rugged and talented, has a new look and attitude since the last time these teams met in the regular season (Feb. 20). Ryan Whitney and James Wisniewski were subsequently acquired via trade, Francois Beauchemin has returned from a knee injury that kept him out most of the campaign, Scott Niedermayer has re-discovered his 'A' game and Chris Pronger is, well, still Chris Pronger. It's tough to rate them ahead of Detroit, though. Nick Lidstrom may have slipped half-a-notch, but remains Norris-caliber. Brian Rafalski, Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart round out a formidable top four, while big Jonathan Ericsson and Brett Lebda give the Wings enviable depth. Edge: Even

GOALTENDING
Which Chris Osgood will materialize? The one who struggled through his worst regular season (45th in save percentage at .887) or the one who shut down Columbus in Round 1 and more closely resembled last year's Stanley Cup winning netminder? Jonas Hiller, conversely, is riding a high. The 27-year-old used his 6-foot-2, 193-pound frame, a butterfly style and impressive instincts to stymie San Jose in Round 1, recording an eye-popping .957 save percentage. Of course, he'll have to contend with an offense that can attack relentlessly. Edge: Anaheim

COACHING
Randy Carlyle and Mike Babcock are the NHL coaches with the newest Stanley Cup rings, having guided the 2007 and 2008 champs. Both are strong tacticians with good support staffs. Carlyle's job, however, will be tougher when it comes to matching against Detroit's balanced lines. Edge: Even

THE X-FACTOR
The Ducks have bounced the Wings from the playoffs the past two times they've met (in 2003 and 2007), winning four of five games at Joe Louis Arena. While some of the faces have changed from those Anaheim teams, there are enough who tasted that success to help mitigate the home ice intimidation factor.

PREDICTION
These aren't your mid-season Ducks – and they aren’t a typical eighth seed. They ended the season red-hot, discovered a new starting goaltender, revamped their defense corps and have reclaimed their winning mojo. They'll push Detroit hard. In the end, however, the league's pre-eminent team will win on the strength of superior skill and discipline. Detroit in six

Who do you think will win? Vote HERE.

Vancouver Canucks VANCOUVER CANUCKS vs. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS Chicago Blackhawks

SEASON SERIES
Vancouver – 2-2-0 (14 GF, 10 GA)
Chicago – 2-2-0 (10 GF, 14 GA)

LEADING SCORERS VS. OPPONENT
Vancouver – Henrik Sedin 6 (2G, 4A), Daniel Sedin 6 (4G, 2A)
Chicago – Kris Versteeg 5 (1G, 4A)

SPECIAL TEAMS
The Hawks hold the edge in special-teams firepower, possessing potent weapons such as Martin Havlat, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but the Canucks hold the defensive advantage after a penalty is called. Vancouver had the second-best PK in the opening round – next to only Boston with their dominating performance – and was shorthanded 24 times in only four games. The Canucks will definitely have to play with a little more discipline without compromising their aggressiveness, because Chicago – with the second-best PP in the opening round – isn’t a team you want to hand a man advantage to. Edge: Even

FORWARDS
Both lineups boast deep rosters up front and have everything from the creative point-producer to the rough-and-tumble bruiser on the depth lines. Chicago is led by their young stars and supported by the more experienced Havlat, Patrick Sharp and Sami Pahlsson. The Canucks’ stars have more playoff games under their belts and are supported by vets with even more experience than what’s in Chicago’s arsenal. If Mats Sundin is healthy and able to make a difference, Vancouver’s second line will be a difficult one to deal with for such a young team; if he’s unable to go, the line is still daunting, though not quite as intimidating. It’s a close call, but experience starts paying off the deeper you go in the playoffs. Edge: Vancouver

DEFENSE
With Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Cam Barker, the Hawks have a defense corps coming into its own and tidy at both ends of the ice. Their offensive instincts, along with Brian Campbell’s presence, will go a long way against a tenacious Vancouver squad that may find itself in the penalty box early and often. The Canucks ‘D’ also has some firepower, but is more physical and will send the Hawks forwards back to the bench with more bruises. With the PP being as important as it is, the Hawks ‘D’ should play into the series with greater impact than Vancouver’s, though, again, this matchup is a close one. Edge: Chicago

GOALTENDING
As good as Nikolai Khabibulin was through most of the opening round, he still looks small when put next to Roberto Luongo. Khabibulin was great overall in Round 1, but he fell asleep at the wheel for Games 3 and 4, something you just can’t do against a healthy squad in the later rounds. Luongo, on the other hand, had the best goals-against average and save percentage in the first stanza and is simply the best and most consistent netminder running. Edge: Vancouver

COACHING
Both Joel Quenneville and Alain Vigneault have a Jack Adams Trophy on their mantle and both have coached their respective teams into the Stanley Cup contender category. The thing is, both bench bosses have a difficult time getting out of the second round. In two previous playoff appearances, Vigneault (once with Montreal, once with Vancouver) advanced out of Round 1, only to lose the following showdown. Quenneville, on the other hand, has lost five of six second round appearances, making it to the Conference Final with St. Louis in 2001. A testament to how tight this series could play out, this comparison is another close call, but with more experience and simply how quickly he has moved his young team along, Quenneville gets the nod. Edge: Chicago

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THE X-FACTOR
Both teams like to make the nice pass and are more than capable of treating us to the pretty goal, but the series will ultimately be decided by who earns puck possession coming out of the battles on the boards. Toews and Kane are nifty, but shouldn’t be much of a match for Vancouver’s big bodies down low – especially if Kane continues to raise his stick at the first sign of body contact. That said, both teams also have tough grinders who will compete with the defenders who, in turn, will make life miserable for any forward looking for a quick drive from the corner to the net.

PREDICTION
In what should be an excellent and tightly fought series, experience and goaltending – two must-haves in the playoffs – will be enough to advance the Canucks one step closer to the Cup they have dedicated every transaction to since acquiring their all-world goalie in 2006. Chicago has done well to get their first post-renaissance series win, but Vancouver is better than Calgary and has a roster that is 100 percent healthy and rested (assuming Sundin is good to go). The Hawks won’t lie down by any means, but as the theory goes, you have to lose before you can know how to win. Vancouver in seven

Who do you think will win? Vote HERE.

Boston Bruins BOSTON BRUINS vs. CAROLINA HURRICANES Carolina Hurricanes

SEASON SERIES
Boston – 4-0-0 (18 GF, 6 GA)
Carolina – 0-4-0 (6 GF, 18 GA)  

LEADING SCORERS VS. OPPONENT
Boston – David Krejci 7 (3G, 4A)
Carolina – Ray Whitney 3 (1G, 2A) 

SPECIAL TEAMS
The Bruins posted better numbers on the power play and penalty kill both during the regular season and the first round of the playoffs. The Hurricanes power play was close to dismal in the opening round, with just two goals on 29 opportunities. Carolina’s best defense against the Bruins PP is its ability to stay out of the penalty box. The Hurricanes are arguably the best-behaved team in the league. Edge: Boston  

FORWARDS

The Bruins win this one hands-down, both in terms of talent and depth up front. Eric Staal was brilliant in the first round when the puck was on his stick and the Hurricanes are well-rounded with all four of their lines, but the Bruins have three lines that can kill you offensively and a fourth that can grind you down. David Krejci, who was great against the Hurricanes this season, was otherworldly in the first round. Edge: Boston 

DEFENSE

With Joe Corvo, Tim Gleason, Anton Babchuk and Joni Pitkanen, the Hurricanes probably have a more mobile and offense-oriented defense corps, but the Bruins have arguably the best defenseman in the world right now in Zdeno Chara and he plays in all crucial situations. The Bruins are tougher and far better defensively on the blueline, but Carolina’s blueline corps is underrated. Edge: Boston  

GOALTENDING

Well, shouldn’t this be interesting? Here we have a former winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy who has a 3-0 record in Game 7s going against the odds-on favorite to win the Vezina Trophy this season. Tim Thomas hasn’t had to steal games the way Cam Ward has in the playoffs, but he’s undoubtedly capable. For the Bruins to win, Thomas has to be good. For the Hurricanes to win, Ward has to be great. Edge: Even  

COACHING

Claude Julien might be the best all-around coach in the NHL and he has done everything right since the beginning of the season. But he also has a lot – and we mean a lot – more talent with which to work than his counterpart, Paul Maurice, who has reinvigorated the lineup and made some great coaching adjustments during the first round series against New Jersey. Edge: Even  

THE X-FACTOR

The Hurricanes won the first round because of their late-game heroics and their penchant for shrugging off adversity. They’ll need all that and more against a Bruins team that totally dominated them during the regular season and comes into the second round as the best team in the NHL.   

PREDICTION
The Hurricanes surprised everyone with their resilience in the first round, but they look overmatched in this series. They could make an interesting series of it if Ward plays spectacularly, but the Bruins will prove to be just too much. Bruins in six

Who do you think will win? Vote HERE.

Washington Capitals WASHINGTON CAPITALS vs. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS Pittsburgh Penguins

SEASON SERIES
Washington - 3-0-1 (18 GF, 12 GA)
Pittsburgh - 1-3-0 (12 GF, 18 GA)

LEADING SCORERS VS. OPPONENT
Washington – Alexander Semin 7 (4G, 3A)
Pittsburgh – Sidney Crosby 7 (1G, 6A)

SPECIAL TEAMS
The Capitals posted better numbers on the power play (18.2 percent efficiency) and penalty kill (87.1 percent) in the first round of the playoffs than the Penguins (who were 12.5 percent with the man advantage and 86.7 percent on the PK). Washington’s regular season power play also held a big advantage over Pittsburgh’s. Edge: Washington

FORWARDS
Each of these two teams has a core of young stars (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh; Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom in Washington) and a sprinkling of savvy veterans (Bill Guerin and Petr Sykora with the Pens; Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov with the Capitals) around them. If playoff experience is the deciding factor for you, the Penguins get the nod after their Cup final run last season. But if sheer amount of talent matters most, the Caps get a narrow victory. Edge: Even

DEFENSE

Most people agree the Capitals’ defense corps is the team’s weak link, simply because there’s far too few veterans with playoff know-how on Washington’s blueline. The Penguins aren’t exactly the second coming of the Anaheim Ducks or Detroit Red Wings in that department, but they do have Sergei Gonchar – a guy who, with apologies to Mike Green, is the best all-around defender in this series. Edge: Pittsburgh

GOALTENDING

Although the Pens’ Marc-Andre Fleury has the advantage over Washington’s Simeon Varlamov in terms of experience and size, the Caps rookie’s first-round stats (including a 1.17 goals-against average and .952 save percentage) are vastly superior to his opponent’s 2.39 GAA and .922 save percentage. Some of that can be attributed to each team’s opening-round opponent, but at the same time, it shows the edge here may not be as definitive as first glance may suggest. Edge: Pittsburgh

COACHING

Nobody can argue with the job coach Dan Bylsma has done since taking over the Penguins from Michel Therrien in February. But after Bruce Boudreau’s gutsy and subsequently successful choice to go with Varlamov over Jose Theodore, doubting the Caps’ coach seems to be even gutsier. Edge: Washington

THE X-FACTOR

The Penguins and the Capitals were two of the least-disciplined teams in the first round, with both being assessed 39 penalties apiece. If both teams learn their lesson and give fans a good dose of 5-on-5 play, Pittsburgh could be at a disadvantage when you consider their Round 1 even-strength goals for/against ratio (1.10) pales in comparison to Washington’s (1.71).

PREDICTION
THN’s staff debated this matchup more than any other conference semifinal showdown in the NHL’s 2009 post-season. Ultimately, we see Pittsburgh’s defense – including their blueliners as well as Fleury – as being the difference-maker in their favor. But there’s one thing we all agreed on: this isn’t going to be a sweep for either side. Penguins in six

Who do you think will win? Vote HERE.

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