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The Hockey News 2009-10 Second Round Preview

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It’s hard to say goodbye to what was an incredibly exciting first round, but the second act is setting up to be even better.

In the West, the post-season cursed Sharks run into the one team they didn’t want to see until at least the Conference final in Detroit. Is this the year San Jose finally breaks through and reach expectations, running right through the NHL’s model franchise?

Vancouver and Chicago, two teams that met in the second round last year, continue a budding rivalry that promises to be one of, if not the best, matchup of the Conference semifinals. The Hawks took last year’s series in six games, dispatching Roberto Luongo and the Canucks in humiliating fashion. But the Canucks had a franchise-best season and a slew of individual career-best years, so can they get some revenge or get pushed aside again?

Meanwhile, in the East, Pittsburgh was the lone favorite to last through the opening round and line up against the giant-slayers from Montreal. The Habs were able to shut down Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, holding them to three goals over the final three games to come back from a 3-1 series deficit. Can they now take down Sidney Crosby and the defending champs?

Boston and Philadelphia have a blood feud that dates back more than 30 years and the latest installment won’t disappoint. Neither should be expected to score a whole lot and it will play out as a hard-fought, defensive series. These two combatants will slug it out until only one remains.

After a 6-2 first round of predictions, THN is back with a breakdown of each series and our picks to win.

If you thought Round 1 was good, wait until this one. Buckle up, we’re just getting started.

San Jose #1 SAN JOSE vs. #5 DETROIT Detroit

SEASON SERIES
Detroit – 3-0-1 (11 GF, 6 GA)
San Jose – 1-2-1 (6 GF, 11 GA)

SPECIAL TEAMS
This is a strength for both teams. The lowest either squads’ power play or penalty kill ranked in either regular season or post-season play after one round was 10th, that being the Wings’ regular season penalty-killing unit. Detroit’s power play went 3-for-6 in the Game 7 win over Phoenix and, with a Round 1 conversion rate of 23.5 percent, was slightly better than San Jose’s 19.2 percent mark. Edge: Red Wings
 
FORWARDS
San Jose’s secondary players stepped up to starring roles in the six-game win over Colorado, namely Joe Pavelski and his five goals and eight points. Stop us when you’ve heard this before, but the Sharks desperately need Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau to play the way they do in the regular season, because Detroit’s acclaimed 1-2 punch of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg have that determined look back in their eyes. Edge: Sharks

DEFENSE
The Wings got a huge offensive boost from the back end in the first round, with Nicklas Lidstrom and Brad Stuart collecting six points apiece, while Brian Rafalski and Niklas Kronwall collected five each. Lidstrom is still the best blueliner in this series and, perhaps, the game. Dan Boyle played like a man possessed after his Game 3 overtime boo-boo and that must continue. Edge: Red Wings

GOALTENDING
Neither teams’ fans fall gently asleep each night contemplating what’s happening in the crease. Jimmy Howard was good enough to get a win in his first post-season series and put up a shutout along the way. He also let in some goals that left the rookie Wing looking a little red. Same old story for Evgeni Nabokov, who had good numbers against the Avs, but has to shake a history of falling short when it matters most. Edge: Sharks

COACHING
San Jose bench boss Todd McLellan was an assistant under Detroit coach Mike Babcock in Detroit for three years, winning a Cup ring in his final year there. Babcock’s bling includes the Cup win in 2008, plus a gold medal from the Olympics in February. The master still has a few more tricks than the grasshopper. Edge: Red Wings

THE X-FACTOR
Pavelski? The fact San Jose has to win something, some time…right? Let’s go with the Sharks’ Big Three making good on the one round grace period they got when other San Jose players stepped into the scoring breach. If the support staff maintains its current pace and Thornton and Co. find a way to break through, San Jose will finally have the springtime mix it’s after.
 
PREDICTION
There’s egg-on-your-face potential anytime you pick the Sharks, but that’s a risk we’re ready to take. San Jose has already endured some adversity this playoff season; we’re betting it’s better off for it. Beating the Red Wings represents an opportunity for the entire franchise to take a giant step forward and it feels like it’s finally time for that to happen. San Jose in seven

Who do you think will win? Vote HERE.

Chicago #2 CHICAGO vs. #3 VANCOUVER Vancouver

SEASON SERIES
Chicago – 2-2-0 (10 GF, 11 GA)
Vancouver – 2-2-0 (11 GF, 10 GA)

SPECIAL TEAMS
Vancouver’s power play was stellar in both the regular season (20.9 percent efficiency, sixth-best in the league) and first round of the playoffs (25.0 percent). Their penalty kill, however, was atrocious in the first round against L.A. (61.5 percent, worst of all playoff teams). The Hawks PP isn’t as formidable as Vancouver’s, but their penalty kill has been much better (85.3 percent in the regular season, 96.3 percent in the first round). Call this one a dead heat. Edge: Even
 
FORWARDS

The Canucks’ Swedish triumvirate of the Sedin Bros., and Mikael Samuelsson put up 12 goals and 29 points against the Kings; their 11 other forwards combined to score nine goals and 21 points. Chicago also leans heavily on a trio – Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa – but they’ll also be aided up front by Patrick Sharp, Tomas Kopecky, Troy Brouwer and Kris Versteeg. That added depth gives the Hawks a slight advantage. Edge: Chicago

DEFENSE

The Canucks don’t have a Norris Trophy frontrunner patrolling their blueline (as Chicago does in Duncan Keith) and they need Roberto Luongo to bail them out more than once a game. But they do have a deeper, tougher group of D-men – including Kevin Bieksa and Andrew Alberts – than the Hawks. Edge: Vancouver

GOALTENDING

One hockey columnist said Luongo was the best goalie of any Western Conference playoff team in the first round. We’re not sure what Colorado’s Craig Anderson has to say about that, but when it comes down to an intra-series choice between Luongo and the inconsistent Antti Niemi, we think the choice is clear. Edge: Vancouver

COACHING

Alain Vigneault should be commended for steering the Canucks to two straight Northwest Division titles and keeping the team focused against the Kings. But Hawks bench boss Joel Quenneville is no coaching slouch either; his roster adjustments during the first round against Nashville helped spark Chicago to a come-from-behind series win. Edge: Even

THE X-FACTOR

The Sedins get all the hype, but no Canucks forward averaged more time on ice against the Kings than two-way center Ryan Kesler (22:08); if he can put the defensive clamps down on Kane, Toews and Hossa, Vancouver has a chance to put this series away quickly.
 
PREDICTION
The rematch of last year’s second round playoff series promises to be as close as the original was. The Canucks will need Luongo’s save percentage to rise drastically from the .893 number he posted against Los Angeles, but provided that happens, it will be difficult for the Hawks to generate an equal or greater amount of bona fide scoring chances Vancouver will get on Niemi. Vancouver in six

Who do you think will win? Vote HERE.

Pittsburgh #4 PITTSBURGH vs. #8 MONTREAL Montreal

SEASON SERIES
Pittsburgh – 3-1-0 (15 GF, 9 GA)
Montreal – 1-3-0 (9 GF, 15 GA)

SPECIAL TEAMS
In their stunning first-round victory over the Washington Capitals, the Montreal Canadiens reduced the NHL’s best power play to rubble, killing off 32 of 33 shorthanded situations. That, combined with the fact the Penguins were not very good at killing penalties in the first round, gives Montreal a tangible advantage in special teams. The power plays were close in the regular season and playoffs, but the Canadiens have dominated in killing penalties, largely because goalie Jaroslav Halak was their top penalty-killer. In the four games they played this season, the Canadiens were 3-for-13 on the power play and Pittsburgh was 2-for-15. The Penguins might wish they didn’t let hulking defenseman Hal Gill get away. Edge: Montreal
 
FORWARDS
The Penguins obviously have the better top-end forwards and are much, much stronger down the middle than Montreal, but the Canadiens have a slight edge in the grit department. Sidney Crosby was absolutely dominant in the first-round series against Ottawa and has 11 goals and 25 points in 18 career games against the Habs, while the Canadiens’ triumph was due far more to systems and goaltending than it was the play of their forwards. Edge: Pittsburgh

DEFENSE
Neither of the teams in this series is considered a defensive juggernaut, but the Canadiens were outshot by an average of 14 per game in the first round and gave up 41.7 shots per contest. During the season series, the Penguins averaged 32 shots against the Canadiens and gave up just 24. Gill and Josh Gorges were brilliant defensively against the Capitals, but as a team, the Canadiens were porous. Edge: Pittsburgh

GOALTENDING
This is a battle between a goaltender who has won a Stanley Cup and buckled down when necessary, and one that carried his team on his back through the first round. The Montreal Canadiens cannot even consider getting this far without Halak’s brilliance and if the Conn Smythe were to be awarded after the first round, Halak would be the hands-down winner. But don’t discount Marc-Andre Fleury’s ability to rise to the challenge. For Pittsburgh to win, Fleury only has to be good. For Montreal to win, Halak has to continue to be otherworldly. Edge: Montreal

COACHING
For a coach who preaches systems and defensive excellence, Jacques Martin hasn’t been able to make a whole lot of progress on that front this season and the task won’t get any easier against the firepower of the Penguins. Dan Bylsma, meanwhile, proved last season that he can get his team to play in lockdown mode when necessary. Edge: Pittsburgh

THE X-FACTOR
The Canadiens, simply put, are playing with house money and anything they accomplish beyond their stunning win over the Capitals is a bonus. The Penguins, on the other hand, suddenly have become the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and know they stand an excellent chance of advancing to the Stanley Cup final for the third straight season. The pressure will be on the Penguins, but they’ve proved in the past they’re capable of dealing with it.
 
PREDICTION
The Canadiens can’t possibly duplicate what they did against Washington to the Penguins, can they? Well, if Halak keeps up his level of play and the combination of Gill and Gorges can shut down Pittsburgh’s stars, anything is possible. But we’re betting the Penguins’ experience will prevail in a series that will be a lot closer than people might expect. Pittsburgh in six

Who do you think will win? Vote HERE.

Boston #6 BOSTON vs. #7 PHILADELPHIA Philadelphia

SEASON SERIES
Philadelphia – 2-1-1 (8 GF, 11 GA)
Boston – 2-1-1 (11 GF, 8 GA)

SPECIAL TEAMS

Two of the best teams in the post-season when it comes to both disciplines, Philadelphia will unfortunately be without ace penalty-killer Ian Laperriere for the remainder of the playoffs because of a brain contusion. That leaves Blair Betts to find a new partner in crime and while the Flyers certainly have candidates, it’s hard to go against a Boston PK that did not allow a single power play goal in six games versus the Sabres in the first round. Edge: Boston
 
FORWARDS

The return of Marc Savard is a boon for the Bruins, who came into the playoffs with the worst offense in the NHL. Veteran Mark Recchi has been the most dangerous forward for the B’s so far in the post-season, which is as much a tribute to his lasting excellence as it is a condemnation of the young pups surrounding him. Philly will be without key scorers Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne, but with Mike Richards and Claude Giroux creating offense on two different lines, the Flyers will be tough to shut down.  Edge: Philadelphia

DEFENSE

It’s big versus bigger, as 6-foot-6 Flyer Chris Pronger stares down the ice at 6-foot-9 Bruin Zdeno Chara. Behind Pronger are Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn, however, while Chara leads a largely green troop in Boston. Matt Hunwick showed some offensive hops against Buffalo, but also got torched by the Sabres early on. Whether any of the Bruins choose to get near the crease with Pronger on the ice remains to be seen. Edge: Philadelphia

GOALTENDING

Brian Boucher was the better man against Martin Brodeur in Philly’s first round shellacking of New Jersey, but he’ll meet a younger, hungrier opponent in Boston’s Tuukka Rask. The fantastic Finn felled an even greater foe when he outdueled Vezina finalist Ryan Miller of Buffalo and given the fact Boston doesn’t do a whole lot of scoring, Rask’s post-season performance so far has been crucial to the Bruins’ current success. Edge: Boston

COACHING

As a mid-season replacement in Philadelphia, Peter Laviolette can hope to bring some of that Dan Bylsma magic across the state this year. The difference being, of course, that Laviolette already has a Stanley Cup ring from his days in Carolina, whereas Bylsma earned his first after joining the Pens last year. The Flyers have responded well to John Stevens’ replacement and have become hot at the right time. Boston counters with reigning Jack Adams winner Claude Julien, though this season was far less successful heading into the playoffs. In the immortal words of Ovie, “Cups is Cups.” Edge: Philadelphia

THE X-FACTOR

Last team standing wins. Not only do the Flyers and Bruins have a shared blood-soaked 1970s history, but some of the toughest hombres in the league will be involved in this series. Expect a lot of alpha-male chest-puffing between players such as Philly’s Dan Carcillo and Scott Hartnell and Boston’s Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton. Behemoths Pronger and Chara will serve as the ultimate bouncers. Aside from fisticuffs, however, injuries may dictate the outcome. How healthy is Savard? Can Philly win a series without Carter and Gagne, neither of whom are coming back for the second round?
 
PREDICTION
Rask is money for the defensively stout Bruins and given Boucher’s history of streakiness, the fun could end in Philly’s net any minute. The loss of Laperriere in the areas of faceoffs, penalty-killing and grit (he blocks shots with his face, people!) is immeasurable, not to mention what Carter and Gagne brought to the table in terms of offense and depth. Boston in seven

Who do you think will win? Vote HERE.

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