The second round of the NHL playoffs gets under way tonight in Vancouver as the recently exorcised Canucks take on the first-round-monkey-off-their-back Nashville Predators to see who moves on to the Western Conference final. The Canucks are teeming with talent both offensive and defensive alike while the Predators are rising to the occasion in the postseason and making believers of them all over the league.
Whoever gets the upper hand in that series gets to take on either Detroit or San Jose for the right to go to the Stanley Cup final. In that series, a pair of old rivals renew pleasantries after the Sharks humbled the Red Wings in five games in the second round last year. Detroit is a bit more rested this time around compared to last season but the Sharks would like to get to the Stanley Cup final some day soon.
As for how we see things breaking down out West, we’re a bit more divided in thought than we were during the first round.
1. Vancouver Canucks vs. 5. Nashville Predators
One must evaluate Vancouver’s performance in shades of gray rather than black and white terms. Yes, going to seven games after building a 3-0 lead made them look bad, but they played great hockey in Game 6 as well as Game 7. That decisive game was truly a display of the team’s power, though, as they boasted a ferocious forecheck, a creative offense and – oh yes – a quietly outstanding Roberto Luongo. Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne will keep things from getting out of hand, but Nashville just doesn’t have the horses to keep pace with the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler.
The Predators could make things interesting if they take advantage of a Canucks team that’s less than 48 hours removed from a dramatic Game 7 win, but I think this will be that all-important short series for Vancouver. Don’t get me wrong, though; this five-game series will be akin to the Capitals’ tougher-than-it-looked set against the Rangers. I’d wager that the Canucks will win this series quickly, but they won’t ever be glad to face the bruising Predators.
Pick: Vancouver in five.
This series is intriguing to me for a thousand different reasons. It’s Nashville’s first time in the second round while Vancouver is looking to make the Western Conference final for the first time since 1994. History means nothing here though but I can’t help but wonder if Vancouver finally getting past Chicago regardless of what round it happened in is just what they needed mentally to roll through the playoffs. Neither Roberto Luongo nor Pekka Rinne dazzled in the opening round and while both teams showed glimpses of solid offense, I’ve got a funny feeling this one plays out similarly to how the Canadiens-Bruins series did with tight checking, defense, and scoring at a minimum. When it breaks down like that, I defer to the more talented team.
Pick: Vancouver in six
Who do you think takes this second round battle?
2. San Jose Sharks vs. 3. Detroit Red Wings
It’s stunning how many people are treating this series as a no-brainer for the Red Wings, especially since San Jose beat them in a tidy (if thrilling) five games in 2010 and the Sharks also took the 2010-11 season series 3-1.Yes, these teams are in different situations than last year. And yes, the thought of Tomas Holmstrom tormenting an already-fragile Antti Niemi gives me serious pause.
Still, I cannot shake the feeling that San Jose and Detroit carry the same core strengths and weaknesses – ridiculous offense, top-heavy defense and an average goalie – yet the Sharks happen to be considerably younger and resoundingly bigger than the Red Wings. There’s plenty of reasons to go with both teams, but my gut says to go with the Sharks.
Pick: San Jose in six.
This one is an instant contender for best series of the second round. There’s a genuine dislike between both teams. Joe Thornton comes up big against the Wings, Detroit gets driven nuts by Devin Setoguchi, and Antti Niemi has some of that leftover Chicago swagger from last year. Detroit meanwhile has Henrik Zetterberg coming back, Pavel Datsyuk’s brilliance, and the savvy leadership of Nicklas Lidstrom. You want a heavyweight battle, this is it.
In my mind, this one is destined for seven games. The X-factor here being how good Jimmy Howard can be in goal for the Wings. I think he’s just a tad better than Niemi and the Wings are very well motivated to avenge last year’s defeats.
Pick: Detroit in seven
Disagree with either James or I? Let us know in our poll