NEW YORK — So close to perfection in the opening round picks department.
Had the San Jose Sharks not become the fourth team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 series lead, yours truly would have made it through Round 1 with a flawless 8-0 record.
Considering my first-round sleeper pick, the Minnesota Wild, scored late in regulation and overcame four one-goal deficits before getting the OT winner from Nino Neiderreiter, I’m happy to put 7-1 in my back pocket and move onto the next round of selections.
My biggest issue with that lone miss was that I had the Sharks advancing to the Stanley Cup final before losing to the Boston Bruins, so I’ll have to adjust my Western Conference finalist (don’t worry I’ve got a pretty good idea where I’m going with that one).
Central Division final
Chicago Blackhawks (3) vs Minnesota Wild (1st wild card)
Season series: 3-1 -1 Minnesota
THE SKINNY: While providing one of the most entertaining series of the first round, my hunch about the defending champion Blackhawks finding their groove at the right time came to fruition, with Winnipegger Jonathan Toews playing a large role in the outcome. So did Duncan Keith, who has been tremendous so far. The fact Brent Seabrook had to sit out a three-game suspension for his hit on David Backes means that he’ll be fresh for the remainder of what should be a long run. For the Wild, what a dramatic comeback but were it not for a pair of blown leads with the Avalanche net empty, they could have moved on in six games, maybe even five. The injury to Darcy Kuemper could leave the Wild crease back in the hands of Ilya Bryzgalov, who made one save in relief to earn the Game 7 victory. The Wild are on the rise, but it’s hard to imagine this series going longer than the five games it took the Blackhawks to eliminate Zach Parise and company last spring. Blackhawks in five.
Pacific Division final
Anaheim Ducks (1) vs Los Angeles Kings (3)
Season series: 4-0-1 Anaheim
THE SKINNY: The Dallas Stars gave the Ducks all they could handle in the opening round, while the Kings showed incredible resolve to overcome a 3-0 deficit against the high-flying Sharks While it’s good for Bruce Boudreau to know he has two options available to him in veteran Jonas Hiller and rookie Frederik Andersson, Jonathan Quick was out-of-this-world good during the final four games against the Sharks — yielding only five goals (after giving up 16 goals in first three games and only five in the final four wins). The Ducks got some important contributions from depth players, but this match-up is all about how captain Ryan Getzlaf does in the head-to-head battle with Kings pivot Anze Kopitar. Getzlaf will be up for the challenge but this could be the series that Kopitar shows folks around the league just how good a two-way player he is. It’s also the type of series where Drew Doughty might be able to push the pace like he did for Team Canada at the 2014 Olympics. It’ll be a tight one, but I’m taking Darryl Sutter’s Kings in seven.
Atlantic Division final
Boston Bruins (1) vs Montreal Canadiens (2)
Season series: 3-1 Montreal
THE SKINNY: It’s the 34th playoff series for these two Original Six rivals and there should be plenty of vitriol and passion displayed by both sides. The Canadiens caught a break in the opening round as the Tampa Bay Lightning had issues in net after Ben Bishop was unable to participate. There will be no such break while going up against Tuukka Rask, but the Habs are solid in goal with Carey Price and he’ll need to elevate his game to help this series go long. Thomas Vanek has been a great addition, but the physical price he’ll need to pay to be productive is going to rise considerably against the Bruins. And can guys like P.K. Subban and Brendan Gallagher get under the skin of the Bruins? To me, this series comes down to the depth and size of the Bruins and eventually, they’ll be able to wear down the Canadiens. Habs make it interesting, but Bruins take the series in six games.
Metropolitan Division final
Pittsburgh Penguins (1) vs New York Rangers (2)
Season series: 2-1-1
THE SKINNY: Both teams faced a stiff challenge in the opening round, as the Penguins went six games with the Columbus Blue Jackets and nearly saw a 4-0 third-period lead vanish in Game 6 before holding on and snuffing out the rally, thanks in part to a hat trick from Evgeni Malkin. For the Rangers, they were unable to string consecutive victories together against the Philadelphia Flyers but they improved to 4-0 in Game 7s during the past three? seasons with a 2-1 win at Madison Square Garden. After seeing a pair of two-day breaks between games against the Flyers, the Rangers are continuing a stretch that will see them play six games in eight days. The Rangers were led by veterans Marty St. Louis and Brad Richards in the opening round (two goals, six points for each), while Rick Nash was held to four assists to give him just one goal in 19 9 post-season contests since the Blueshirts acquired him from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Marc-Andre Fleury had some big moments during the opening round, but he had some wobbly ones as well. Henrik Lundqvist gives the Rangers an edge in goal and the Rangers ability to roll four lines could come in handy against a Penguins squad that isn’t as deep up front, despite holding an edge in high-end talent among the top forwards. Ryan McDonagh, Dan Giradi and Marc Staal also combine to give the Rangers an edge on the bak end. So unless Sidney Crosby (held without a goal in his past 11 playoff games) puts the team on his back (which is entirely possible), the opportunity for an upset is clearly there and that’s why I’m taking the Rangers in seven games.
Enjoy Round 2!
After being proud to be part of the Sun Media playoff team, I’m passing the Rangers over to Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun — who covered the Blue Jackets and Penguins in Round 1.