No. 2 St. Louis Blues vs. No. 8 Los Angeles Kings
Give the Blues a great deal of credit. They came into the playoffs not playing their best hockey, but seemed to clamp down on a strong San Jose team. St. Louis played excellent defense throughout the series, which is what led the team to be here in the first place. Jaroslav Halak's injury in net looked concerning for Blues fans, but Brian Elliott, as he has all year, stepped in and has been superb.
Los Angeles stunned the hockey world with its defeat of the President's trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks. The Kings were excellent in all facets of play, and were led by their goaltender, Jonathan Quick. Quick was sensational, and I feel the best goalie of the first round. When you have a team that is scoring, playing strong defense, and has an all-world goalie, you have a team that can win in any seven-game series.
Prediction: Kings in seven.
No. 3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. No. 4 Nashville Predators
Phoenix looked very impressive in its first-round victory over Chicago. Clutch goal scoring and goaltending truly is the hallmark of a strong postseason team. I thought goalie Mike Smith was ultimately the difference in that series. He was spectacular in game six as he willed his squad to a win.
I also thought Nashville looked particularly strong in beating perennial powerhouse Detroit. The Predators were the first team to move on in these playoffs, so they've had time to rest and heal, which is enormous in this tightly scheduled tournament. I think Nashville is proving that it is are built for the playoffs, and will continue its strong play.
Prediction: Nashville in seven.
No.1 New York Rangers vs. No. 7 Washington Capitals
The top-seeded Rangers were put through quite a scare against upstart Ottawa. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist looked sharp throughout the series, and clearly was the difference maker. New York is going to need more goal production out of its top players such as Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik, and Brandon Dubinsky. The emergence of rookie Chris Kreider, though is a nice story for the Rangers.
Washington comes out of its series on a heavy momentum swing, beating the defending Stanley Cup champions in their own barn. I really like the Capitals resolve under head coach Dale Hunter. If Alex Ovechkin isn't going to play the way Hunter wants, it's a good call to scale down his minutes and send a message to the locker room. Goaltender Braden Holtby has played well, but I think the team's fortune runs out here.
Prediction: Rangers in six.
No. 5 Philadelphia Flyers vs. No. 6 New Jersey Devils
The Flyers surprised many by beating one of the Stanley Cup favorites in the Penguins. What I liked about the series was that the Flyers absolutely out-played the Penguins in all areas. Claude Giroux proved that he needs to be Philadelphia's next captain with an unbelievable round-one series. If the team can get goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to play as he's capable in this series, it could be a short one.
New Jersey meanwhile, needed all seven games and even some extra time to beat Florida. The Panthers put up a huge fight, but having Martin Brodeur in net never hurts. I thought, at times, the Devils played a little loose defensively, which could ultimately cost them against a Flyers team that is scoring goals by the ton.