Well, round one has come and gone, and as expected, nothing went according to plan; the Leafs showed a surprising amount of life in a losing effort, the Flames still haven’t won a game in Anaheim since what feels like the Second World War, and Donald Trump has just announced that the southern border wall between Mexico and the US (which Mexico WILL be paying for, FYI) will be named in honor of Pekka Rinne. That being said, our team at onsideaccess did a reasonable job at forecasting the Eastern Conference first round, choosing correctly in three out of four series (sorry Habs fans). So what better way to celebrate our ingenuity by putting whatever is left of our dignity on the line again and making some not-so-educated predictions on the second round of the Eastern Conference. So without much fanfare, let us begin.
Ottawa Senators v. New York Rangers
(Beginning Thursday Night at 7 ET in Ottawa)
A battle of Swedish superstars is underway in the second round here, with Erik Karlsson of Ottawa and Henrik Lundqvist of New York leading their respective teams into battle for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. Both teams required six games to dispatch their first round opponents, with Ottawa sending the Bruins home for the summer and New York taking down the Habs. The regular season series was titled in favor the Senators, who took 2 out of 3 against New York, outscoring the Blue Shirts 8-5 in the three contests. However, don’t expect the Senators to have their way with the Rangers; Henrik Lundqvist seems to be hitting his stride at the right time, putting up a stellar performance against the high-flying Canadiens in the first round. This ought to be an intriguing series, with both teams looking to prove themselves and get a crack at Lord Stanley’s Cup. Key things to watch-out for are how well the Senators adjust to the speedy play of the Rangers, especially on the defensive end; whether or not Lundqvist can maintain the level of play he produced against the Canadiens; how physical will the Rangers, who have a size advantage in the series, play against their smaller opponents; and can Craig Anderson play just well-enough to give his team a chance.
My prediction: The Rangers have a talented team, but are overly reliant on Lundqvist. The Sens, with a young leadership core, will find a way to break down the Rangers and will steal this series. Senators in 7.
Pittsburgh Penguins v. Washington Capitals
(Beginning Thursday Night at 7:30 ET in Washington)
Crosby v. Ovechkin. The Kid v. the Great Eight. The one series ESPN will actually cover. Whatever you want to call it, this is the series everyone wanted to see, and is going to. The Penguins quickly moved past the Blue Jackets in the first round, taking them out in 5 games, while the President’s Trophy winning Capitals needed six games to eliminate an inspired Maple Leafs team. But regardless of how each team got here, this will arguably be the series that exhibits the most talent in the entire Stanley Cup playoffs. There’s obviously Crosby and Ovechkin, but beyond that, you have Malkin, Backstrom, Fleury, Holtby, Kessel, Oshie, and more. Beyond the talent that will be displayed, the narrative writes itself: can Ovechkin and the Capitals finally crack the glass ceiling and get past the Penguins for a chance at a Cup? Or do Crosby and the boys get to dispose of the Capitals for the third time and keep on dancing in the playoffs? All I know is that regardless who wins, this is going to be a fun series to watch.
My prediction: The defending Stanley Cup Champions are a little banged up, and losing guys like Letang and Kunitz just adds to the difficulty of facing the Capitals. That said, the Capitals may be the deeper team, but not by much, and the top guys on the Pens have proven that when they get going, there isn’t a line in the world that can stop them. Penguins in 6.