Now that Round 1 has turned into Round 2....we lopped off four teams and now just have our top four because well only four will advance to the Conference Finals. This is not necessarily an indication of whether they will do so but based partly on the way they are playing and past experience, this is what we are going with this week. Next week, it could always change so stay tuned.
Playoff Power Rankings
4. Boston Bruins (PR: 6 Start Sat. Vs. Philly)
Tuukka Rask is the only thing that needs to be said here. Boston's six PP goals and allowing none in 27 chances was the key to this series along with Mr. Rask. Add in the timely reemergence of David Krejci and the impending return of Marc Savard and all signs point to this team heading to the Conference Finals but first they will have to face a banged up but resillient Flyers team that will not go down easily. If Boston just keeps doing the same, Claude Julien will have this team in the Conference Finals. The key matchup will be Dan Carcillo Vs. the Boston defense. If Boston can minimize him and Chris Pronger then to me, Boston is on Easy Street. If not, then this will be a long, long series.
3. Chicago Blackhawks (PR: 7 Start Sat. VS. VAN)
Finally the Blackhawks are in Round 2 when it really seemed like they were just twisting in the wind in Round 1 against Nashville. The nice thing was that Jonathan Toews finally began to play like Toews and aside from that crazy first period in Game 6, the goaltending with Antti Niemi is rounding into form nicely. As a Blackhawks fan, you have to feel encouraged that despite Vancouver's beefed up offense, that Roberto Luongo is still there and still looks shaky. Chicago's big addition of Marian Hossa should offset Vancouver's offensive might and let's face it, Chicago is a little better than Los Angeles (as they were constituted). If Dennis Byfuglien and company get in the face of Vancouver, it will be Chicago's series to take. If Vancouver can stay away from some of the rough stuff and play their game, then it will be a dog fight for Chicago.
2. San Jose Sharks (PR: 3 Up 1-0 with Det.)
Sharks win Game 1 without Patrick Marleau and yes San Jose did say it was an illness but it does make you wonder some. I am still not sure if San Jose will win this series honestly but they put together 18 pretty darn good minutes against Detroit last night and made it stick. As the Wings get the momentum rolling and more shots on net, it may become harder for Evgeni Nabokov to come way out of his crease and be aggressive like he was in Game 1. Joe Pavelski scored twice in the 4-3 win and maybe he will get 8 points again in a series, who knows. The only major concern for San Jose is defensive zone coverage. No one really is sure what Kent Huskins was thinking on the Dan Cleary goal. Clearly he was not thinking. But there were several severe lapses last night that Detroit shockingly did not capitalize on. That cannot happen again because San Jose will be eaten alive if it does. Game 2 and a pivotal one at that is on Sunday Night. We will cover it live on The Program starting at 8pm ET.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins (PR:2 Start Tonight Vs. MTL)
Why are they this high? Well they are the defending champs until someone beats them in a best of seven, that is why. Sidney Crosby is a costant in any seven game series and he will be all over Jaroslav Halak throughout this one. Do not forget Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the Pittsburgh offense. They will be far more selective with their shots than Washington became in Games 5-7. However, Pittsburgh has to watch their back end and particularly Marc Andre-Fleury. He did not look very good at times against Ottawa and you would like to think that the switch will eventually flip but what if it does not. The cold reality is that Montreal has players who can find the back of the net and now have two bonafide shooters from the blueline in PK Subhan and Andrei Markov. The Pens hold most of the cards in this series but if Halak plays like he did in the last half of Round 1 then this one sets up to be a very intriguing series throughout.
Teams To Watch: Vancouver and Detroit
We will see you next week with our top 4 plus two to watch in the second round, as the teams thin out, the intensity only ratchets up. Do not forget the podcas this Sunday at 8pm ET. Bring punch and pie!