NHL Conference Semi-Finals Breakdown

In case you haven't noticed -- and judging by the ratings numbers, you haven't -- the NHL has put together some exciting series and is threatening to climb out of the basement of sports relevancy.

Seriously, though, the first round had some outstanding series and some hockey markets that haven't had much to cheer about in a while got to have some fun.

The Washington Capitals pushed their series to seven games before losing to Philly; the Boston Bruins fought back (like Washington) from a 3-1 deficit to force a Game 7 that they, too, came up short in, losing to top-seeded Montreal. And in the West, the San Jose Sharks outlasted the Calgary Flames in a really terrific seven-game first rounder that unfortunately a lot of the continent didn't see much of because of all the late starts.

So now we move to the second round, still best-of-seven, and just eight victories from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals. Let's get into it.

Western Conference

(1) Detroit Red Wings vs. (6) Colorado Avalanche -- Fans are all a-twitter over this one, because these teams have met before and there was incredible bad blood back in the mid-to-late-90s. In fact, these two are responsible for two of the most incredible, hate-filled brawls I've seen in modern hockey. But those hoping for goalie fights will probably be disappointed. While a lot of guys who remember those battles are still around, playoff hockey is a bit different and there aren't many cheap-shot artists left on these teams. Detroit got a scare in Round 1 against Nashville but seems to have steadied things. The Avs are only going to be stopped by two things: health (or lack thereof) and Jose Theodore's steadiness in net. If those two things go Colorado's way, I think the Avs will upset the Wings. Are the Red Wings hungry enough? Was their stumble against Nashville indicitive of a paper tiger? Or were they just looking on to this series? It's hard to say and they've stumbled early before. Logic tells me the Wings are just too good and will move on, but I also think the Avs have talent and a few guys (like, Sakic, Foote and Forsberg) who are back to make one more run. I'll call for the upset. Avalanche in 7.

(2) San Jose Sharks vs. (5) Dallas Stars -- I am hoping the Stars make the Finals and face my Rangers so that I can drive on up to Dallas and see some Finals games close to my new home. Not sure how likely this is to happen, though. The Sharks were a lot of people's picks to make the Finals out of the West after a strong season and an all-around, complete-looking team. But they were pushed to the limit by Calgary in Round 1 and looked like they were able to be intimidated. I think they moved on simply because they had home ice and were the more talented team and, in this case, talent won out. The Stars, meanwhile, came in completely unheralded after a very good season and drew the defending champion Ducks in the first round. I don't know many people who thought the Stars would win, but they did so pretty convincingly. They're not a flashy team and of the four left out West will likely continue to be the most overlooked team. Can this work in their favor? Could the Sharks be tired after a seven-game battle and multiple trips up to Alberta? I think they could be. And since I'm getting everything wrong early on, I'll go with the Stars in 6.

Eastern Conference

(1) Montreal Canadiens vs. (6) Philadelphia Flyers -- It's a good thing for the NHL that there isn't an easy series to pick. It shows how even their league is and how many good teams have made the playoffs. The Canadiens had the Bruins down 3-1 and seemed to not know how to close out a series. Plus they have a rookie goaltender who finally looked beatable in Games 5 and 6 against Boston. The Flyers, though, while having a lot of scoring power also have a questionable goalie, Martin Biron, who just won his first playoff series ever. Can he make it two in a row? Can the Flyers go from the bottom of the league last year (literally the worst record) to the conference finals the following year? I don't think it's far-fetched at all, but I'm going to say no. Montreal has too much talent and is playing too well. They got a scare in Round 1 but they dominated most of the games they won and that simply means they're good and couldn't quite close the deal. While that can be disasterous in the playoffs, I think having Round 1 behind them will allow them to simply play their game and I think the Flyers are into bonus time now. They never could have reasonably expected to turn things around this fast. Canadiens in 6.

(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) New York Rangers -- The Pens are the darlings of the league, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeny Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury in net. They dispatched the Ottawa Senators in four straight in the first round and that's all well and good, but the Senators looked like a team with no heart or pride whatsoever. The Pens had their way with them and the goals seemed to come easily. None of this will be the case with the Rangers. New York has heart, leadership, timely scoring, good defense and a better goalie. The Rangers went 5-3 against Pittsburgh during the regular season, which means very little but at least proves they can play with the high-offense Penguins. I think everyone is quickly forgetting the Pens are still a young team and they might need another year of playoff downfall to solidify their resolve. The Rangers dealt with a humiliating sweep two years ago, then a near-upset in the conference semis last year, which has built nicely to them now believing they are meant to go further. I think they are, too. And not just because I'll be at Game 4 at Madison Square Garden. Rangers in 6.

That's how you define beat down.

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