Sometimes, even the blind squirrel finds the acorn. That's one way of looking at the fact that I not only called all four conference semifinal series winners, but also correctly predicted that no series would go less than six games. Three of them ended up going the distance, as it turned out, with the Carolina-Boston series needing overtime to come up with a winner. This is the first time that, at this stage of the postseason, three series went seven games and the other went six since 1986.
The Bruins' loss kept the NHL from having a Final Four featuring three of the Original Six teams (not to mention three large US television markets) as well as one of the first expansion franchises. Still, the two matchups are intriguing, and keep alive the possibility of the first rematch between the prior year's Stanley Cup finalists since the Bruins and Montreal Canadiens met in the 1976-77 and 77-78 finals.
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (6) Carolina Hurricanes; Season series: tied 2-2
In theory, home-ice advantage is crucial. That's why it's so important to win your division, since the division champs get the top three playoff seeds. The Hurricanes and Penguins broke the rules, between them knocking out the top two seeds in the second round (with Carolina previously defeating the third-best regular season team). In fact, Pittsburgh won Games 5 and 7 at Washington while losing Game 6 at home. I picked Carolina to beat Boston in 7 and they did, but the way they did it -- taking a 3-1 lead, then looking anemic in losing two games -- was unexpected and disappointing. Two of the Staal brothers, Pittsburgh's Jordan and Carolina's Eric, face off in this series. Eric is the bigger star of the two but his supporting cast doesn't include Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. That is a huge problem for Carolina. As a Flyers fan I am contractually obligated to despise Crosby, but he's been a beast in the postseason and I doubt the Hurricanes can stop him. Pittsburgh in 6.
(2) Detroit Red Wings vs. (4) Chicago Blackhawks; Season series: 4-2 Detroit
The 2009 Winter Classic on New Year's Day turned out to be a West finals preview. The Blackhawks took a 3-1 lead only to see the Red Wings roar back with five straight goals en route to a 6-4 win, in the second half of a home-and-home sweep by Detroit, ending a Chicago nine-game win streak. In fact, the only two Chicago wins over Detroit came in the final two games of the season, after the Red Wings had already clinched the second seed. Chicago is a very impressive young team. They burned Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo for seven goals in the clincher in the second round, led by a hat trick from Patrick Kane. Hockey has finally reclaimed the spotlight in the Windy City, and there's no reason the Blackhawks can't contend for the Cup year after year. I really hope they win this series...but I don't think it will happen. The Red Wings' experience will make the difference. Detroit in 7.