We're down to eight teams in the Quest for the Cup. I predicted six out of eight first-round winners correctly, with three series right on the button (Pittsburgh over Philadelphia in 6, Washington over NY Rangers in 7, Chicago over Calgary in 6). Since I picked the higher seeds in every matchup, I also ranked the series in order of the likelihood to see an upset. The first two were right on the nose: Carolina over New Jersey and Anaheim over San Jose. My third-highest possible upset, the Rangers, came darned close, taking a 3-1 lead before the Capitals rallied.
But enough of my bragging. On to the conference semifinals. The good news is that all of these pairings ought to be close. I'll be shocked if, barring major injuries, any team goes out in 4 or 5 games.
(1) Boston vs. (6) Carolina: This could've been the Battle of New England. Once upon a time the Hurricanes were the Hartford Whalers. Oh, well. The Bruins swept all four games during the regular season, but the last one was played in mid-February. Carolina was 3 games over .500 at that point but went on a tear immediately after that, and then came from a pair of 3-2 deficits (in the series, and with 1:20 left in Game 7) to stun Martin Brodeur and New Jersey. The Bruins have Tim Thomas in goal. He's good, but he's no Brodeur. The Canes have Cam Ward. He's also no Brodeur, but he's won a Cup. The Bruins have been sitting around waiting since they swept Montreal. The Canes have serious momentum. Carolina in 7.
(2) Washington vs. (4) Pittsburgh: This is one series most hockey fans have been waiting for - Alexander Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby for the first time in the playoffs. In the eyes of some conspiracy theorists (*cough*some Flyers fans*cough*but not me*double-cough*), the league will have a tough time deciding which of their preeminent superstars will get more preferential treatment from the officials. The Capitals won 3 of 4 during the season, with the only Penguins win coming after their coaching change and trade-deadline deals. Neither team had a particularly easy time in the opening round. They're rather similar teams but goaltending favors the Pens with Marc-Andre Fleury over Simeon Varlamov, a 21-year-old whose NHL career consisted of six games before he took over after Jose Theodore's game one flop against the Rangers. Pittsburgh in 6.
(2) Detroit vs. (8) Anaheim: The 2008 and 2007 Cup winners face off. The eighth-seeded Ducks were still mighty enough (what can I say, they'll always be the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to me) to defeat the overall points leader San Jose. The Red Wings have been resting since their easy sweep of Columbus, so Anaheim might get off to a faster start in the series. But Detroit won 3 of 4 regular-season games, and has more depth, particularly scoring depth, and talent. Detroit in 6.
(3) Vancouver vs. (4) Chicago: Thanks to the Blackhawks' dispatch of Calgary in six games, the Canucks are Canada's last hope for a Cup. Vancouver swept St. Louis but every game was close. The teams split their four games this year, each winning once at home. I've not seen much of the Blackhawks on TV but when I have, the thing that stood out the most to me was their speed and aggressiveness. I think the Hawks' magic ride continues for one more round. Sorry, Canada. Chicago in 6.