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NHL Playoff Predictions: Round Deux

Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, left, shakes hands with Philadelphia's Claude Giroux after the Flyers clinched their first-round playoff series with a 5-1 victory in Game 6. Philadelphia next faces the New Jersey Devils in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

This just in: I should stick to my day job. That being reporting on sports, not predicting their outcomes — at least not in print.

The first round of NHL playoffs were not kind to me, or many so-called experts. If not for saving a little bit of face with the recent Game 7 results, I very well could have went 0-for-8 and looked a fool. Faced with that prospect, I probably would have thrown in the towel and shied away from the second round. However, buoyed by my late surge of success in correctly picking Washington, New Jersey and the New York Rangers as victors in the three series requiring a decisive game, I may as well try to ride that momentum. Or, let it ride, as the game goes in Las Vegas.

While I wound up 3-for-8 in the opening round, all three of those winners prevailed in one-goal games — two of them needing overtime, or double OT in the Devils’ case.

I went a shameful 0-for-4 in my West predictions, the conference I pay closest attention to throughout the regular season because of my boyhood allegiances to the now playoff-challenged Edmonton Oilers.

The four remaining teams —St. Louis, Phoenix, Nashville and Los Angeles — have never hoisted the Stanley Cup and are already in uncharted territory for the most part. Nevertheless, this round is about redemption so what better place to start than in the West . . .

St. Louis (2) vs. Los Angeles (8)

I never saw L.A.’s upset of Vancouver coming, nor did I foresee St. Louis being so savvy in ousting battle-tested San Jose. I expected — and wrongly predicted — the Canucks and Sharks to advance and be matched up in the second round. Now comes the challenge of righting that wrong in a matchup with many variables and few certainties. The Blues have home-ice advantage, a Cup-winning coach in Ken Hitchcock and depth throughout their lineup. But the Kings seemed to find their long-lost scoring touch and are backstopped by Vezina candidate Jonathan Quick. Comparing rosters, L.A. and St. Louis are, well, quite comparable, with a similar make-up that should make for an evenly matched, entertaining series. If the Kings can score a split in St. Louis, and especially if they steal the opener, I like their chances to pull off another improbable series win. What can I say, they won me over by beating a Canucks team built to contend.

Prediction: Los Angeles in six.

Phoenix (3) vs. Nashville (4)

I was very impressed with Nashville’s dismantling of Detroit, but less than impressed by Phoenix squeaking past Chicago. Goaltenders helped both the Coyotes and Predators get here, the only difference being Phoenix also had assistance from the opposing netminder. Without a couple soft overtime-winning goals yielded by Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks could — and perhaps should — be in this position. But I’ll digress, and give credit where it’s due when it comes to Coyotes ’keeper Mike Smith. He carried Phoenix, much like Pekke Rinne, another Vezina nominee, did Nashville. I have to give Rinne the edge this round and I much prefer his supporting cast on paper.

Prediction: Nashville in five.

Eastern Conference

New York Rangers (1) vs. Washington (7)

This series could really go either way, but I had a funny feeling about Washington before the playoffs and I still like the Capitals as a darkhorse. Again, goaltending will be a big factor with New York’s Henrik Lundqvist also in the Vezina running, while Washington’s Braden Holtby enjoyed a coming-out party against Boston — outduelling, and outlasting, last year’s Vezina and Conn Smythe winner, Tim Thomas. If Holtby’s heroics continue, the Capitals have enough offensive firepower to compete with any team and could actually overwhelm the Rangers.

Prediction: Washington in six.

Philadelphia (5) vs. New Jersey (6)

I’ve picked three underdogs thus far in the second round, perhaps influenced by the amount of first-round upsets. That trend stops here, though, as I think Philadelphia is a sure bet to beat New Jersey. The Devils struggled with the Panthers and will have their hands much fuller with a Flyers team that, at times, had its way with Cup-favourite Pittsburgh. Philadelphia is much deeper up front and should be able to expose an aging Martin Brodeur. So as long as Ilya Bryzgalov can provide adequate goaltending, the Flyers should breeze into the conference final.

Prediction: Philadelphia in five.

And the new winner is . . .

Given my Stanley Cup prediction is totally scrapped after the first round, I’ll start from scratch there too. For the record, I had Pittsburgh beating Chicago in five games, with Chicago eliminating Vancouver in the West final and Pittsburgh getting by Washington in the East final. My lone survivor from that final four is Washington, but after watching Philadelphia torch Pittsburgh, I now have the Flyers as the team to beat. My new (and hopefully improved) prediction has Philadelphia defeating Nashville in seven games to end its 37-year Cup drought.

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