Phil’s Picks: The hateful eight of Round 2

Editor’s note: Cold As Ice contributor Phil Stacey chimes in with his picks for Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The good news is I nailed three first round predictions exactly as they happened: Lightning in 5, Stars in 6, Capitals in 6.

The bad news is I went 0-fer in the other five first round matchups, meaning I’ve got to save some face in Round 2. So here goes:
EASTERN CONFERENCE
 
Capitals over Penguins in 5: The President’s Trophy winners have it all going on in its matchup with Pittsburgh: offensive talent, overall team depth, defensive corps and especially goaltending (two words: Matt Murray). You could even give the Caps a slight edge behind the bench with Barry Trotz vs. Mike Sullivan. The biggest thing working against Ovechkin & Co. is fighting the stigma that they can’t win when the stakes get raised substantially come May. Nearly two full decades of futility in such situations bears that out, but this is a different Capitals team. After needing three tries to knock out the Flyers in Round 1, they’ll put the hammer down on a game but ultimately not as talented Crosby-led Penguins team in five.
Lightning over Islanders in 7. I’m really tempted to take the boys from Brooklyn in an upset. The Islanders and Panthers played the best first round series in the Eastern Conference, a slugfest of two teams with equal ability and nary any playoff success since Bill Clinton was in office. When the Islanders prevailed to move on to the second round for the first time since 1993, then went into Tampa and won Game 1 of their series, their bandwagon started to fill up. While I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win this series, logic dictates that the Lightning are deeper, have more experience and, with Ben Bishop in goal, should prevail in the long term.
WESTERN CONFERENCE
Blues over Stars in 6: In the suddenly wide open West, with Chicago, Los Angeles and Anaheim all victims of first round upsets, the path to the Stanley Cup final suddenly got a whole lot smoother for the always underachieving St. Louis Blues. A huge Game 7 win over the Blackhawks, including some unusually clutch third period play by the Bluenotes, has them surging into the second round. While I realize Dallas has had a terrific season and plays what I’d term the “most fun” style of any of the eight remaining squads, I’m not buying that it’s enough to get them into the conference final.
Sharks over Predators in 7: San Jose is flying after knocking out nemesis Los Angeles (which had been my Cup pick) in a tidy five games. They’re rested and rarin’ to go, eager to put many ghosts of failed playoffs past behind them. Nashville is coming off of a grind-it-out, tractor pull of a seven-game series win over Anaheim. Martin Jones vs. Pekka Rinne is an intriguing matchup of goaltenders; so are the offensive battles featuring Thornton, Pavelski, Marleau & Co. vs. Johansen, Forsberg and Neal (et al). I like the Predators’ Weber/Josi-led defense a bit more, but the Sharks seem hell bent on making past amends. The best matchup of the second round gives us fans the seven-game series we deserve, with an OT winner in the penultimate game coming from San Jose.
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