VANCOUVER - The Pittsburgh Penguins still look like the team to beat in the Eastern Conference as Stanley Cup playoff second-round series get under way.
One thing is certain: Most, if not all, games will be close. Here are picks for each series.
Season series: Pittsburgh 3-0-0. Jan. 27, Penguins 2-1 (SO) at Ottawa; Feb. 13, Penguins 4-2 at Pittsburgh; April 22, Penguins 3-1 at Ottawa.
This series has the makings of an upset, depending on how much momentum the Senators gained in their open-round win over Montreal. But the Penguins' Stanley Cup pedigree should pull them through. The Penguins have taken two of the last three series with Ottawa, and Sidney Crosby is on a roll after recovering from a broken jaw. Trade deadline acquisitions Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow are also contributing. Pittsburgh's lone question mark is in goal. Struggling Marc-Andre Fleury watched the final two first-round games against the New York Islanders from the bench, but Tomas Vokoun has been an excellent replacement. Craig Anderson gives the Senators a goaltending edge, but offensive firepower should be the deciding factor in the Penguins' favour. Jason Spezza's potential return from a back injury would boost Ottawa's offence.
Pick: Penguins in six.
Season series: New York Rangers 2-1-0. Jan. 19, Bruins 3-1 at Boston; Jan. 23, Rangers 4-3 (OT) at New York; Feb. 12, Rangers 4-3 (SO) at Boston.
The Bruins received a scare against Toronto before prevailing in overtime in the seventh game. While coming back from a 4-1 deficit in the third period, the Bruins showed how formidable they can be when they play desperate hockey. Boston's top players also proved they can be counted on to produce goals in difficult situations. The Rangers also showed resilience by overcoming a 2-0 and 3-2 series deficits to oust Washington in seven games. But Washington's top player, Alex Ovechkin, lacked inspiration. Aside from during their 5-0 win in Game 7, the Rangers have struggled offensively in the post-season.
Pick: Bruins in five.
Season series: Chicago 3-0-0. Jan. 27, Blackhawks 2-1 (OT) at Chicago; March 3, Blackhawks 2-1 (SO) at Detroit; March 31, Blackhawks 7-1 at Detroit.
The Red Wings appear poised to post another upset after downing the second-seeded Anaheim Ducks in seven games in the opening round. The Blackhawks do play the same physical style that they displayed en route to winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, and Detroit's marquee players — old reliables Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, and emerging star Damien Brunner — are showing that they can carry the team, if necessary. Playoff stalwart Daniel Cleary is also in fine post-season form. The Blackhawks had a relatively easy time eliminating Minnesota in the opening round, but will face a much more difficult test this time.
Pick: Red Wings in six.
Season series: Split. March 14, Sharks 4-3 at San Jose; March 16, Kings 5-2 at Los Angeles; April 16, Sharks 3-2 (SO) at San Jose. April 27, Kings 3-2 at Los Angeles.
Barring injuries or unexpected breakdowns, the Sharks should prove that they're for real in this series. San Jose is well rested after ousting the Vancouver Canucks in four straight games in the first round. The sweep was not as one-sided as it appeared; San Jose prevailed twice in overtime. The Sharks measure up physically with the Kings, and San Jose's power play is performing at an extremely high level (29.2 per cent success rate.) To keep their hopes of repeating as Stanley Cup champions alive, the Kings will need to maintain the discipline they exhibited while eliminating the St. Louis Blues. Logan Couture, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau were flying in Round 1 and, if they can keep going they will carry the Sharks a long way.
Pick: Sharks in six.
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