Bob McElligott surges into the lead at 8-4 after the second round, while Bill Davidge and George Matthews are second with 7-5. Jeff Rimer stays at the back with a 5-7 record. Check out the predictions below and watch the Conference Finals to see how well the CBJ broadcasters did this round.
JEFF RIMER (5-7, one exactly)
San Jose/Vancouver - Canucks in 6... The Sharks were able to come back in that seventh game against Detroit, but will they have anything left for Vancouver? I believe Vancouver has the edge in goal and on the blueline Dan Boyle gives San Jose a slight edge and up front the Sharks have a slight edge with more fire power and the Sedins not performing like they did in the regular season. But forget the Sedins Canucks fans, Ryan Kesler (former Ohio State Buckeye) has really blossomed into the leader of this club and its best player in these playoffs (Conn Smythe?).
Tampa Bay/Boston - Bruins in 5... Will we see some rust at the start of the series, probably, but these are two teams that have earned their place here. Right off the top, I am going with Boston despite the seven straight wins by the Tampa Bay Lightning to get into the Eastern Conference Final. The Bruins blueline is the key for me with Zdeno Chara, who very well could be the Norris Trophy winner this year. Then, when you look up front Nathan Horton and David Krejci have elevated their games and Milan Lucic is poised for a breakout series. Keep an eye on Martin St. Louis, if Tampa is to win this series he will be the catalyst.
GEORGE MATTHEWS (7-5, one exactly)
San Jose-Detroit/Vancouver - Canucks in 7... The top two teams in the Western Conference meet after both have faced adversity in blowing 3-0 leads in one of the previous two rounds. Neither team blew away its opponent in round two with numerous one goal games and overtime affaris. The two teams are a combined 4-8 in close out games in these playoffs. The key is to get top players playing well and for Vancouver that means the Sedin twins, while San Jose must get more from Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau. Ryan Kesler has been outstanding along with Bieksa and Hamhuis on the backend and Luongo in net. The surprising Devin Setoguchi, Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle have led the way for San Jose. The blueline could be the difference and the winner of this series will be in uncharted waters.
Tampa Bay/Boston - Lightning in 6... This series could go the distance and both teams are hot with Boston winning five in a row and Tampa Bay winning seven straight. It's Boston's first trip to the conference finals in 19 years, while Tampa returns from 2004. Boston has to stay in 5-on-5 situations as their power play has been nonexistent and their penalty kill has allowed eight goals in 41 kill attempts. Tampa has had great special teams play with a 31.6% PP (1st in the playoffs) and an outstanding 51-of-54 on the PK, lead by Adam Hall and Nate Thompson. Goaltending-wise Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson might both be the MVP of their respective teams. Their GAA and SV% are almost identical 2.02 and .940%. IF Bergeron plays and he is expected to be out games one and two, Boston will win. IF he does not play, look for Tampa to get big efforts from Stamkos and St. Louis and to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
BILL DAVIDGE (7-5, five exactly)
San Jose/Vancouver - Canucks in 6... This is some of the best playoff hockey I've had a chance to watch. In the past it has been, meet you in the neutral zone and we'll play it from there and depend on goaltending, but right now it's wide open and that's what I expect in this series. Niemi is on his game, as he proved throughout the series with Detroit as he was bombarded with shots from the Red Wings. This is a team that very well could be spent when you play six games against L.A. and then seven versus Detroit, you are going to be worn out. Guys like Dan Boyle have been knocked all over the ice for 13 games and the question will be can the Sharks D still help them make transition and give that supportive scoring. Sharks can create offense with Logan Couture and Joe Thornton, but it will be able the mental more than the physical for San Jose.
Ryan Kesler has been great for Vancouver and is playing some of the best hockey of his career. Vancouver will need more from Luongo and the Sedins and probably other players will need to step up for them to get past San Jose. Can Luongo win a critical series?
Tampa Bay/Boston - Bruins in 6... I feel the physical play of the Boston Bruins is the area to watch in this series. They were physcial all year, that's their mantra. Taking a look in goal there is a great matchup between Tim Thomas, who has had a great playoff and a fantastic regular season, and the veteran Dwayne Roloson, who has been there before. Stamkos is playing super hockey, along with Vinny Lecavalier and the little guy, Martin St. Louis, but this will be a physical series and that favors Boston. Thomas wants it so badly and the players in front of him realize it. It would be great to see a team like Tampa get to the Stanley Cup Final, but I think the big, bad Bruins get it done.
BOB McELLIGOTT (8-4, two exactly)
San Jose/Vancouver - Canucks in 7... The San Jose Sharks had to weather a seven game challenge from the Detroit Red Wings, while the Vancouver Canucks dispatched of the Nashville Predators a little sooner. The fatigue from that series may affect the Sharks in this showdown. Defensively, these teams are very similar as they both have great defensemen from both the offensive and stay-at-home angles. The match-up to watch in this one is Joe Thornton against Ryan Kesler. Thornton is having, arguably, his best postseason ever while the former Buckeye is just having his best overall season as a pro. Goaltending is the question here. Antti Niemi is a guy who always seems to get counted out, but has a Stanley Cup ring from last year. He's been through it before and I would expect him to be ready for the challenge. Roberto Luongo seems to have settled down since the Chicago series, but still gave up quite a few goals to the Predators. That should concern the Canucks because San Jose is a better scoring team. As much as I hope the Sharks pull this one out, I think the wear and tear of the previous series will catch up to them.
Tampa Bay/Boston - Lightning in 6... It's hard to pick against a Tampa Bay team that seems like it's clicking on all cylinders right now. The thing that stands out to me is that the Lightning are winning games whether their big three (Lecavalier, St. Louis, Stamkos) score or not. The scoring contributions they've gotten out of their grinders has put them in the position they are, to win the East. I think that will continue in this series. I also think that the defensive scheme the Lightning employs will keep the Bruins from doing the things they want to do. The goaltending match-up is the most intriguing. Dwayne Roloson and Tim Thomas are two seasoned veterans who've seen it all. It will be great to watch them go head to head in this series. I think Roloson wins the battle because of the way his team will play in front of him.