EDITOR'S NOTE: Rob Mixer of BlueJackets.com will provide his take on this year's conference semifinal series in the Stanley Cup playoffs. You can follow him on Twitter (@RobMixer) and read his work on the CBJ Today.
ROUND 2 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE
PLAYOFF PICTURE: ROUND 2 MATCHUPS
As I'm typing this, we're a few hours removed from watching one of the wildest and near-unbelievable simultaneous meltdown/comebacks of all-time. Did that really happen at TD Garden in Boston last night...seriously? On one hand, it's an exciting win for Boston and a true testament to the confidence a deep playoff run can do for a team not just in the present, but in the years ahead. The Bruins knew they'd been down that road before and dug deep to rally from 4-1 down in the third period, stunning the Maple Leafs in a Game 7 overtime thriller for the ages.
But on the other hand, I'm a little gutted for Toronto: a terrific hockey city that sees its championship drought extended to 46 years (and counting). If there's a silver lining in all of this, it's that this edition of the Maple Leafs is far different than its predecessors and there are brighter days ahead for one of hockey's most historic franchises. Poor James Reimer, too...that guy played his tail off and to see it end like that is brutal.
Alas, we must move on - and thankfully, we have four second-round series to entertain us. Good news: they all hold the potential to be really, really fun.
I'll take another crack at playoff picks beginning with the conference semifinal series that begin tonight. Here's to some better luck this time around!
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS VS. OTTAWA SENATORS
PREDICTION: OTTAWA IN SEVEN
MIXER'S TAKE: The Senators' great story aside, they have great players at the most crucial positions on the ice and it makes them an appealing pick going forward. Craig Anderson is one of the best goaltenders in the business right now and Erik Karlsson is a year removed from a Norris Trophy season in which he scored 78 points (!) in 81 games. While they do miss Jason Spezza's calming presence at center ice, the Senators have made do without him in the meantime and have gotten a big boost from Kyle Turris, who's having another solid postseason. If Paul MacLean doesn't win the Jack Adams, it's a crime, but that's a different story for a different day. This Senators team was taken lightly by a (normally) well-coached and prepared Montreal Canadiens squad and they made them pay - but after some previous playoff battles with Pittsburgh, I don't see the Penguins falling into the same trap. At the end of the day, I like the Senators in seven games for two reasons: a) I like their team game better and it's been more efficient than the Penguins' to this point, and b) I would be surprised if Tomas Vokoun can carry his team much farther. It must be asked: if Vokoun struggles, can Dan Bylsma even consider going back to Marc-Andre Fleury? Oy.
SAN JOSE SHARKS VS. LOS ANGELES KINGS
PREDICTION: SHARKS IN SIX
MIXER'S TAKE: For starters, I learned my lesson to count out the Sharks in the opening round. A four-game sweep of the Vancouver Canucks is pretty much the exact opposite of what I expected, but then again, you could kind of see that coming from the Canucks. They weren't exactly "hard to play against" this year and especially so in that series, and the goaltending saga again loomed like a storm cloud over their heads throughout. That's not to discredit the Sharks, who did everything right in the four games and got clutch performances from guys who needed to step up: Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski to name a few were the go-to guys for San Jose night after night. So, here we go: at some point, we're going to drive each other crazy by saying *this* is the year that the Sharks break through and challenge for the Stanley Cup, but I think this group has what it takes. Goaltending is sure to be a huge factor - and surprise, both Antti Niemi and Jonathan Quick are playing out of their melons right now - as well as special teams. The team that manages its emotions (highs and lows) better will move on to the conference final, and my gut tells me the Sharks will be that team.