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
Before you ask: I'm sticking to my Ottawa Senators pick even after a dominant Game 1 performance by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Side note, though: the Penguins looked really good.
Game 2 will be very important to Ottawa's chances in the series, though, as they need to have something going in their favor when the series heads north of the border. As we saw in the opening round, Scotiabank Place can get mega-loud and it would be an even better atmosphere if the home team was on the board in the series. For whatever reason, Craig Anderson didn't look too sharp in the first game but I expect a much different (and improved) performance from the Senators' netminder on Friday night.
As I type this, it's currently the second period of Game 1 between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. No broken record here, but the Kings have been very sharp so far. NBC analyst Mike Milbury described the Kings as having a "sleeper hold" on the Sharks in the first 40 minutes and that's exactly how it feels; the Sharks look like they're running in place, but it's mostly the stifling checking of Los Angeles.
Looking ahead to the other two series this week, I think we're about to watch the best series of the playoffs between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings. Don't ask why - just a sneaking suspicion one gets when a red-hot team (Detroit) meets a stout contender like the Blackhawks in the playoffs. The Red Wings found an extra gear in the final four games of the regular season with their backs against the wall, and they did it once again facing elimination in the opening round vs. Anaheim.
For my picks...
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS VS. DETROIT RED WINGS
PREDICTION: BLACKHAWKS IN SEVEN
MIXER'S TAKE: I'm usually an underdog kind of guy and especially so in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but it's almost impossible to pick against the Blackhawks. They have the balance that every team strives for: firepower up front (including three lines that can score), a well-rounded group of defensemen that's essentially void of any players Joel Quenneville has to "hide," and solid goaltending. Both of these teams like to push the pace and possess the puck, which presents an interesting match-up in terms of checking: where does each coach roll the dice and how much of a chess match does it become? On paper, it's obvious that Chicago has more options but the Red Wings have both the experience and a group of youngsters that doesn't know any better. When all is said and done in this series, I think the Red Wings push the Blackhawks like no team will in this tournament, but home ice will be the difference.
BOSTON BRUINS VS. NEW YORK RANGERS
PREDICTION: RANGERS IN SIX
MIXER'S TAKE: Another one for the "intriguing match-up" folder here, as both teams are coming off very emotional Game 7 victories - albeit in two different fashions. The Bruins, down 4-1 in the third period to the Toronto Maple Leafs, somehow mustered three goals in the final 10-plus minutes of regulation to send the game to overtime and set the table for Patrice Bergeron's history-making game winner. New York also had to gut out a seven-game series win but didn't have too tough a task in a 5-0 Game 7 win at Verizon Center, a surprising no-show by the Washington Capitals in a situation that every team wants. Who has the advantage here? It's a tough call but I like the team backstopped by Henrik Lundqvist and that has received significant contributions from its young players, whereas the Bruins' veterans have carried the mail in the playoffs. Regardless of Boston's miraculous comeback in Game 7, there's no dancing around their lackluster performance in the meat of that series and the offensive disappearance by all of its top players aside from David Krejci (who has been tremendous). I'll take the Rangers here, but really, it's about as evenly matched as a series can get.