'Tis the year where I'm wrong about hockey a lot, but that won't stop me from predicting Round Two of these NHL Playoffs...
Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins:
The difference between these Caps and those of years past, say 2009-10, is Barry Trotz behind the bench. Sure, like Bruce Boudreau, he's never gone far in the playoffs, but that can be explained by the fact that Trotz' Nashville Predators usually barely made the cut, whereas Boudreau's Caps and Ducks would win their division and be heavy favourites. Trotz learned what he needed to last year, told his GM he needed a Game 7 leader just in case, and he ended up with the best in the business in Justin Williams. Braden Holtby, Alex Ovechkin,
and the deepest core of forwards in the East will roll over the Pens and bruise them good while they're at it.
Caps in 6
Tampa Bay Lightning vs New York Islanders:
What I said in my Round One Predictions reads even truer here: the Isles have no chance against the Bolts without Jaroslav Halak. Tyler Johnson seems to have found his groove again, Alex Killorn is providing terrific secondary scoring, Victor Hedman is a top-10 defenseman and Ben Bishop was just nominated for the Vezina. I don't think the Isles have the depth to take on Tampa, but if any team can try, it's one with Halak stopping 40 shots per game and John Tavares scoring the lone marker in four 1-0 games.
Tampa in 6
Dallas Stars vs St. Louis Blues:
I love Brian Elliott, but, really, fuck the Blues. Fuck their defense-minded coach, fuck their Big Three that has a habit of choking in big games, fuck their All-American offense made up of half of Team USA. Vladimir Tarasenko's cool, though, so I really wish he was on another team. Oh, and while the Blues will struggle to score 2 goals per game, the Stars have Jamie Benn, last year's Art Ross winner. Oh, and Tyler Seguin. Oh, and Jason Spezza. Oh, and Patrick Sharp. Oh, and among their sleepers, Valeri Nichushkin and Ales Hemsky, potentially 30-goal scorers.
Stars in 5
San Jose Sharks vs Nashville Predators:
Speaking of blue-wearing teams choking in the West, the Sharks are now clearly led by Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and probably some other forward - let's say Logan Couture. That's not enough to counter a rebounding Pekka Rinne, and I really think the Preds - who I really think have the best defense corps in the league - can match San Jose player-for-player in a best-of-seven series. I'm not sure Mike Ribeiro, James Neal, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher make for a Stanley Cup-winning offense, necessarily, but beating the Sharts is definitely feasible.
Preds in 6