On April 30, 2014 the field of 16 2014 Stanley Cup hopefuls was narrowed to eight. May 1, 2014 signaled the start of the second round of playoff action. In the West, the Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, Los Angeles Kings, and Minnesota Wild are still alive. In the East, it will be the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, and Montreal Canadiens continuing the Cup quest. Here is a look at the four second round matchups:
Boston Bruins vs Montreal Canadiens (Montreal won reg season series 3 games to 1): For the second straight round, the Boston Bruins will be facing a fellow "Original six" team. Having dispatched Detroit in five games in the first round, Boston now sets it's sights on it's most bitter rival; the Montreal Canadiens. This playoff rivalry dates back to their first series, way back in 1924. Since then, they have faced each other in 34 playoffs series, including this season. Montreal has won the lion's share, having captured 24, with this year's results still pending. Much like in the first round, Boston has a decidedly better team, and are rather heavily favored to win this series. Much like in the first round, they lost the opener at home, as Montreal posted a 4-3 victory in double OT. The Bruins' blueline anchored by Norris (best defenseman) trophy finalist Zdeno Chara, may be slightly better than the Canadiens' blueline which is anchored by reigning Norris trophy winner P.K. Subban. The depth of the Bruins forwards, is definitely an edge for Beantown. The last line of defense is an intriguing matchup. Carey Price for Montreal, and Tuuka Rask for Boston. Each is capable of dominant play, and Rask is a Vezina trophy finalist this season. If Montreal is to have a chance, Price must play extremely well in this series, and they must have all scorers on deck (yes, that includes Daniel Briere). Provided the Bruins play their usual gritty, patient style, combined with strong goaltending from Rask, they should be just fine. This will be a tougher series than expected, but in the end - Bruins win in 6 games
Pittsburgh Penguins vs New York Rangers (Pittsburgh won reg season series 2-1-1): Both teams had a tough time in their opening round series. The Pens were plagued by erratic play, and thus were extended to six games against a Columbus team which they clearly outclassed. The Rangers had to go the distance with Philadelphia, before finally beating the Flyers 2-1 in Game 7. New York's up and down play is definitely no secret. There are no surprises on either roster. For the Pens, Sidney Crosby is once again a Hart (reg season MVP) trophy finalist, and we know about Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, and James Neal, though the Pittsburgh attack is oddly ineffective at times. For the Rangers, Brad Richards, Rick Nash, and newcomer Martin St Louis must always be identified when on the ice, but goalie Henrik Lundqvist is still their most consistent player night in and night out. Therein lies the key to this series. Amidst a sea of imperfection on both teams, there is one near-perfect player, and it definitely is not Pens' goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. It is the man called "Hank" by some, and "King Henry" by others. Rangers' goalie Henrik Lundqvist is the man. He slammed the door on Philly in Game 7, and over the course of this series, he will outplay Fleury. The Swedish superstar will be the difference in the series, though it is going to be a tight one - Rangers win in 7
Anaheim Ducks vs Los Angeles Kings (Ducks won reg season series 4-0-1): Both teams had a bit of a struggle in the first round. The Ducks were extended to six games by an inferior Dallas team, and the Kings had to come back from an 0-3 series deficit to beat San Jose. This sets up the first ever playoff meeting between the two teams, and this is also the first ever playoff meeting between southern California teams in any sport. Anaheim was clearly the more dominant team during the regular season. The Kings took much of the season to really find their game, and now seem to be hitting on all cylinders. At the forward position, the Ducks' captain Ryan Getzlaf is a Hart trophy finalist this season, while Kings alternate captain Anze Kopitar, is a Selke finalist (best defensive forward). Both teams have good depth up front, but at the position of center, the Kings trio of Kopitar, Mike Richards, and Jarrett Stoll would have to be given the edge. On the wing, Ducks' star Corey Perry may be the best natural scorer on both teams. On the blueline, the Ducks defensemen may be better in a few more seasons, but right now the edge goes to the Kings. The Kings' Drew Doughty is probably the best defenseman on either team. Cam Fowler and Hamphus Lindholm of the Ducks, may be world-beaters in a few more seasons, but at this point they are still developing. In goal, it is no contest. Jonathan Quick is hands down better than any goalie the Ducks have. The Kings are built to shut down high powered offenses, and as a team, are committed to strong defensive hockey. The Ducks are a strong team, but will need secondary scoring in order to be successful. If Kyle Palmieri, Jakob Silfverberg, and Teemu Selanne can chip in a few goals, it will make this a much tougher series. Despite the regular season records, this one goes to the team built for the playoffs - Kings in 6
Chicago Blackhawks vs Minnesota Wild (Wild won reg season series 3-1-1): These team took similar routes to get to this point. In the first round, Chicago dropped the first two games to St Louis, and then swept four straight, while Minnesota dropped the first two to Colorado, and then won 4 of 5; Minnesota needed OT in Game 7 to eliminate Colorado. The Wild were able to neutralize the potent Colorado Avalanche offense when they really needed to, and Chicago was able to rough it up with the St Louis Blues, and still maintain enough poise to take the series. Both teams face similar challenges in this round. The offensively gifted forwards of Chicago against a tough, defensively sound Minnesota squad. Minnesota had it's hands full with a talented but less savvy Colorado team. The main difference here is experience. Also, the Blackhawks defensive corps (anchored by Norris trophy finalist Duncan Keith) is much stronger than that of Colorado. Add to this, in round one, Minnesota had a revolving door in goal, with Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgalov, while Chicago's Corey Crawford was the man throughout the St Louis series. Look for the defense and experience of Chicago to be the difference. Their is no quit in the Minnesota Wild, but their dream ends here - Chicago in 6
*Yours truly, went 5-3 in opening round playoff picks - Flyers, Avalanche, and Lightning came up short.