The two top seeds from each conference, Buffalo and Detroit, have survived, while arguably the two hottest teams in the league, Ottawa and Anaheim, have joined them in the Final Four.
The Senators are Canada’s team, hoping to end a Cup drought that goes back to the 1993 Montreal Canadiens. They’ve got a good shot.
Here’s a look at CP’s picks for the conference finals.
No. 1 Detroit vs. No. 2 Anaheim: The Red Wings, despite being top seeds in the conference, were picked by many to fall to San Jose in the second round and it certainly looked that way early in that series. But the experienced Wings rallied, stymied the Sharks’ power play, and got timely goals from their top three lines en route to a six-game series win over San Jose.
But it was a costly win, veteran defenceman Mathieu Schneider lost to a broken left wrist. Losing their No. 2 blue-liner for the remainder of the playoffs is a huge blow.
The Ducks have played two fewer games than Detroit in the playoffs, cruising to five-game decisions in the first and second round. They’re fresh, which is especially key since they ask so much of Norris Trophy candidates Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer.
Anaheim, unlike San Jose, will find a way to score on the power play. And Schneider can’t be replaced.
Prediction – Ducks in six.
No. 1 Buffalo vs. No. 4 Ottawa: A rematch of last spring’s second-round series when the underdog Sabres manhandled the top-seeded Senators, sending Ottawa into another soul-searching off-season after having failed to meet post-season expectations.
The Sabres face a different Ottawa team this time around, a much-improved and battle-tested Senators crew that has sprinkled some defensive awareness and gritty play into a recipe that as usual includes plenty of firepower.
Buffalo got a big-time scare from the New York Rangers but woke up in time to play their ‘A’ game in Game 5 and Game 6 victories. But the Sabres have not been as consistent with that ‘A’ game in these playoffs as the Senators have been.
Both clubs roll four forward lines effectively, moreso than any other teams in the NHL. The Sabres have a slight edge in goal with Ryan Miller over Ray Emery but Ottawa’s six-pack on defence has the upper hand on Buffalo’s six defencemen.
A tough call to be sure, but we feel this is Ottawa’s year of destiny.
Prediction – Senators in six.
Pierre LeBrun’s record through two rounds: 10-2.