The path has certainly been plowed for the Penguins to make a third straight trip to the Stanley Cup finals. All three of the division winners have been eliminated, leaving Pittsburgh as the clear favorite to move on.
Pittsburgh Penguins (4) -vs- Montreal Canadiens (8)
Can lightning strike twice? Montreal pulled off one of the biggest upsets of all time by taking the Capitals down in 7 games. It's been a long time since the Canadiens have shown the magic they just conjured up , but a repeat performance would put this roster in the class of legends.
The story in Montreal starts and ends with Jaroslav Halak. He has been the most dominate player in the playoffs so far, and will have be just as good to keep his team alive. He showed in the Olympics that he's comfortable facing an insane number of shots against the best players in the world, and repeated that performance in Round 1. So, the evidence suggests, he won't be rattled when the Penguins roll 3 scoring lines against him.
On the other side of the rink is a puzzle. Marc-Andre Fleury was good enough to get the Pens past the Senators, but certainly wasn't considered a major reason for their round 1 victory. He was shaky at times, and solid at others, which is what Penguin fans have come to expect. As long as he keeps showing up at the right moments (and keeps getting them to the Finals) nobody will care much.
While the Capitals were able to bring some superstars to the party, they don't boast the strength down the middle that Pittsburgh possesses. No team in the NHL can compare to Crosby, Malkin, and Staal at the center position. That means on virtually every shift, Pittsburgh has the potential to strike.
While Montreal can't compare to the size and talent of the Penguins, they have proven to be opportunistic. Their power play is one of the best in the league, and they'll have to rely on that to give them any chance of stopping Pittsburgh from rolling to the third round. Mike Cammalerri was solid for the Habs in Round 1, scoring 5 goals and 5 assists, and he'll be counting on to lead the rush for them against the Pens.
Somehow, the Canadiens were able keep the big guns for Washington from finding the net. Most of that was due to an insane commitment to blocking shots. Had it not been for their defense blocking up the center of the ice, Halak would have been seeing 70 or 80 shots a game. They'll have to survive a similar onslaught in round 2.
The Penguins allowed just under 30 shots a game in round 1 versus the Senators. Their defense features a good mix of young puck movers, some veteran shot blockers, and a solid leader in Sergei Gonchar who is the best in the business at controlling the play.
I won't even consider the notion that Montreal can recreate the magic from round 1. Pittsburgh in 5.
Boston Bruins (6) -vs- Philadelphia Flyers (7)
In many ways, these teams are arriving at round 2 from the same place. Both teams stumbled into the playoffs and have suffered some injuries to this point. They both pulled off an upset in round 1, though neither one was shocking to see. They also both boast a lot of potential that was never realized in the regular season. So the question is, who will find their game first?
Everyone was down on the Flyers goaltending heading into the playoffs, as they are every year. Brian Boucher did everything in his power to shut those critics up. His play was suberb, and against a very weak Bruins offense, there's no reason to expect a sudden meltdown.
Boston's rookie netminder did his part in Round 1 after a stellar regular season. Tuukka Rask has relegated Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas to the bench for the remainder of play. With several of the big guns out for Philadelphia, Rask should keep his numbers low.
Both teams are hurting to score goals. The Bruins were one of the worst teams in the league during the regular season. They didn't run it up on Buffalo in round 1 either. The return of Savard should help a little, but don't expect 4 goals a game from this crew.
The Flyers have the depth to score at any time. They're a couple big guns short with Carter and Gagne out of the lineup, so they'll have to rely on some youngsters to get it done.
Both teams came up with some great defensive play in round 1 to help their teams advance. Zdeno Chara and Chris Pronger should provide plenty of pain for the other side, should they dare to approach the crease. The Flyers have an edge in this department, which may ultimately decide the series.
It's hard to pick a winner in this series. It should be tight every game, but expect the Flyers to ultimately outscore the Bruins by a slim margin. Flyers in 6.