Well I just got back from the best Game 7, OK the only Game 7, I’ve ever witnessed! As of this morning, my voice is a little scratchy, but well worth the pain. After being down 3-1 in the series, the Washington Capitals battled back and took down the New York Rangers. Sergei Fedorov saved the day with his wicked slapshot with about 5 minutes to go in regulation. The rest as they say is history. The other Game 7 last night was also quite amazing. Eric Staal scored on Marty Brodeur with 31.7 seconds to go in a 3-3 game, and the No. 6 seeded Carolina Hurricanes took down the New Jersey Devils.
So now the match-ups for the East are set, and it’s onto the preview of the Eastern Conference Semifinals…
(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (1) Boston Bruins
The Bruins have been the best in the Eastern Conference all year, and they look to be on a serious roll in the playoffs. They swept Montreal in the first round, but the Habs hadn’t been playing their best hockey coming into the series. The Hurricanes are no Canadiens, that’s for sure. The Canes came into the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the NHL. They were obviously not tired out from the final weeks of the season, as they were able to keep up with the streaky Devils and take down the might Brodeur. Don’t let the stats and records fool you with this match-up. The Bruins may have killed the Canes in the regular season, but this Canes team has new zest for life! They are playing like they’re not afraid of anyone, and people are comparing this team to the Canes Stanley Cup champion team of 2004 2006.
Who to Watch: Tim Thomas, G, Bruins
The Vezina finalist has been on his game for quite some time now. He did split duties with Manny Fernandez earlier in the season, but the Bruins saw that Thomas had to be their guy. While I think he looks a little like Drew Carey, I’m not going to hold that against him. He’s an awesome goalie, and he can be a real game-changer.
Erik Cole, LW, Carolina Hurricanes
While Cole has been relatively silent in the playoffs so far, I have feeling he’s going to come to life against the Bruins. Since Cole rejoined the Canes at the trade deadline, he brought a new life to this faltering team. He was definitely a catalyst in getting the Canes in the playoffs, so if they want to win this series with the Bruins, Cole needs to step up. He’s my under-the-radar pick for the Canes.
My Pick: This is a tough one for me. I think this series is going to be super exciting, so the fan in me wants to see all 7 games, but I’m not sure if it’ll come to that. I’m picking the Bruins in 6.
(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (2) Washington Capitals
This series is going to be good. You can quote me on this. These teams have nothing but dislike for each other, although apparently Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin are best buds now. I was witness to one Penguins beatdown courtesy of the Caps this season. When these two teams play it’s always intense. The Pens went on a tear after Dan Bylsma took over as bench boss. They stole away the 4-seed from the Flyers, and then beat them in 6 games. The Caps were on cruise control going into the playoffs. As a fan, I was definitely wondering if they had it in them to advance out of the first round, and they definitely made it entertaining. After falling behind the Rangers 3-1, the Caps battled back and showed what got them there in the first place. They won the next 3 games and showed they were worthy of the 2 seed. The Caps had the edge over the Pens in the regular season, but only faced the Penguins once twice after Bylsma took over. The first game was taken by the Caps convincingly, and the last was won by Pittsburgh in a shoot-out, so anything is possible going into this series.
Who to Watch: Brooks Laich, C, Capitals
Was this pick an excuse to use this picture, maybe. But Brooks is a main component in the Capitals offense. Brooks is the only Cap that likes to go to the net, and the dirtier the goal, the better. Laich is next in line for the “C” if you ask any Caps fan. He plays hard and motivates the team. I think he is going to be a difference maker in this series. While it would be easy to pick Alexander Semin or Alex Ovechkin in this situation, Brooks is the type of player the Caps need to step up to win this series.
Sergei Gonchar, D, Penguins
Gonchar has a good track record against his former team, and will need to keep it up to get his Penguins going. After missing most of the season after dislocating his shoulder and opting for surgery, Gonchar came back to the Pens and played pretty well. He’s definitely an underrated D-man who is crucial to his team’s success. Similar to Laich, Gonchar is surrounded by superstars, so it’s easy for him to get lost in the hype.
My Pick: Well as you all know I’m a Caps fan, so I could never pick against my boys. They definitely struggled with the Rangers, and the Penguins aren’t going to be a walk in the park. The Pens had a fairly easy time with the Flyers, but you can’t expect the Caps to not put up a fight. I’m going with Caps in 7.