Last year's finalists are gone after the first round. St. Louis and Nashville are the most rested teams. There is one top seed left. Let's hope that the nastiness of the first round is over.
Here are my conference semifinal predictions …
2 St. Louis vs. 8 Los Angeles: These teams are so evenly matched don't be surprised if this series is decided in overtime in Game 7. This is only the third playoff meeting between these 1967 expansionists. L.A. is more talented offensively but St. Louis' grind is better overall. The feeling here is that the Kings are spent a bit emotionally after upsetting Vancouver in the first round. In an low-scoring, tight one, St. Louis in 6.
3 Phoenix vs. 4 Nashville: This series features a couple of goalies who could be playing small forward in the NBA. Mike Smith and Pekka Rinne have never been better. As the only coach in Preds history, Barry Trotz has led the franchise to this moment. They will not fail and remain my Cup favorites at this point. Nashville in 6.
1 New York Rangers vs. 7 Washington: Ottawa had no business hanging around for seven games in Round 1. Especially with Daniel Alfredsson out. New York needs to show a better killer instinct. Things aren't going to get easier for the Rangers against suddenly formidable Washington. Ovechkin has bought in. The Caps have turned into opportunistic grinders who had more will than the Bruins. Braden Holtby sounds like the kid you used to beat up in third grade. The Caps' Braden Holtby is starting to look like Ken Dryden, circa 1971. Washington in 7.
5 Philadelphia vs. 6 New Jersey: I'm willing to bet there have been exactly zero teams that have given up 10 goals in a game and still won the series. That was the case against Pittsburgh. Philadelphia showed me something by closing out the Penguins, finally, in six. But the goaltending and defensive lapses remain disconcerting. Philly will win this series but it's still hard imagining it winning the Cup. Philadelphia in 5.