Here's my recap of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs Conference Quarterfinals and a preview of the Conference Semifinals, which begin Tuesday, May 14.
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
#8 New York Islanders vs. #1 Pittsburgh Penguins (Penguins win series 4-2)
Hart Trophy candidate John Tavares took the crucial next step to becoming a true superstar in the NHL - he thrived in a high-pressure, playoff environment. Watching him and his Islanders battle against the Penguins gave me a newfound respect for Tavares and this young team.
# 7 Ottawa Senators vs. #2 Montreal Canadiens (Senators win series 4-1)
The Senators-Canadiens series was the most physical and nasty series of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with 91 penalties and 347 penalty minutes. Ottawa remained the more disciplined team.
Norris Trophy candidate P.K. Subban (2-2-4) was outstanding for the Canadiens and lived up to the hype.
#6 New York Rangers vs. #3 Washington Capitals (Rangers win series 4-3)
Henrik Lundqvist kept the Blueshirts in this series. Rangers forwards Brian Boyle and Arron Asham tallied goals in the Game 3 win and I think that was the turning point in this series.
#5 Toronto Maple Leafs vs. #4 Boston Bruins (Bruins win series 4-3)
After a series like this, you have to ask yourself: Was this an epic comeback? Or was this an epic collapse? There is no way a team should ever blow a three-goal lead in the third period, as the Maple Leafs managed to do in just under 11 minutes Monday night in Boston. But Boston deserves the credit for stepping up their game when lesser teams would have accepted impending loss.
Western Conference Quarterfinals
#8 Minnesota Wild vs. #1 Chicago Blackhawks (Blackhawks win 4-1)
Despite Minnesota's off-season spending spree, their Stanley Cup Playoff push was not enough to unseat the President's Trophy winner Chicago Blackhawks. Much was expected of this team at the start of the season and the jury is still out on whether or not they met expectations.
#7 Detroit Red Wings vs. #2 Anaheim Ducks (Red Wings win 4-3)
Despite the Ducks' amazing season, Detroit's dynamic duo of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk out-dueled Anaheim's Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf.
#6 San Jose Sharks vs. #3 Vancouver Canucks (Sharks win series 4-0)
San Jose's deadly power play drove Vancouver right out of this series. The odd-man attack accounted for a 40% conversion rate at home. Vancouver's ability to overcome their "goalie situation," which dominated most of the talk at the start of the season, was impressive. So it was disappointing for everyone to see the team that was in the Stanley Cup Final only two years ago exit this year's Playoffs in a first round sweep.
#5 Los Angeles Kings vs. #4 St. Louis Blues (Kings win series 4-2)
This was a thrilling series. Much was expected of the Kings because they were the reigning Stanley Cup champions and they delivered. The Kings shook off early mishaps to remind fans how they won the Cup last year. The Blues weren't expected to be formidable opponents but exceeded expectations.
Predictions for the Semifinals
#7 Ottawa Senators vs. #1 Pittsburgh Penguins
• If Ottawa has a weak link, it's not goalie Craig Anderson. Expect him to be a force to be reckoned with.
• Pittsburgh will use its depth at the forward position to apply a tremendous amount of pressure on Ottawa's defenses.
#6 New York Rangers vs. #4 Boston Bruins
• This series is going to be a defensive battle that will likely be decided by goaltending - New York's Henrik Lundqvist and Boston's Tuukka Rask.
• I expect Rangers newcomer Derick Brassard to keep adding to his scoring tally.
• The Bruins learned a valuable lesson from their series versus the Leafs: They cannot get away from their big bad Bruins brand of hockey.
Western Conference Semifinals
#7 Detroit Red Wings vs. #1 Chicago Blackhawks
• I predict this series will be the most competitive in the Conference Semifinals
• Both the Wings and the Blackhawks ooze talent, with each carrying six skilled top forwards on their respective rosters. A series like this almost makes you wish there were two pucks on the ice for each team to possess.
#6 San Jose Sharks vs. #5 Los Angeles Kings
• This series has already been christened the "Battle of California: NoCal vs. SoCal."
• I expect Los Angeles to drag San Jose into a street fight.
• Anze Kopitar needs to (and will) be the guy who leads the charge for Los Angeles
• San Jose's Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture will carry their first round success into round two.