x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

These match-ups are a hit

Physical teams and old-time rivalries mark the opening of Round 2, writes Sam McCaig of the play-offs.

Sidney Crosby's Penguins play the giant-killing Canadiens in Round 2 of the play-offs.
Sidney Crosby's Penguins play the giant-killing Canadiens in Round 2 of the play-offs.

Despite the fact the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference were upset in the opening round of the NHL play-offs including the astonishing downfall of the Washington Capitals, the regular-season champions, at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens no one could ask for better match-ups in Round 2.

In the East, the Pittsburgh Penguins were the favourite to survive, and Sidney Crosby's club faces giant-killing Montreal. So, it is the defending Stanley Cup champions up against the franchise with the most Cup championships. The Penguins have a golden opportunity to get back to the final for a third consecutive time and, given Crosby's leadership, you have to like their chances. The other Eastern semi-final is a throwback series between two traditionally bruising teams that, surprisingly, have not faced off in the play-offs since 1978. The Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers stunned division winners Buffalo and New Jersey respectively and hit the second round with confidence and momentum. Unfortunately for the Flyers, they were also hit with injuries as Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne, their top-line forwards, and Ian Laperriere are all likely lost for the duration of the post-season.

It is a big blow to Philadelphia's play-off hopes, and opens the door for Boston to advance to the conference final. In the West, the perennially underachieving San Jose Sharks overcame a first-round scare against Colorado, while the Detroit Red Wings Pittsburgh's opponent in the past two Cup finals beat feel-good Phoenix to set up a slug-fest in Round 2. The Wings have knocked the Sharks out of the play-offs a couple of times in recent years, and there is the perception that Detroit hold a psychological edge over San Jose.

However, do not be surprised if the Sharks make it to the West final. For starters, San Jose has an advantage in goal with veteran Evgeni Nabokov versus Wings rookie Jimmy Howard. Finally, the Vancouver-Chicago match-up is the sequel to last spring's thrilling six-game series. The Hawks ultimately eliminated the Canucks, scoring seven times in the clinching game. There is no love lost between the teams and it promises to be a physical and mental test. In other words, a microcosm of the post-season itself.

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