NHL conference semifinals preview

NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!

The Stanley Cup playoff field is down to eight survivors following an opening round in which every series went at least six games. Here's a look at the conference semifinals.


Chicago Blackhawks vs. Vancouver Canucks

It's a rematch of last year's Conference semifinal in which the Blackhawks eliminated the Canucks in six games.

Vancouver's offense, one of the best of the postseason so far, will be powered by the Sedins and Mikael Samuelsson, currently among the playoffs' leading scorers. Goalie Roberto Luongo has struggled at times but came up big when his team needed him most against the L.A. Kings. Concerns linger about their blueline depth, while 35-goal scorer Alex Burrows managed only one point against the Kings.

The Blackhawks battled to dispatch the Nashville Predators in six games. Scoring forwards Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp were reliable offensive threats but there is concern about Chicago's overall defensive game, which gave up too many scoring chances to the usually low-scoring Predators. Goaltender Antti Niemi's steady performance has silenced concerns for now.

Both clubs will be primed for this one and it should be a long series but ultimately the Blackhawks' depth at forward and defense should be enough to carry them over the Canucks. Blackhawks in seven.

San Jose Sharks vs. Detroit Red Wings

The last time these two tangled in the Western semifinals was 2007, when the Wings eliminated the Sharks in six games.

The Sharks had a difficult time eliminating the overmatched but plucky Colorado Avalanche. Their top scorers - Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley - struggled against the Avs but fortunately second-liners Joe Pavelski, Devon Setoguchi and Ryan Clowe picked up the offensive slack. Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov struggled early against the Avs but settled down as that series went on.

Meanwhile, Detroit needed seven games to eliminate a determined Phoenix Coyotes team. Veteran depth - led by Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and captain Nicklas Lidstrom - was instrumental in carrying the Red Wings to victory. Rookie goalie Jimmy Howard seemed to labor at times but also had three games where he held Phoenix to one goal or less. The Wings at times seemed to show their age against the Coyotes as the long grind of the past three years might finally be catching up with them.

The Red Wings may be older but they do know how to advance beyond the Conference semifinals, something the Sharks have yet to do since 2004. If San Jose's big guns continue to fire blanks they won't have much hope of shaking their playoff chokers label. Red Wings in six.


Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens

Buoyed by the 14-point performance of team captain Sidney Crosby, the Penguins dispatched the Ottawa Senators in six games.

Crosby, of course, wasn't the only reason for the Penguins' first-round success. Forwards Evgeni Malkin, Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz played well and the club was strong on the power play, yet Pittsburgh encountered some troubling problems against Ottawa. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury didn't look sharp, the penalty killing ranked 15th out of 16 first-round teams, and after taking a 3-1 series lead the Pens labored to deliver the coup de grace .

The Canadiens are coming off one of the greatest upsets in NHL playoff history, bouncing the Washington Capitals in seven games thanks to Jaroslav Halak's otherworldly goaltending and some of the best shot-blocking efforts by a team in a playoff series ever seen. Still, the Habs also had a bad habit of nursing slim leads, something they got away with against the Capitals but could find deadly against the Penguins.

Montreal's goaltending and unselfish defensive play could make this a tough slog for the Penguins but ultimately Pittsburgh's offensive depth, postseason experience and will to win should tip the scales. Penguins in six.

Boston Bruins vs. Philadelphia Flyers

Riding the play of rookie netminder Tuukka Rask, a resurgent offense and a strong work ethic, the Bruins eliminated the favored Buffalo Sabres in six games. Having struggled with injuries and offensive instability throughout most of this season, the Bruins seem to be recovering their winning mojo of a year ago.

Forwards David Krajci and Milan Lucic seem to be rounding back into form. Veterans Mark Recchi and Miroslav Satan lead by example, and they'll get play-making center Marc Savard back from injury for the second round. Still, the Bruins had a bad habit against the Sabres of giving up an early lead, something which could haunt them against a more determined foe.

Several factors led to the Flyers' stunning first-round upset of the heavily favored New Jersey Devils. Backup Brian Boucher outplayed Devils legend Martin Brodeur, his teammates did a fine job of neutralizing New Jersey's offense, and as a whole they simply outworked the Devils.

Making their achievement more notable was they accomplished it despite a lack of notable contributions from Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne, who were hobbled by injuries which could sideline them for most of the second round. If others don't step up to replace their offense, the Flyers could have trouble scoring. It also remains to be seen if Boucher is a one-round wonder.

This should be a very physical series but ultimately the Bruins are healthier and have superior goaltending depth, which should be more than enough to defeat the Flyers. Bruins in six.