And now we're down to four. While a San Jose - Chicago final is no surprise, no one would have ever predicted that the seventh place Flyers and the eighth place Canadiens would be the two Eastern Conference finalists. And yet, here we are.
So, here are my predictions for the third round. As with the previous two rounds, get your own predictions in and the winner gets bragging rights and a blog post for the final.
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Montreal Canadiens
Montreal was the serious underdog against Washington, and they were again against Pittsburgh. Oddly enough, taking down those two teams may have made them the favourites against a team that was, at the beginning of the season, predicted to go all the way.
Montreal is actually less banged-up than Philadelphia at this point. Down for the Flyers are Jeff Carter, Ian Laperriere, Ray Emery and Brian Boucher. That hurts them - Michael Leighton has been playing well but to be without Carter and Laperriere robs them of a top scorer and a heart-and-soul player.
Montreal is without Andrei Markov (and Paul Mara), but there is word that Markov could be back before the end of the series. Montreal defeated the defending Stanley Cup champions without Markov, so maybe it doesn't hurt them as much as that.
Clearly, Jaroslav Halak > Michael Leighton. Halak is the reason that Montreal has gotten as far as they have. But Philadelphia's defense is bigger and stronger than Montreal's, and the Canadiens' small forwards could have some trouble with them. Some have commented, though, that Philadelphia is virtually playing with only four defensemen, with their top guys logging 30 minutes apiece. They can't do that forever.
And as for their offense, Montreal has Michael Cammalleri and his 12 goals. Philadelphia doesn't have anyone who is on a roll like that, and Montreal has been getting scoring from all its lines.
Montreal has overcome much more than Philadelphia has to get where they are, and after two long series they are the ones who got the extra day off. I think Halak will continue to play great, Cammalleri will continue to be opportunist, and the dream won't end here.
Montreal in seven.
San Jose Sharks vs. Chicago Blackhawks
I haven't followed this series as closely, so I don't have as much to say about it. The Sharks are without injury, as are the Blackhawks. So these teams have full complements.
The Sharks' defense corps isn't playing very well, however, and Evgeni Nabokov has been struggling. But Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, and Joe Thornton are finally playing up to their abilities.
Chicago is playing much better at this point, with Dustin Byfuglien, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Sharp on a roll. Duncan Keith, Brian Campbell, and Brent Seabrook are playing great. Antti Niemi has answered the questions about his play, and while a rookie can always fall apart in the playoffs, Nabokov isn't exactly money in the bank.
Despite how young Chicago is, they are actually the more experienced - they were here last year. San Jose has the pressure on them, we all expect them to choke sooner or later. Chicago is a better team than they were last year, and I hate San Jose.
Chicago in six.
That leaves us with a Montreal Canadiens vs. Chicago Blackhawks series. An Original Six Final!
Get your predictions in soon, because the San Jose vs. Chicago game starts at 3pm.