Semifinal picks for the East 

April, 29, 2011

After nine straight nights of playoff overtime, the second round opened with something of a thud. The Vancouver Canucks beat the Nashville Predators 1-0 in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal. I'm certainly hoping that series heats up as we go along. The Predators didn't have much jump, particularly in the first two periods. They'd better get their act together quickly, or their first trip to the second round will be a short one.

Two more series are opening tonight, while the Bruins and Flyers will get under way on Saturday afternoon. As promised Thursday, here's my pre-series look at the East:

Washington Capitals (1) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (5)
Regular-season series: Capitals won, 4-1-1

These Southeast Division rivals should know each other pretty well, having met six times in the regular season. In considering this playoff series, I'd toss out their first two games, played back in November. The Capitals rolled over the Bolts in both games, winning by a combined score of 12-3. Since then, the teams have made some significant strategic and/or personnel changes.

The teams split their last four meetings, with two going to overtime or shootout.

While both the Caps and Bolts have some ultra-dynamic offensive weapons, they've chosen to follow a conservative plan. And, at this point, I don't think we can argue with success.

For me, this series might hinge on the ability of the Capitals' forwards to challenge a Lightning defense that doesn't have terrific speed or quickness. The Pittsburgh Penguins, without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, were unable to consistently pressure that group in their first-round series. The Capitals should be able to make more of a dent.

E.J. Hradek

Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
E.J. Hradek is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, joining the staff prior to its launch in 1998. He began covering hockey as a writer/editor for Hockey Illustrated in 1989.