(4) Pittsburgh vs Carolina (6)
That the Penguins-Capitals series went seven games was hardly surprising. What was surprising was the degree in which the Penguins outplayed the Capitals.
The Penguins outplayed the Capitals in at least five of the seven games, and had the edge in shots in all seven. The aggregate shots for the series were 256-180 in favor of Pittsburgh. It's not often that one team manages to outshot the other so decidedly over the course of a best of seven series. When it does happen, there can be no doubt as to which of the two teams was better, especially when the outshooting team is also the victor.
The Capitals had no difficulty at all in outshooting the opposition over the course of the regular season, and the fact that they were so visibly outplayed calls for an explanation. I'm not sure whether Washington played extremely poorly or Pittsburgh played extremely well. It's likely that both are true to some degree. In any event, the Penguins were clearly the better team and deserved to win.
I've written about Boston at length on this blog and frequent readers are well acquainted with my thoughts on the team. At the risk of belaboring the point, I'll keep my comments brief.
The Bruins are a reasonably good team that were eliminated by another reasonably good team. Some people have commented that the Bruins picked the wrong time of year to play their worst hockey, but I don't think that's accurate at all. The Bruins were trading scoring chances with the opposition all season long, yet came out ahead on the basis of strong goaltending and luck. Against Carolina, the Bruins again traded scoring chances in an entertaining and evenly-matched affair. They did not play poorly. The difference was that, unlike during the regular season, they didn't receive an undue share of the bounces. It's as simple as that.
It's funny -- if you asked the average hockey fan which of the two Eastern series' went according to expectation, and which of the two did not, they'd likely identify Pittsburgh-Washington as the former, and Carolina-Boston as the latter. I couldn't disagree more.
As for the series in question, I'm forced to go with the Penguins. The Penguins, as I mentioned earlier, were very impressive against the Capitals. If they play even somewhat similar against the Hurricanes, they should advance. Carolina, having defeated two quality opponents, is obviously a good team, and I don't anticipate that this will be an easy series for the Penguins. At the same time, I don't see them losing.
Pens in 6.