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NHL playoffs: Conference semifinal predictions

Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth, the Czech Republic,

Washington Capitals goalie Michal Neuvirth, the Czech Republic, stops a shot by New York Rangers center Derek Stepan during the third period. (April 23, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

EASTERN CONFERENCE

CAPITALS vs. LIGHTNING: It's the rest vs. roll theory put to the test. The Caps have been practicing and waiting since Saturday after beating the Rangers in five games; the Lightning have some momentum after rallying from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Penguins in seven. The Caps played a stronger defensive game than most thought they could in allowing only seven Ranger goals, but they will be facing a much better set of forwards this round. Tampa's got skill at the top and a bottom five group of forwards, featuring ex-Rangers and Isles like Dominic Moore, Sean Bergenheim and Nate Thompson, who can contain the Caps' skill guys. Tampa's defense is a little shakier than the Rangers', but Dwayne Roloson (another ex-Isle, of course) was superb and looks ready to steal a game or two. This group of Caps players still hasn't been to a conference final, and the wait continues. LIGHTNING IN 6.

FLYERS vs. BRUINS: Philly managed to get past Buffalo despite using three goaltenders. It appears Brian Boucher will start this one, but that only means there's no chance he'll be there once the series gets tight. Give Peter Laviolette and his team of superb skaters credit for overcoming the goaltending woes, but they will be facing one of the best defensive teams in the league instead of the young, gambling Sabres. Boston had some lapses against the Canadiens, most notably in discipline, but the Flyers are a feisty bunch as well, so I doubt the Bs will go overboard. Boston does have to sweep away the ghosts of last season's conference final meltdown to the Flyers, and I think they will. BRUINS IN 5.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

CANUCKS vs. PREDATORS: Kudos to Barry Trotz and the no-name Preds for winning a playoff series for the first time in their history. Their reward is a Canucks team that came awfully close to the biggest choke in the expansion era. Whether that helps Vancouver going forward, no one knows; what should help them is Roberto Luongo reestablishing himself in Game 7 against the Hawks and some secondary scoring from Alex Burrows. Nashville has the defensive system to keep the Sedin twins quiet, but do the Preds have the offense to counter what Vancouver brings? Doubtful. CANUCKS IN 6.

RED WINGS vs. SHARKS: Not exactly a hallowed rivalry, but these teams have had some memorable meetings before, including a five-game Sharks rout in the conference semis last season. The Sharks rode a roller-coaster in the opening round win over the Kings and still need to shore up their own zone and their goaltending. Detroit swept past the Coyotes behind the brilliant Pavel Datsyuk and some ageless wonders on defense (Nick Lidstrom, Brian Rafalski). The Wings have all the mojo here. WINGS IN 5.

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