(1) Montreal Canadiens Vs. (6) Philadelphia Flyers– The key phrase for this matchup is “power play.” A large part of the Flyers’ success comes from the power play. They were ranked second in the league on the power play during the regular season, posting a 21.8% success rate with the man advantage. During the playoffs they are ranked sixth with a 22.2% success rate. The only team which had a better power play percentage during the regular season was none other than the Montreal Canadiens (24.2%), but oh how the mighty have fallen. The Canadiens have a 9.4% success rate on the power play so far this postseason. Montreal has only scored three times on the power play whereas Daniel Briere alone has scored four times for the Flyers. Briere has been one of the best players in the postseason thus far, scoring a league-leading 11 points and six goals.
Montreal goalie Carey Price might be able to cool down Briere’s scoring onslaught. Price has been a key component to the Canadiens winning. So far Price has posted a .925 save percentage to go along with 2.09 goals against average; both good for fifth among goalies. However, Price has shown inconsistency. With the Canadiens leading their previous series 3-1, Price got sloppy, letting in five goals in consecutive games; and they weren’t good goals by any means. He had only let in a total of fives goals in four games up until that point. Price rebounded in game seven, shutting out the Boston Bruins and regaining his confidence in net in the process. Either Briere or Price will have to cool down this series, and the way they’ve been playing, it is tough to say which one will. Briere has tons of experience and the Flyers seem to be clicking right now, whereas the Canadiens had trouble with a team they dominated all season in the first round. However, Montreal won the season series against the Flyers in decisive fashion, 4-0. Series Prediction: Montreal 4-3
(2) Pittsburgh Penguins Vs. (5) New York Rangers– Let me start by saying that I, once again, underestimated the Rangers’ playoff abilities. They proved me wrong, and I now believe that they really do belong where they are. That having been said, they have a tall order ahead of them. Pittsburgh is currently the best team in the playoffs. They demolished the defending Eastern Conference Champion Ottawa Senators in the first round series 4-0, outscoring the Sens 16-5 in the process. Sidney Crosby performed well in his first playoff series victory. When Mario Lemieux won his first playoff series, he finished with three goals and two assists; Crosby certainly outdid the great Lemieux, posting eight points (two goals, six assists). Evgeni Malkin put up seven points (two goals, five assists), while Marian Hossa and Ryan Malone each put up five points. But offense is not what won the series for the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury had quite a series for the Pens. Before the first round started, Pittsburgh was unsure as to who would start in net, Fleury who had just come off an injury, or Ty Conklin, who practically carried the team on his back during Fleury’s absence. Fleury got the nod to start the series and he did not disappoint; he posted a .955 save percentage and a 1.26 goals against average, both good for second among goaltenders.
The Rangers got some help in some expected, as well as unexpected, places to march past the Devils in the first round. Jaromir Jagr finally found his legs and put up a team-leading eight points (two goals, six assists) in the first round. Scott Gomez put up three goals and four assists as well. But the unexpected help came from rookie Brandon Dubinsky who scored three goals and dished out three assists as well. Dubinsky only had 40 points during his rookie campaign, but has come to life during the playoffs. New York was 5-3 against the Penguins during the regular season, while Pittsburgh was 3-3-2. If the Rangers were playing any other team in the league, I might pick them to win. But right now they are playing a team that looks like they could easily win the Cup. Sorry Rangers’ fans. Series Prediction: Pittsburgh 4-2
(1) Detroit Red Wings Vs. (6) Colorado Avalanche– This matchup reminds of the late 90s’ battles between these two teams (remember the 1997 brawl between these two teams? Mike Vernon dropping the gloves against the great Patrick Roy? I sure do). Detroit and Colorado haven’t seen each other in the playoffs since the 2001-02 season in the Western Conference Finals, which Detroit won 4-3 on their way to becoming Stanley Cup Champs. Joe Sakic versus Nick Lidstrom, Peter Forsberg versus Chris Osgood, this is going to be a fun series to watch. Sakic reminded everyone why he is called “Captain Clutch” in the playoffs, posting six points (two goals, four assists) in the first round, including a game-winning goal in the first game just ten minutes into overtime. But Colorado goalie Jose Theodore stole the stage in the last three games of the series. With the Avalanche trailing 2-1 in the series against Minnesota, Theodore let in just four goals in the final three games on a total of 100 shots. The former MVP has regained his form and looks unstoppable in net, but if any team can take him down, it is the Red Wings.
After the Wings jumped out to a 2-0 series lead over the Nashville Predators, starting goalie Dominik Hasek fell apart, letting in seven goals on just 42 shots. He was pulled during the middle of game four and replaced by Osgood, who went on to single-handedly win the series against Nashville. Osgood finished the series by stopping 53 of 54 shots, leading Detroit into the second round. Henrik Zetterberg, who spent a majority of the season near the top of the scoring list, has fizzled in the playoffs, putting up just four points (two goals, two assists) in the first round. Probable Norris Trophy-winner Nick Lidstrom also slowed his production, putting up just two goals and one assist. However, Lidstrom is averaging an astounding 27:12 of ice time per game. Detroit won the season series against Colorado 4-0, outscoring them by a total score of 11-2. This series is going to come down to the goalies. Nothing would make me happier than to see Sakic and the Avalanche win this series, but Detroit has about thirty seasons of playoff experience in net. Series Prediction: Detroit 4-2
(2) San Jose Sharks Vs. (5) Dallas Stars– For a team that finished the regular season 18-2-2, the Sharks didn’t look all that impressive in their seven-game series win against Calgary. Meanwhile, the Stars ran through the defending Stanley Cup Champion Anaheim Ducks in six games. San Jose was led through the first round by…Ryane Clowe? Clowe scored just eight points in a measly 15 games during the regular season, and already he has four goals and four assists in seven playoff games. Joe Pavelski also surprised the Sharks by putting up seven points in their first round victory, after only posting 40 points during his sophomore campaign. Former MVP Joe Thornton also scored seven points for San Jose (two goals, five assists). Vezina trophy-nominee Evgeni Nabakov was less than stellar in net, posting a .895 save percentage, which is 15th among the 17 first round goalies.