After an exciting and unpredictable First Round, the NHL takes Wednesday off to prep for the Stanley Cup Semi-Finals. I was 4-4 with the Flyers and Stars the upset winners, from my predictions anyway.
The Dallas and Philly fan bases both went nuts upon their long-awaited first round wins. Both looked stronger than expected and the relief of winning an early series encourages big momentum into the next phase. The Ranger and Avalanche victories were toss-ups (I lost them both) but prove a balanced attack and veteran leadership goes a long way in the post-season. Montreal and San Jose worked harder than expected to get past their opponents, but may be building confidence at the right time. Or, they may both be exhausted from their Game 7 wins.
The quote machine all says the same thing "that was the first step toward the big goal. They've all won four games but need twelve more wins to hoist the cup. A look at what's next.
1 MTL vs. 4 PHI In what should have been a lesser series, Boston took Montreal to the limits in a seven game thriller. The Habs speed and offense got highlighted in three games, while some spotty defense and a big gamble on a goaltender almost got them in the middle of the series when they lost three of four. Typical of the speedy, goal scoring machine they were all season, Montreal came back with a vengeance to shut the Bruins down 5-0 in Game 7, no easy task. Philly remains a mystery to me. I expected them to be slow, uneven and poor on special teams, but they held their own and won outright. Many want to blame the Caps late season run for exhausting their team, but the Flyers were gritty wining early and, more importantly, in overtime. The game seven winner provides a morale boost, but may take a physical and emotional toll if this goes long. Trouble is, the did little to stop Ovechkin, a fast skater with great scoring touch. The Canadiens have a few guys like that - not as great as he is - but good, speedy guys that can give the Flyers trouble. The Price-Brion match up in net is interesting as neither was outstanding, but both proved worthy of this round. I expect "new NHL" roster to prevail over the "old school" one unless the Flyers can keep scoring four plus goals a game. Montreal in 6
2 PIT vs. 3 NYR The Penguins are the most rested team in the playoffs, having swept Ottawa in four scrimmages. AS trite as it sounds, this could go either way for Crosby and his team mates. The Senators never offered a challenge and the best news for the Pens is that the Rangers won in five. Both teams should be well rested and were healthy before we got here. Pittsburgh must be raring to go as the number one seed, but their regular season play against New York was less than stellar with the Rangers taking a 5-3 edge. It's a new season now, and the Penguins should move past that quickly and crank up their offense to match Fleury's outstanding goal-tending. His 1.26 GAA leads all tenders with five or more games. The guy in front of him are limiting shots, creating turnovers and letting the offense run away. Good strategy. With Drury, Gomez, Jagr and Shanahan, the Rangers have a solid veteran core that could get hem far. Henrik Lundqvist is a good as they get in net and backs a solid if not young defensive group. I think this one will be entertaining, tense and dramatic. On a whim, I'm picking the upset on a late Drury goal, some oddball play (probably by Sean Avery) and at least one OT, maybe three. New York in 7
1 DET vs. 4 COL Well, well, back again. Red Wings win President's trophy and advance to second round without too much trouble once they switched goalies, anyway. Avalanche quietly get into the playoffs, play solid, tough, straight up hockey and beat a surging team on the strength of their goalie. Sounds a lot like 1999-2002. Oddly, the player names do too. This time it's Jose Theodore in net, tops in the West in the first round but Sakic, Foote and Forsberg are all around, again. Detroit is full of the familiar as well - Chelios, Draper, Holmstrom, Lidstrom Osgood - so the rivalry and the match-ups are well known. In the numbers, these two are almost identical and are tied for team scoring after the first round. Both have leaders, both have talent, both have experience, both have been here before, against one another. The Red Wings seem to be the choice here, but I like the underdog as the President's Trophy jinx continues for Detroit. Colorado in 7
2 SJS vs. 3 DAL The Sharks escaped a Calgary team that barely made the playoffs. All but one were one-goal games and the needed a semi-retired forward to help them get that done. Names like Marleau, Cheechoo and Thornton were quiet other than the dramatic Game 5 comeback. Nabokov is in the middle of the goalie pack, the special teams fell flat and of the remain teams they're last in team scoring. Not a great start for the number two seed. Dallas, on the other hand, stormed out of the gate, took two games on power play domination and the sped past the defending champs to shake the proverbial monkey off their backs. Turco was OK and cannot allow any soft goals from here on out. The Stars offense went away late in the year, but in they're third in totals right now. Despite the opposites of these two, the rivalry runs deep and you never really know what might happen. Dallas will miss Boucher and Zubov against the San Jose forwards and JR's magic can work at anytime. If the youthful spark Dallas and special teams play continue they could be dangerous for a long time. Dallas in 6