THE ELITE DO BATTLE

 

Before I get to my picks for round two, the moment youíve all been waiting for has arrived!  Here are the standings of the playoff pool, which you can still join by the way!  Donít forget there are bonus points for picking the correct teams to advance to the final as well as bonus points for picking the correct Stanley Cup winner.  I sent you all an E-mail detailing how I came up with the points.  The first round was full of surprises, so hats off to all of you.  As you can see, thereís a big dogfight happening, and itís far from over!

Hockey Pool Standings after Round 1

Rank Name Round 1 Round 2 Round 3 Round 4 Bonus Total
1 Pat B. 22         22
2 John L. 20         20
3 Tim 18         18
4 Puckin' Around 16         16
Frank M. 16         16
Gord M. 16         16
5 Alex M. 14         14
Kris S. 14         14
Stephular 14         14
6 Liz M. 12         12
Sean C. 12         12
7 Paul N. 6         6
8 Stu M. 4         4

Interested in joining the madness?  Send me an E-mail at puckin45@rogers.com with your Round 2 picks.  Thereís lots of hockey to be played and lots of time for somebody to emerge out of nowhere and win this thing, so bring it on folks, there are video games at stake here!  Letís break those ties, particularly the three way for fourth and fifth!

And now, my picks for Round 2:

Western Conference Semi-finals

#1 Dallas vs #7 Anaheim

Well, chalk up another win for Dallas in the ongoing rivalry between the Stars and the Oilers.  The Edmonton Oilers season was summed up perfectly in the first round: get a lead, watch it evaporate.  They are still a young team and if they can ever make it until the collective bargaining agreement is (hopefully) renewed next year, things could be different.  Look for a sixth Stanley Cup to end up in Edmonton before 2010, and remember where you heard it first.  If nothing else, give kudos to the fans in Edmonton for making Skyreach Centre one of the noisiest barns in the league.  The noise reached 113db during Game 6 when the Oilers tied the game up in the second period.  Just how loud you ask?  A jet engine can reach 120db!

In the meantime, stand up if you believed Anaheim could or would sweep the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings in the first round.  While some who watch the team all year long may have believed they could pull off the upset, nobody could have predicted what ensued in arguably one of the biggest playoff upsets of all time.  It all started with a triple overtime victory in game one, and the Ducks never looked back.  Giguere was absolutely outstanding in goal. 

As shocking as this was, there will be a new champion crowned in 2003.  Perhaps it will be somebody new to Stanley Cup glory, like maybe Anaheim?  You never know.  Just donít tell the Ducks midnight has come just yet.  After dethroning Detroit, anything is possible.

After a slow start to round one which had everyone in Edmonton believing they could pull off the upset, the Stars came back with a vengeance and ultimately decided the first round series in six games.  Look for more of the same in round two.  Bill Guerin and Pierre Turgeon will be welcome additions to the lineup, if theyíre healthy enough to play.  Mike Modano will be the center of attention as always.  Marty Turco now has a playoff round under his belt, so look for him to give the Ducks fits as they try to score.  Sergei Zubov leads all playoff defensemen in points, most of them on the power play.

For the Ducks to be successful, they donít need to change a thing.  They need to stay disciplined because the Stars power play will kill you in a hurry.  They need for Giguere to continue standing on his head.  Paul Kariya will need to continue leading the charge to the net.  Balanced scoring from all four lines will have to continue (just who is Jason Krog anyway?).  Maybe a lucky bounce here and there will help too.  Iím not expecting another sweep, but I am expecting another upset.  If the Oilers had been able to stay out of the penalty box, they would have beaten the Stars, plain and simple.  This Ducks team eliminated the defending Stanley Cup Champions in four straight games, and they are out to prove it wasnít a fluke.  This series will be a good one.  Look for Disneyland to prevail.

Prediction: Ducks in 6

#3 Vancouver vs #6 Minnesota

So let me get this straight.  Detroit won the Stanley Cup last year, now they are gone.  Colorado came within a game of advancing to the Stanley Cup finals, now they are gone.  Dallas didnít make the playoffs last year, yet are ranked number one in the west by one point.  So now, we have the fourth seed going up against the sixth seed, and we are in for a dandy.

The Wild team must be riding the biggest high of any of the remaining eight teams in the playoffs.  Here they are, in just their third year in the NHL, and they are in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  When you look at the roster and coaching staff, this shouldnít be surprising.  History will tell you, however, it shouldnít have been this way.  Youíre not supposed to be able to beat Patrick Roy at home in game seven.  Well guess what?  They may not supposed to here, but they are!  Only problem for Minnesota is, the Canucks and their scouts were watching this one right from the time they lost out on the Pacific Division title.  Brian Burke has gone on record as saying The Wild are a cult, not a hockey team.  ďThey have totally bought into their system.  They work hard and have excellent team speed.  Itís going to be a very, very difficult opponent for usĒ.

Vancouver is coming on at just the right time.  After a scare in round one, they managed to come back and win the series against St. Louis, and donít think for a second they arenít going to be ready for this one.  Dan Cloutier will need to continue where he left off in the first round.  The top line of Marcus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi and Brendan Morrison needs to remain consistent throughout.  The Sedin twins need to continue to come up with big plays.  Mattias Ohlund and Ed Jovanovski will need to stay healthy.

Minnesota seems to be simply enjoying their time back in the NHL.  They have a balanced attack which plays patient hockey and waits for the chance to make the opposing team look foolish for their mistakes.  They have a rising young star in Marian Gaborik.  They have players which have been shuffled around from other teams like Richard Park and Andrew Brunette, and they are now heralded as heroes for their overtime goals.  They have great goaltending in Manny Fernandez, and Dwayne Roloson can steal a game if needed.  The big factor is Jacques Lemaireís coaching style.  Some have said it is boring to watch, but it gets results.  Quite frankly, I didnít see anything boring about seeing the Avalanche, just two years removed from winning the Stanley Cup, go down in the first round.

Both of these teams battled back from a 3-1 series deficit to win their respective series in seven games.  It shouldnít surprise anyone if this series goes the distance.  Give the edge to the Canucks, as they play an absolutely brilliant game in their own rink.

Prediction: Canucks in 7

Eastern Conference Semi-finals

#1 Ottawa vs # 4 Philadelphia

So much for the ongoing theory of the West being the superior conference, as all four of the top seeds in the East advanced. 

Iím sure there are many folks in Ottawa who are very relieved to see the Senators play somebody different from Toronto this spring (and I'm one of them!).  I hear the Leaf fans now.  ďWell if you would play Toronto you wouldnít even be this farĒ.  Donít even go there.  The Leafs couldnít make it past the first round even after pushing it to the limit, so there.  Whoís laughing now?

This isnít to say the second round will be any easier.  Ottawa virtually swept the New York Islanders in round one.  If the Senators didnít sleep through game one it may very well have been over in four.  Granted, the team has had an opportunity to rest a long time while waiting to see who they would meet.  Whether the rest will help or hinder remains to be seen.

You could go so far as to say the Flyers won their series in nine games instead of seven, with three out of the seven games against Toronto needing overtime to solve.  Not just one overtime, but a total of  seven overtime periods were needed to decide three games.  Fatigue will definitely be a factor the longer this second round series goes.

Give the Senators full marks for coming out on top in the first round.  They didnít get the start they wanted, but were able to close it out at home and get a long rest.  What they will want to do is come out hard against the Philadelphia forecheck and defense and get an early lead in the first game and ultimately the series.  Ottawa simply needs to play their game, not get intimidated by the Flyers so called bullies, and capitalize on their power play chances.  While they ended round one with a good power play, it wasnít as sharp as it could have been throughout.  This will have to change.  The Sens need to keep rolling four lines.  They need continued scoring from Todd White, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, and Radek Bonk.  Daniel Alfredsson needs to start putting some in the net, although he did show a few sparks in the first round and led by example as every good captain should.  The defense corps of Zdeno Chara, Wade Redden, Chris Phillips, Karel Rachunek, and Curtis Leschyshyn, needs to stay healthy and keep an eye on their zone.  The grind line of Brian Smolinski, Shaun Van Allen and Vaclav Varada need to keep doing what they do best, get under Phillyís skin.

Jeremy Roenick said after round one he had a great deal of respect for the Toronto Maple Leafs organization and in particular wishes he could have a player like Darcy Tucker on his team.  Well I donít know if Roenick realizes this, but the Sens have more than Tie Domi and Darcy Tucker to mix it up in the corner.  Not only do they have the aforementioned grind line, but they also have Rob Ray, Jody Hull, Shane Hnidy, and Chris Neil to do the dirty work.  Need I also remind Roenick of ďthe hitĒ from Zdeno Chara in game four of last yearís first round series?  While we certainly canít compare this year to last, Ottawa has become a much stronger team than last year when they were able to take the Flyers in five games.  Philadelphia is coming out of a grueling, long, seven game series against a Toronto team which was nursing injuries.  If the Flyers have any hope in this series, they need to get their lines moving, not just Roenick, Leclair, Primeau, Gagne and Williams.  They need to get their defense going, not just Eric Desjardins with his yellow visor (apparently he needs it to see the puck).  Cechmanek is a great goalie, but Patrick Lalime of the Senators has proven to be better.

You can be sure if overtime is ever needed in this series, it wonít take as many overtime periods as were needed in the Toronto series.  When you look at the line match ups, the depth, the coaching, and even the conditioning of the players, Ottawa comes out on top in all aspects.  Of course, as I said before, the Senators will only go as far as the Senators believe they can go.  They can ill afford to look back on history and just play their game.  The most intriguing part of the series will be how the coaches Jacques Martin and Ken Hitchcock match up their lines.  Hitch went on record as saying not only does he have to contend with Martin, but ďthat darn Perry PearnĒ as well.  Letís not also forget, Roger Neilson is still alive and kicking and knows more about the Flyers than anybody who will be in the rink for Game One.

A wise man in Ottawa once said this Senators team will challenge for the Stanley Cup within 7-12 years of their existence.  If youíre keeping track, this is the Senatorsí 11th season.  Now itís time to let the boys on the ice decide if theyíre worthy.  I think they are.

Prediction: Senators in 6

#2 New Jersey vs #3 Tampa Bay

Has anybody else noticed there are no original six teams left over in this yearís playoffs?  Well we have possibly the next best thing.  Pat Burns coached three out of the six original six teams, and is trying to bring a Stanley Cup back to New Jersey.  Tampa Bay is out to prove they didnít win their first ever playoff series in vain.

Goaltending may appear lopsided in this series, but when you consider what Nikolai Khabibulin has accomplished this year in Tampa Bay, call it an even match.  Martin Brodeur definitely has a slight edge, but only if the top players for the Bolts donít get under his skin.  Vaclav Prospal was a member of an Ottawa Senators team which in 1998 took six games to get rid of then top seed New Jersey, and he knows full well how to play against Brodeur.  Ancient history, I can assure you.

With Prospal is a perfect top line of Martin St. Louis, who is riding a high after scoring the game six overtime winner against Washington.  Letís not forget Vincent Lecavalier, who is finally playing to his potential.  Dave Andreychuk has brought valuable leadership and was instrumental in helping the Washington series end in six games as opposed to seven.  New Jersey is saying they donít want to go out like they did against Carolina last season, but when you compare the Hurricanes of last year to this yearís Lightning team, the similarities are downright scary.

This, however, is where experience will prevail.  For some unknown reason, you have to lose in the NHL to be able to learn how to win.  Itís happened with each and every team to ever hoist the Stanley Cup, and if you look at the first round, in many cases has happened again.  Donít think for a minute the Devils arenít thinking about the first round embarrassment from last year.  They can feel confident over having won their first round series in five games and in getting a little bit of rest before round two.  Like Tampa, the Devils also have balanced scoring from players like Jamie Langenbrunner, Joe Nieuwendyk, John Madden, and have experienced defensemen in Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer.  Apparently, Sergei Brylin will be ready for round two to add to their already potent offense.  Patrik Elias, Scott Gomez, and Grant Marshall have also been offensive threats.  If the Devils can get rolling like they did against Boston, the Bolts have absolutely no chance in this series.

The biggest threat to the Senatorsí plans of winning the Eastern Conference lives in the swamps of East Rutherford, New Jersey.  If anybody thinks for one second this will be a repeat of Carolina-New Jersey from last year, they havenít watched the first round of the playoffs too closely.  Yes this is the NHL Playoffs, where anything can happen and usually does, but the Devils are having none of it. New Jersey will challenge Ottawa for the right to challenge for the Cup.  Believe it.

Prediction: Devils in 5

And there you have it folks, enjoy the games and remember to get your pool picks to me by Midnight Pacific Daylight Time on Sunday, April 27, 2003 (3AM EDT).  Donít be shy as thereís still lots of time to score points.

 

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