2004 STANLEY CUP
PLAYOFFS - ROUND 2 PREVIEW
said some very good teams would be going home early, but I never imagined what
transpired in the first round. Vancouver,
Ottawa, and the defending champs
New Jersey, are all done for the
2003-2004 season. Last season was described as a testament to expansion. This
season and so far the playoffs can only be described as weird, and we havenít
even made it to the final four yet.
would be unsportsmanlike of me to throw in the towel altogether, but quite
frankly, I give up trying to predict whatís going to happen, so Iíll give
you some insight on the eight series we have ready to go for the second round,
and then Iíll flip a coin and decide. Surely I canít do much worse than I did
for the first round, so here goes nothing.
Bay (46-22-8-6) vs #7 Montreal
Season Series: Tie (2-2-0-0)
first round just wouldnít have been the same without a couple of series to go
all the way to seven games, and this time around we had three, all resulting in
Canadian teams advancing. You can now make it 23-7 for Montreal lifetime
against Boston in the playoffs, with the Bruins going down to the Habs twice in
the past three years. Just in case you have the idea Montreal pulled off an
upset, consider this: out of the 7 times Boston has won the storied original
six battle, Boston has only ever won two of them in a seventh and deciding
game. What makes the win for the Canadiens even more remarkable and
unbelievable is the fact theyíve never in their history come back to win a
series after being down 3-1, until now. Are the Habs back? Fans in Montreal
would like to think so!
Canadiens will now face almost a mirror image of themselves. There are players
on this Tampa Bay team who probably would be
better suited putting on the blue, red, and white, yet are making a name for
themselves in Florida just the same. Of course Iím talking about Vincent
Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. St. Louis has already won the Art Ross trophy
and heís also a finalist for the Hart trophy. Letís make one more prediction
here. If Tampa Bay makes it to the Stanley Cup
Finals, look for him to be a candidate for the Conn Smythe trophy as well, but
letís not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet.
Bolts had a fairly easy go of things in the first round; dispatching a listless
New York Islanders team in five games, with three of their four wins resulting
in shutouts. Theyíll need the impeccable goaltending of both Nikolai Khabibulin
and John Grahame to continue if they have any hope in this series, because at
the other end of the ice is none other than ďthe next Patrick RoyĒ, Jose
Theodore. Brad Richards and Fredrik Modin stepped up in a big way for Tampa Bay, and can be expected to
bring it all to the table in round two. Lecavalier as well as Cory Stillman
were fairly cold, yet could break out of their scoring rut anytime.
had a very rough start in their first round series against Boston, but like many
of their counterparts in the past, they got it together when it counted most.
Some will blame Joe Thorntonís injury, others will blame the inexperience of
Andrew Raycroft, others will even bring the old ďForum GhostsĒ story into it,
but what I witnessed was a Habs team who rose to the occasion and made it
happen. It wasnít from a lack of trying, either team could have won Game 7, yet
for all intents and purposes the series probably should never have even gone
there. Most everyone (myself included) had the Habs all but buried after Alex
Kovalev coughed up the puck to allow Glen Murray to score in overtime in Game 4,
but Kovalev made up for this in a big way, figuring in more than half of the
scoring for Montreal between Game 5 and 7. The line of Saku Koivu, Richard
Zednik and Kovalev was on fire and the Lightning will have to find a way to
contain them. Dave Andreychuk and Tim Taylor will help, but while theyíre busy
with the top line, theyíll have to also watch out for Calder trophy candidate
Michael Ryder, who was all but invisible in the first round. After seeing him
put up big numbers all year long, heís due for a playoff breakout. Letís not
also forget about Jan Bulis, and proven playoff performer Joe Juneau. If Juneau
could ever get on the board, look out.
the Lightning has Dan Boyle, Pavel Kubina and Darryl Sydor who will match up
nicely against Craig Rivet, Sheldon Souray and Patrice Brisebois. Both teams
can and will showcase a lot of talent up front and as a result we should see a
lot of open ice back and forth, as both teams like to play with an offensive
edge, and only trap when protecting a lead.
paper, this series for the most part will be dead even as both teams split the
season series against each other, but as we know, regular season standings and
stats mean nothing now (just ask the teams who are out). The power play for
Montreal, however, was better than Tampaís in both the season series and in the
first round, which will make special teams very important on both ends.
Montrealís rich playoff history
and their seemingly return to tradition attitude, this one should be a no
brainer, but weíll see. If you believe in karma, you must believe the Habs can
win this series.
Canadiens in 6
#3 Philadelphia (40-21-15-6) vs #4 Toronto
Season Series: Advantage Philadelphia (3-1-0-0)
and Philadelphia both have something in common,
they both took care of one of last yearís Eastern Conference finalists in the
first round, and now meet each other in a rematch of their own.
Battles of Ontario, four times victorious for Toronto, although this time around
it was closer than the scores indicated. The beloved or hated Leafs (depending
on where you live) once again had Ottawaís number and now move on to face the
team who ended their season a year ago. Ottawa fans are once again bitter over
losing to their hated archrivals, but lets be honest here. One of the teams had
to win. Thatís playoff hockey. Unfortunately since this is the fourth time in
five years the Sens havenít been able to beat Toronto in the postseason,
inevitable change ensues. Fans will see a very different Ottawa team next time
we have NHL hockey. Theyíll have a new head coach, for starters, as Jacques
Martin along with assistant coach Don Jackson and goaltending coach Phil Myre
all got handed pink slips within 48 hours of the series loss. Donít be
surprised either to see a shakeup or two on the roster, perhaps a new face in
goal, even if it happens to be Ray Emery. A very interesting summer is already
underway in Ottawa.
Toronto thinks they can coast
downhill armed only with Ed Belfourís heroics, theyíve got another thing
coming. A goaltender canít be expected to stop over 35 shots every game and
win, yet this is exactly what he did against Ottawa. Can he duplicate the
feat? Donít bet on it. The good news is the Leafs should be able to bring in
some healthy reinforcements, as Mats Sundin and Owen Nolan both could return
before the series is half over. It appears Nolanís knee sprain wonít require
surgery and is getting better every day. Sundin will be back by Game 2 or 3 as
both teams will get an extra dayís break between the first three games.
took matters into their own hands in round one and sent the defending champion
New Jersey Devils straight into hell without even so much as a fire
extinguisher, and they did it with Robert Esche in net. He will need to
continue standing on his head, because at the other end is a recently turned 39
year old Belfour who is playing the best Iíve ever seen him play, ever, the 1999
Stanley Cup with Dallas considered. Philly has a backup plan, however, and his
name is Sean Burke. Whoever said the Flyers donít have goaltending probably
still think Ron Hextall is playing.
defense, the Flyers have Kim Johnsson, Vladimir Malakhov and Danny Markov, and
the Leafs have Brian Leetch, Brian Marchment and Brian McCabe. Losing Eric
Desjardins to the injured list was a huge blow for Philly, but youíd never say
it based on their first round results. When you have as explosive an
offense as the Flyers have, why would you worry about defense anyway?
expect the puck will most likely be in the opposition end more often than not.
Iíve been very impressed with Phillyís relentless fore checking as they send in
the top lines of Jeremy Roenick, Tony Amonte, Alexei Zhamnov, Keith Primeau,
Sami Kapanen and Simon Gagne. Seasoned veterans like Mark Recchi, Michal
Handzus and John LeClair have figured in the score as well, but just imagine
what can happen if they can get it going full tilt. Eric who?
defend against all these weapons, Toronto has Gary Roberts, Joe Nieuwendyk,
Darcy Tucker, and if they get healthy Mats Sundin and Owen Nolan. Tie Domi is
another player whoís had a tremendous year, as hard to believe as it may seem.
Domi has so far figured in on two game winning goals and always seems to be
crashing the net. Matt Stajan and Alex Ponakarovsky bring much needed youth.
If the Leafs can get Alex Mogilny and Mikael Renberg going it will be a boost,
but will it be enough for this always resilient squad?
the regular season, Philly dominated Toronto in three straight games until the
Leafs finally squeaked out a narrow 3-2 win. Some say the difference there was
the acquisition of Leetch, and they may be right. You have to wonder though how
much emotion the Flyers are riding on after eliminating the defending champs.
They seem to have learned from their mistakes in the past and seem poised to
take the Eastern Conference by storm. Then again, 1967 is still in the back of
everyoneís mind in Hogtown.
had home ice advantage in their game seven from round one, and the seventh man
seemed to do wonders for them, but now Philadelphia will have the advantage, not
to mention a long rest. Donít expect a different result from last year, Belfour
has been great, but the Flyers are bigger, stronger, faster, and seem to be more
determined than the Senators. Sure, Nieuwendyk and Belfour are familiar with
the Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock, but what does it matter? The Leafs will
simply run out of gas, if they havenít already.
Flyers in 7
#1 Detroit (48-21-11-2) vs #6 Calgary (42-30-7-3)
Season Series: Advantage Detroit (3-1-0-0)
really took it on the chin from Flames fans over my prediction for Vancouver to
advance in seven games. Well at least I got the number of games right. Make no
mistake, both teams played an excellent series, the absolute best series of
round one, and itís a shame one of them had to lose so early in the playoffs.
Game 6 represented what hockey is all about, and I challenge anyone to say
hockey is boring after watching it. In case you happen to be one of the
unfortunate souls who missed it, Vancouver jumped out to an early 4-0 lead,
which Calgary reduced to 4-2 by the end of the second period. Another goal
early in the third along with the tying goal halfway through and the Pengrowth
Saddledome almost lost its roof. Youíve heard of the Miracle on Manchester (LA
Kings erase a 5-0 deficit to win in OT vs Edmonton)? Well the Flames almost
wrote their own miracle into the books. The game itself was capped off by a
terrific overtime, and then a second overtime. It was a real shame Calgary
ended up losing the game in the third overtime, but based on the effort in Game
7 are truly deserving of being here today after a hard fought series.
must have felt a sense of dťjŗ vu after the second period of Game 1 versus
Nashville, and no doubt heard
mention of Anaheim. Well, they snapped out of it in a hurry and took a 2-0
series lead into the Music City four days later, only to
watch it evaporate. Enter Curtis Joseph and two solid wins to clinch the series
in six games. Yes, you did hear a sigh of relief all the way across Lake
Michigan, and the whimper you heard? It was a bunch of octopi. Nothing comes
easy in Motown.
Wings have a few explosive forwards who really brought it to the forefront in
the first round. This savvy group of veterans just seems to have even a
psychological advantage over most of their opponents. This comes with
experience, which the Flames simply donít have, yet youíd never say it after the
first round against Vancouver. If Calgary is nervous about going up against
Hockey Town, they arenít showing it.
Detroit, Brendan Shanahan along with Brett Hull and game breaker Robert Lang led
the way with double digit shots on goal, and was the difference against the
pesky Predators. The defense was good, but not outstanding, as they shot blanks
on the power play for the most part. It just seemed like another day at the
office for the Wings, in a series they were expected to win and did. The
biggest question mark going forward will be goaltending, Legace or Joseph? Both
have been shaky but at the end of the day have done the job, which is all you
can ask for. Unfortunately experience just canít be taught.
Flames are a confident bunch and are playing with a lot of grit and heart,
exactly what you need this time of year. Jarome Iginla has never played better,
and is finally getting the chance to prove heís an elite player. The Gold Medal
he won in Salt Lake City with a few players on the opposing team canít hurt his
confidence either. The defensive pairing of Jordan Leopold and Robyn Regehr
held the fort in front of Miikka Kiprusoff. The timely veteran Martin Gelinas
scored yet another series OT clincher.
you Calgary fans get on me again, you really had to wonder from the outset of
the playoffs if Iginla could solely lead this team past the mighty Wings. Well,
heís answered the bell in a big way. If Kipper can continue to put forth an
effort of J.S. Giguere proportions you never know. You know Calgary will give
it their all. For Detroit, this will be the last chance for many on the team to
go all the way one last time, but they have to step it up another level if they
expect to advance. May the best team win.
Red Wings in 7
#2 San Jose (43-21-12-6) vs #4 Colorado
Season Series: Advantage Colorado (2-1-1-0)
most intriguing story coming out of the first round is not the Sharks advancing
to the second round, but the whole story surrounding Mike Danton of the St.
Louis Blues. Weíre talking a plot of O.J. Simpson proportions here, so weíll
save it for another day. Right now we have a series to talk about.
eliminated Dallas fairly easily in the first round, winning all of their home
games to send the Stars to the country club. If they have a problem with
goaltending, it certainly didnít show in round one. As for Dallas, Iím sure
they watched Ed Belfour with great interest and are now wondering how they ever
let him sign in Toronto. Then again, Dallas didnít really have much of an
attack, they played right into the Avalancheís system, and of course, Marty
Turco didnít get it done, in fact was downright brutal.
Sharks are a much different team than Dallas. Thereís a reason why they
finished first in their division and second in the conference, they can score
almost at will. They get into the areas of the zone you need to be and are
relentless on the fore check. If any team can exploit the vulnerabilities of
Colorado goaltender David Aebischer, itís San Jose. They shoot from everywhere,
and have players who can put the puck in the net, starting with the top line of
Jonathan Cheechoo, Scott Thornton and Mike Ricci. Patrick Marleau continued
where he left off in the regular season, scoring a hat trick in Game 2. Vincent
Damphousse seems to be having more fun than heís ever had, which is big trouble
for the Avs.
defensive corps for San Jose can also jump into the attack, not only on the
power play, but even strength. All six defensemen scored at least a point in
the first round, and had the St. Louis Blues skating around in circles rather
than back and forth. Evgeni Nabokov is the main reason San Jose was able to let
Miikka Kiprusoff get away to Calgary, he is in the zone more often than not.
evenly matched, the Avalanche have many great scorers as well. Joe Sakic, Peter
Forsberg, Teemu Selanne, Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay all figured in the
scoring against Dallas. Rob Blake and Adam Foote continued to stand tall.
This will need to continue.
holds the edge all time against the Sharks in the playoffs, but thereís a big
difference between past series and now. His name is Patrick Roy, and he no
longer plays for the Avalanche. While Iím expecting a long series, this time
the tables are turned as San Jose has the home ice this time, where theyíve
dominated all season long and all through round one. The Sharks just donít seem
content to win a round; theyíre looking for a spot in the final four, and just
might get it.
Sharks in 7
approach the halfway mark of the playoffs, donít forget to keep on top of the
scores and stats from our playoff hockey pool. All the essential links are to
your left. See you next round.