THE CRAZY EIGHT

 

Playoff Preview - Round 2

Well all I have to say is that if Round 2 of this yearís Stanley Cup Playoffs is even half as intense as Round 1, we are in for a treat!!! Round 1 certainly wasnít without its share of surprises, as least as far as the East is concerned anyway!

Many folks have asked me, what happens now that the first round is over? Well, using the same seeding formula that was used to determine the matchups for the first round, the surviving teams are now reseeded 1-4 in each respective conference and the second round will essentially follow the same formula. 1st will play 4th, and 2nd will play 3rd.

In the West, all 4 top seeds advanced to Round 2. Detroit took 2 games to get it going against Vancouver, but once they did, there was no turning back. Colorado looked shaky, but they managed to make it through in 7 against Los Angeles. San Jose cruised to a 5 game shellacking of Phoenix. And St. Louis managed the same 5 game almost sweep against Chicago. I was expecting at least one upset in the west, but it didnít happen.

So what happens if a top seed is eliminated? In the case of the East, where both #1 Boston and #2 Philadelphia bowed out, using the same regular season standings, Carolina who was #3 will now assume #1. Since #8 Montreal advanced, they are still the lowest seed and play the Hurricanes in the next round. Toronto will now play Ottawa (again!). Got it?? Good.

With the top two seeds in Boston and Philadelphia gone, the East is essentially wide open. I wouldnít at all be surprised if we end up with an all Canadian Eastern Conference final.

If you were paying attention, youíll know that my predictions from the first round in some cases were right on the money, while others picked the right team to advance, while others picked the right amount of games. Overall, I was .500 in picking the winners and .500 in picking the right amount of games. The only one that I was dead on with is the Montreal series, I picked them in 6 and it happened. Not bad, considering that last year I predicted one series correctly in the first round (that was Los Angeles over Detroit)

Now, the matchups and predictions:

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

 

1st vs 4th Ė DETROIT vs ST. LOUIS

Goaltending looks extremely lopsided in this series on paper, but if you look at how both fared in the first round, this should be a dandy. You have Dominick Hasek for Detroit, who actually looked shaky early, but ended the series in his usual flip-flopping form. Brent Johnson, on the other hand, is playing the best hockey of his career, having shared a tie of the NHL record in playoff shutouts with Patrick Lalime of Ottawa with 3. There is no question that your goaltending has to be great to win in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and for both of these teams, they have it.

Unfortunately for St. Louis, the puck stops here. Like Vancouver, the Blues simply cannot matchup against the offensive firepower that the Red Wings have. Brett Hull was on fire in round one, having scored his first ever playoff hat trick. Look for that hot streak to continue in round two. Steve Yzerman is hurting (as usual) but still manages to be dominant. This is why he wears the C. Then you have "Lucky Luc" Robitaille, Brendan Shanahan, Chris Chelios. Those players alone can win a series. Most impressive in the first round, though, has been the play of rookie Pavel Datsyuk. He racked up 2 goals and 5 assists in his first ever taste of the NHLís postseason. Detroit will be firing on all cylinders, and it will take more than Doug Weight, Keith Tkachuk, Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger to stop them.

I mentioned before that Detroit is on a mission this year, and that mission will only be accomplished with a Stanley Cup victory. They survived a scare in the first round against Vancouver but they smartened up in a hurry. On the other hand, St. Louis is looking to get to the final four for the second straight season. Unfortunately they will have to qualify for the playoffs for a 30th straight season, next season. The Blues are in too deep with this matchup, and it hasnít even started yet.

Prediction: Red Wings in 5

2nd vs 3rd Ė COLORADO vs SAN JOSE

Well I had predicted that Colorado would bow out in 7 to Los Angeles, but then Patrick Roy pulled another miracle out of his helmet and shut out the Kings in game 7. The Avalanche finally got their entire lineup healthy for this one, and not a moment too soon, as they now will face another tough opponent in San Jose. Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg have not scored for 6 games, so look out! There is no way that these two will stay off the score sheet for long. They not only need these two guys to step up, but Alex Tanguay, Chris Drury and Milan Hejduk have to pot some goals as well. Rob Blake is solid as always on defense, and while Darius Kasparaitus is not Ray Bourque, he has been able to fill in for him quite nicely.

Owen Nolan, Mike Ricci, Vincent Damphousse, Niklas Sundstrom, Todd Harvey, and Teemu Selanne have all figured in the scoring for the Sharks in the first round. Add Patrick Marleauís team leading 3 goals and you have a balanced attack for San Jose. Evgeni Nabokov has shown us this season why he was the Calder Trophy winner last season.

Unfortunately for Nabokov, Patrick Roy is back in playoff form again, just when I thought he was done. If the Sharks are to have a hope of advancing to the final four for the first time, they will have to steal a game or two in Denver. I get the feeling that this is not going to happen. After all, the Avalanche are the defending champions. Home ice should be a big factor here. You have to wonder if Colorado can continue to play these gruelling 7 game series and still advance to the Stanley Cup Final series. Looks like they got their entire line-up healthy just in time, because theyíre going to need it!

Prediction: Avalanche in 7

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

3rd vs 8th Ė CAROLINA vs MONTREAL

How fitting is it that the first time the Habs make it to the second round since they last won the Stanley Cup in 1993 that they matchup against the team they beat in the first round that same year!? The Hurricanes of course are the former Hartford Whalers, a team that has never been able to beat Montreal; ever! They may have knocked off New Jersey, but they are now up against a force greater than the Hockey Gods themselves: The Forum Ghosts!!

I personally really like how Carolina played in round 1 against the Devils. I saw a comment somewhere that the Hurricanes team is like the Rodney Dangerfield of Hockey, meaning they get no respect. Well Iím pretty sure that they have gained a little bit of respect, and momentum from that first round win. Look out if any of the games in this upcoming series goes to overtime!! If Carolina is going to have any chance in this series, they need to duplicate their performance against New Jersey and multiply it by two! I have really liked the play of Eric Cole in the playoffs so far, not to mention the always fine play of Ron Francis and stellar goaltending from both Kevin Weekes and Arturs Irbe.

Are the Habs simply satisfied with having just won the first round? Absolutely not! Iíve always said that if Montreal is in the playoffs that you never count them out. Now that the Forum Ghosts finally seem to have come to call the Molson Center home, you could see some more magic in a city that has seen nothing but all season long. It isnít quite midnight yet for this Cinderella team. Whether you like this team or whether you hate this team, you have to agree that the stories surrounding their incredible run have been nothing short of amazing. I have six words for the Carolina Hurricanes: Saku Koivu, Doug Gilmour and Jose Theodore. Bring it on!!!

Prediction: Canadiens in 6

4th vs 7th Ė TORONTO vs OTTAWA

Here we go again, the Battle of Ontario!!! After managing to avoid each other in the first round for a 3rd straight season, they still manage to meet for a 3rd straight season, and you know what? Itís Payback time!!!

This time itís all about bragging rights. Forget about the Leafsí prior victories, this one is going to come down to which team has the most heart and which team is the most disciplined. I think the tables have turned this year. The Senators are healthy, the Leafs are not. This has been the opposite the last 2 times the two teams have met.

The Senators came out of nowhere and beat Philadelphia in 5 games. Had it not been for the dťjŗ vu overtime loss in Game 1, they could have made it through in a sweep. Aside from winning the round, I have noticed something different about Ottawa in the playoffs this year. They have confidence, they have grit, and they have pride in themselves. This is something that you can lose really quick when you lose in the first round 3 years in a row. This time however, it was time for the Sens to break on through.

Everybody talks about how the Flyers were one of the best teams in the east but were not able to execute. But letís be realistic here, Philadelphia lost the series because they couldnít score on a hot goalie! Not to mention that they lost their cool one too many times. Ottawa, on the other hand, kept their composure and were rewarded for it. Bill Barber got the axe in Philadelphia, just like Jacques Martin would have suffered a similar fate had the tables been turned.

Finally this year Ottawa was able to get that playoff monkey off their back. If the Senators can play this next series the way they played against the Flyers, they should be able to finally beat the Leafs. However, they will need to continue to keep their composure and they will need their physical play to continue. They will also have to win at the Air Canada Center, something they havenít been able to do in past seasons. But as I mentioned, forget about the past! The Leafs are missing several key players, most significantly their captain Mats Sundin. While the emotions from a hard fought 7 game series against the New York Islanders should help them out, they are simply too banged up to be able to compete with the speed, the grit, and the finesse that the Senators have displayed thus far. Not to mention that the Senators have had a few extra days of rest after winning their first round series early. They have had scoring from all four lines and the defensive corps have chipped in as well. Martin Havlat should have an emotional lift from having scored the overtime winner in game 5. Daniel Alfredsson is as fired up as Iíve ever seen him. And of course, Patrick Lalime is writing his own page in hockey history. In fact, so far he is reminding me of Bill Ranford from 1990. The Senators need his stellar play in net to continue. Jacques Martin said after winning the Philadelphia series that he has seen this team mature, and they will only get better as the playoffs proceed. One thing Iíd like to see the coach do is dress Bill Muckalt for at least one game. He is due to score in a big way. Perhaps they can alternate him with Jody Hull.

I know that everybody is hoping for a Toronto-Montreal conference final, but itís not going to happen. An Ottawa-Montreal matchup, however is definitely possible. Just remind me not to walk into a night club in Toronto (or Philadelphia for that matter!) wearing my Sens jersey!

Prediction: Senators in 6 (please?)

 

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