those of you who missed NHL Hockey as much as I did last season, the first
round of the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs certainly wasn’t without its share of
long lasting memorable moments. The Brian Campbell hit on R.J. Umberger. Tim
Taylor stating he threw out the puck the Ottawa Senators wanted to give to Ray
Emery for his first playoff victory, only to give it back during the ceremonial
handshake. Martin Havlat’s seemingly uncanny ability to score at will. Ditto
for Patrick Elias. Joe Sakic’s return from what seemed a disappearing act.
Jarome Iginla going toe to toe with Francois Beauchemin, twice. Scott
Niedermayer pulling a Bobby Orr trick out his helmet and scoring the winning
goal in game 6 to force a 7th game, and then helping the Ducks win it too. The
image of Brendan Witt leaking blood from his nostrils due to a high sticking
infraction the referees missed. More seriously, the missed Justin Williams high
stick which sent Saku Koivu to the hospital. The New York Rangers raising their
sticks to salute the crowd after being swept aside in 4 straight courtesy of
their close rivals from New Jersey. Cam Ward winning four straight playoff
games and Cristobal Huet uncharacteristically letting in a 50 foot goal to end
the Habs season. Ales Hemsky’s highlight series winning goal, and Steve
Yzerman’s possible final skate off the ice.
Stanley Cup Playoff hockey – it doesn’t get much better than this folks, and
we’re just getting started!!
all the first round opening series, I didn’t do too badly in my
predictions. I called two of the series exactly, with the rest either getting
the right team or the right number of games. Had Calgary co-operated I would
have had three out of eight right, not to mention a Western 3rd vs 8th
Showdown. Unfortunately we’ll have to wait at least until October for the
Battle of Alberta to reconvene.
happened to Dallas? What happened to Philadelphia? What happened to the
New York Rangers? Are the Nashville Predators really that small? As good as
he’s been statistically, can Calgary ever win a Game 7 with Miika Kiprusoff in
enough - on to bigger and better things.
the top four seeds in the East advance, while the bottom four seeds in the
West advance. If you would have told me the division winners in the West would
all go down in the first round, I never would have believed it, yet here we
all makes for a very interesting second round. Let’s go!
San Jose Sharks (44-27-11) vs # 8 Edmonton Oilers (41-28-13)
Season Series: Advantage Edmonton 3-1
Unless you’re an Edmonton Oilers fan and/or have watched all 88 of their
games so far this year, you were probably wondering how they could even win a
game against Detroit, let alone win the series. Make no mistake, the Oilers
fought tooth and nail to oust the President’s Trophy winners, and they did it
with a lot of heart, guts, determination and a lucky bounce here and there.
Timely goaltending from Dwayne Roloson also can’t be overlooked. Then Ales
Hemsky put the icing on the cake with his 3rd highlight reel goal
since the beginning of the playoff stretch run. If he keeps this up he should
seriously consider changing his name to Martin Gelinas.
expected, the Sharks quickly dispatched the Nashville Predators and have
been waiting patiently to find out who they’d play in the second round. Well,
the wait is over, and it’s one of the teams who’ve given them more fits than
most this year. All of the games these two played were close, two of them
requiring shootouts to decide, and one of them decided in the final minute. The
only blemish for Edmonton was a 5-2 win for San Jose as they were getting
together their amazing push to the playoffs, and just as Roloson was getting his
feet wet after having been traded from Minnesota. Needless to say, at least one
overtime game is expected in this series, and it could be a long one.
Chris Pronger was by far the best defenseman in the playoffs throughout
Round 1 (or at the very least he shares the honor with Wade Redden). The
victory against Detroit had to be especially sweet for him, as he’s not only
been part of past St. Louis teams who have had to face them in the playoffs only
to fail miserably, but he was also part of the President’s Trophy winning team
in 2000 which went down in a first round seventh game against – you guessed it –
San Jose. The one noticeable difference between then and now is in that series
he was assessed 32 penalty minutes versus only 4 in this year’s playoffs so
far. Up until Game 6 he was poised to go penalty-less for the entire first
round! Remarkable! While it won’t win him any Lady Byng nominations, it had to
be gratifying to be able to dominate the ice the way he did. He will need this
to continue if the Oilers hope to keep their Stanley Cup dreams alive.
Fernando Pisani and the aforementioned Hemsky saved their best games for the
end of the last series, at a time when the team needed it the most. Going into
the 3rd period down 2-0 facing a seventh game on the road, what
happened can only be described in one word – karma. At the risk of sounding
cheesy you can maybe say there was a little bit of magic there too, but given
what this team has been able to do historically, to me karma is a better word.
Up until now nobody was giving this team a fighting chance, so how else could
you possibly explain it?
the San Jose Sharks, Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo weren’t nearly as
dominating as they were throughout the bottom 2/3 of the regular season, but
Patrick Marleau was able to pick up the slack with 7 goals, 4 of them on the
power play. If they’re going to get out of the second round, these two are
going to have to step it up a notch. Tom Preissing and Scott Hannan are going
to have to be every bit equal to Pronger and are going to have a real grinder in
Ryan Smyth to contend with down low, not to mention Michael Peca. Recent AHL
callup Brad Winchester scored his first NHL goal in what I think ended up a
turning point game for the Oilers. They never seemed to look back from there.
Jarrett Stoll was every bit as impressive as he was during the regular season.
Edmonton shocked the entire hockey watching community when they employed a
strategy similar to what made New Jersey and Minnesota successful prior to the
lockout, but to set the record straight, it wasn’t a neutral zone trap. It was
as Craig MacTavish likes to put it “a press” strategy. Whatever it is, it
worked, and wasn’t anywhere near as boring to watch. I’ve always maintained you
can’t win in the playoffs by playing run and gun, you have to be sound
defensively and capitalize on mistakes. The Oilers’ forte has always been
speed, and just as the Red Wings were adapting to this new defensive style,
Edmonton took it to another level and before anybody knew what had happened the
series was over. Outsmart and outplay your opponent. Works for me!
teams play against the Sharks, when they’re able to neutralize Thornton and
Cheechoo and get a cycle going, something the Oilers are masters at, the Sharks
aren’t very effective and seem to get caught running around. Nashville was able
to execute this to perfection in the early going but weren’t able to sustain it
due to their lack of size and strength. Edmonton has two strong checking lines
they can throw out at all times, so expect to see big Georges Laraque and nifty
forward Todd Harvey get more ice time in this series than they did against
Detroit. One of the most dominant energy lines I’ve seen all year have been
Laraque-Harvey and Pisani.
think it goes without saying, but Roloson has to duplicate his performance
from round one, which shouldn’t be too hard considering Detroit had much more
firepower and stick handling ability than San Jose. For the Sharks, the
goaltending job is Vesa Toskala’s to lose.
just get the feeling the Oilers are not done.
you know the way to San Jose? Me neither.
Prediction: Oilers in 6
Anaheim Mighty Ducks (43-27-12) vs # 7 Colorado Avalanche (43-30-9)
Season Series: Advantage Colorado 3-1
sure the Ducks were fully expecting to win their first round playoff series,
but I doubt very much they would have expected to have home ice advantage in the
second round. Thanks to the top four seeds going down, it’s a reality – a rare
6th vs 7th second round match up. Then again, we saw it
in the Conference Final in 2003 when Anaheim played Minnesota. The only
difference then was the Ducks were the 7th seed.
never seem to do things the easy way in Southern California, but here’s Anaheim
again, making some noise in the playoffs. Now they go up against a team I never
expected to even qualify, let alone all but sweep the Dallas Stars, again.
talk more about New Jersey later, because it really is amazing how well
they’ve been doing given they lost one of the best defensemen in the game, if
not the best in Scott Niedermayer, and their loss has been every bit Anaheim’s
gain. The man they call “Nieds” has been lighting it up again this postseason,
and does it with the same poise as the best of them. Facing elimination in Game
6 against Calgary, he single handedly answered the bell and helped lift the
Ducks off the mat to force a game 7, and, on the road, was every bit as
effective in helping Anaheim take down yet another team who was expected to go
deep. If Pronger was the best defenseman of the first round, Niedermayer was a
very close second. He was complemented very well by young Francoise Beauchemin,
at one point considered a prospect at best after the Sergei Fedorov trade.
Beauchemin has emerged as nothing short of a pleasant surprise, and isn’t afraid
to get physical with the best of them.
Throughout the regular season, all I would ever hear about Colorado was
“where’s Joe Sakic”? Well, the disappearing act ended the minute the puck
dropped on the first round series against Dallas. I used to always think it was
the chemistry between Sakic and Peter Forsberg which was this team’s bread and
butter, not to mention the heroics of a since retired Patrick Roy, but all along
Sakic is and continues to be the man in Denver. He could win a game all by
himself, and has done so on more than one occasion, most recently Game 2 in
overtime. Anybody out there still remember the Salt Lake City Olympics?
Blake logged an average of 28 minutes a game in the first round, and will be
instrumental to helping shut down Anaheim’s top offensive threats.
while Forsberg sits on a golf course somewhere in Philadelphia or Atlantic
City, the Avalanche are still alive, again. Since leaving Quebec they’ve never
missed the playoffs and have only once failed to win a playoff round.
the San Jose-Edmonton match up, these two also played a very close season
series, all four games decided by one goal, the only Anaheim victory in overtime
(on a penalty shot no less). Both teams were separated by only three points
Teemu Selanne continues to get it done for the Ducks with his offensive
talent. He scored the only goal they would need in Game 7, and led the team
with 3 goals 3 assists. His speed was a tough assignment for even young Dion
Phaneuf, and you can be sure the Avalanche are today watching video footage from
the Calgary series.
surprising to me for Anaheim has been their choice of net minder. Jean-Sebastien
Giguere was awful compared to his performance in 2003, even though he did win
two of the three games he played in. Pulled after letting in three goals in
Game 5, backup Ilya Bryzgalov was handed the torch the rest of the way and
didn’t disappoint. In all probability this team wouldn’t be here without him.
Equally as surprising has been Jose Theodore’s ability to win games without
actually playing well. And yes, if you didn’t see it, Dallas really was that
bad. If the Avalanche continue with Theodore going forward (and what choice do
they really have?), he will have to be much better positionally otherwise this
series will be over quickly.
expect this series to be very tight and one can only imagine there will be a
few trips to overtime in this one. I’m surprised Avalanche fans haven’t
boycotted my column and website by now, but I honestly can’t see Colorado going
much farther than this, especially if they can’t get Sakic to continue his
heroics. They may have proven me wrong so far, but expect the roller
coaster ride to end soon.
Prediction: Ducks in 7
Ottawa Senators (52-21-9) vs #4 Buffalo Sabres (52-24-6)
Season Series: Advantage Ottawa 5-3
What a great second round match up this
is. At stake – the right to represent the Northeast Division in the Conference
While Ottawa obviously won the regular
season series, Buffalo wasn’t too far behind. At times it looked like the
season series would be similar to what we witnessed six times between Ottawa and
Toronto – a blowout. In fact, the Sabres never really seemed to get on track
until a 10-4 drubbing at home against this same Senators team they will face
now. But even towards the end stretch of the season when the Senators were
missing four of their top six defensemen and three of their top forwards, the
games were still close, needing either overtime or a shootout to decide.
Something tells me this series will be
very tight, if the first round series between Buffalo and Philadelphia is any
indication. They say home ice is over rated in the playoffs, but the further
along a team goes, the more they appreciate the home crowd. They are literally
the seventh man and can help will a team to victory. And both of these teams
have two of the loudest barns in the league when filled to capacity.
When you eliminate the defending
champions in five games, nothing much needs to change. The Senators will
continue to ride Ray Emery, who continues to prove he can get the job done.
Clearly this team will benefit by ending their first round series early, as
they’ll be able to get a few key guys back. Chris Phillips aggravated the same
knee he missed 11 games with towards the end of the season and will most likely
miss game one. Dominik Hasek is no closer to returning now than he was in
March. Chris Kelly played hurt for most of the Tampa series, so the extra rest
will do him good.
What more can you say about Martin
Havlat? He was outstanding in the first round, racking up 10 points by
himself. His line with Peter Schaefer and Selke trophy candidate Mike Fisher
contributed a total of 19 points against Tampa Bay.
Buffalo has a balanced lineup of
players who match up well with Ottawa’s top lines. Daniel Briere, Chris Drury
and Tim Connolly shadowed Peter Forsberg and what little offense Philadelphia
was able to manufacture. They weren’t intimidated by the larger physical
players on the Flyers’ roster and they will need this to continue. Outside of
J.P. Dumont and Teppo Numminen, the defensive depth of this team is
questionable, but it has been all season long, yet the Sabres keep moving right
along. Ottawa will have to be well aware of where Brian Campbell is at all
times, as they won’t want to lose any of their top forwards to a concussion.
The key to this series won’t
necessarily be which team can put more pucks in the net, it will be which team
can play for a full sixty minutes. The Sabres never seemed to have a problem
doing so, but the Senators were criticized at times for not bringing their A
game. This must change. The physicality Ottawa has been able to demonstrate so
far will go a long way to help getting Buffalo off their game.
The Sabres beat up on the Senators
quite a bit back in their early days. They played a memorable seven game series
the first time Ottawa made it to the dance, winning it in seven games on a Derek
Plante overtime marker, and then swept them two years later on their way to the
finals (only to become victims of the crease courtesy of Brett Hull). You can
be sure the Senators will have this in the back of their minds, but they won’t
be intimidated by it. They didn’t have to deal with Toronto this time around,
but a win against Buffalo will be a welcome consolation and will go a long way
to determining how far this team can go. This time, although he won’t play,
Hasek is on their side. Sure, Ryan Miller is no slouch, but he wasn't
severely tested during the Philadelphia series. Something will have to
As can be said for any playoff series,
special teams and goaltending are important, but I think the determining factor
in this series will be Ottawa’s depth, especially on defense. I know it sounds
like a cliché, but the Senators have been in this situation before, where
Buffalo is still very much in a rebuilding mode. While they may have exceeded
everybody’s expectations, in my opinion they had it easy in round one – now it’s
time we separate the men from the boys.
Prediction: Senators in 6
Carolina Hurricanes (52-22-8) vs #3 New Jersey Devils (46-27-9)
Season Series: Even 2-2
the rubber match to end all rubber matches. These two met in back to back
first round series in 2001 and 2002, and both teams have a victory under their
belt and a trip to the Finals to show for it. Ironically enough, in both
instances the victorious team had the direct misfortune of watching their
Stanley Cup final opponent celebrate. While it’s still too early to tell if the
winner of this series goes all the way, it should certainly be one for the ages.
of these teams are eerily similar on paper. They both have built their team
from the goaltender out, they both have a defense first ask questions later
philosophy, both have two good scoring lines and a capable checking line, both
are lethal on the power play, and both are well coached. In two weeks or less,
one of these teams will move on to the Conference Finals and the other will
watch them on television.
don’t think anybody can ever question New Jersey’s dominance in goal –
Martin Brodeur continues to rewrite the history books as he only allowed four
goals in the four game Rangers sweep. As Brodeur goes, so does New Jersey.
Patrick Elias continues to anchor the Devils’ E.G.G. line (Elias, Scott
Gomez, Brian Gionta), and continues to be a force to be reckoned with in these
playoffs. For Carolina to have any hope whatsoever, they will have to shut down
this line. Easier said than done. Elias’ five goals and six assists set a
franchise record for points in a playoff series, which is remarkable when you
consider this team has three Stanley Cups. Even if the Hurricanes are able to
accomplish this near impossible task of shutting these three down, they still
have John Madden and Jamie Langenbrunner to contend with, not to mention a
punishing defense led by Brian Rafalski and Colin White, who was able to get
some much needed rest after the short first round series.
Carolina figured they had nothing to lose by putting rookie Cam Ward in net
after losing their first two games against Montreal, and the gamble paid off.
Ward went on to help the team win their next four and move on. As good as he’s
been, don’t expect him to outwork or out duel Brodeur.
Hurricanes were able to shut down the Canadiens by scoring timely goals, and
they will need more of this in Round 2. Eric Staal scored a key overtime goal
but was virtually silent the rest of the way. Most noticeable was Rod
Brind’Amour – at both ends of the ice. He continues to log more ice time than
any of the defensemen on the team and is maintaining a 55 percent success rate
in faceoffs. Brett Hedican will most likely be the defenseman assigned to go up
against the E.G.G. line, but can he contain all three of them?
Watch out for Ray Whitney in this series, he managed to work his way back to
health and was huge in Game 6 logging almost 14 minutes of ice time. He will
add a dimension to the power play the Hurricanes will need.
Devils probably wish they had started this series a week ago, as they are
riding a 15 game winning streak dating back to the regular season. Don’t wait
too long for them to shake off any potential cobwebs, as they are clearly on a
mission. Are the Hurricanes equal to the task? They were against the Habs, but
only time will tell if they can duplicate their first round efforts. I say it’s
not going to happen, but only the players will know for sure.
Prediction: Devils in 6
with both of my dark horse picks still alive and my Eastern Conference pick
still alive (what was I thinking with Dallas?), the second round proves to be
full of action. Enjoy and I'll talk to you in two weeks to set up the