2006 Stanley Cup playoffs
Looking back: Well, my first-round picks put me at 5 out of 8, which is half-decent considering the number of upsets in the Western Conference. The worst pick I made was thinking the Philadelphia Flyers would overcome their injury troubles and go on a run; the best pick was being one of the few to say the Anaheim Ducks would defeat the Calgary Flames.
Still, I've been kicking myself since Game 1 of the Detroit-Edmonton series for not taking the Oilers. I won't make that mistake again.
(1) Ottawa v. (4) Buffalo
Series key: The Sabres defence
These teams were far closer to each other in the standings this year than you'd think. Buffalo missed winning the Eastern Conference title by just three points, which is pretty elite territory given the inexperienced crew they have. Both of these teams have extremely well-balanced scoring — the Sabres had nine players with 18 goals or more, the Senators had seven — and the matchup in goaltending only slightly favours Buffalo (keeping in mind that Ryan Miller at his absolute best is an elite netminder). What I think this series comes down to is the blueline, where Ottawa can throw two Norris Trophy calibre defenders (Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden) against Buffalo's top forwards. In terms of icetime, the Sabres top blueliners are Toni Lydman, Brian Campbell and Henrik Tallinder, who are going to be tasked with shutting down the likes of Dany Heatley. Buffalo also lacks any offensive threat from their defence.
Ottawa in 6
(2) Carolina v. (3) New Jersey
Series key: Shutting down Staal and Brind'Amour
The Hurricanes are going to be a heck of a lot better prepared for this series than the Rangers were in the first round, but what Carolina coach Peter Laviolette really is going to have to guard against is the shutdown specialists Devils coach Lou Lamoriello is going to employ (John Madden, Jay Pandolfo et al) against the top 'Canes. Erik Staal and Rod Brind'Amour provided the bulk of Carolina's offence in the first round, but are far tougher to contain than the relatively soft Rangers forwards the Devils faced in Round 1. I wouldn't bet against Lamoriello. (Series key No. 2 is, without a doubt, Cam Ward v. Martin Brodeur
New Jersey in 5
(5) San Jose v. (8) Edmonton
Series key: Pronger v. Thornton
Much like in the Ottawa-Buffalo series, the Sharks simply don't have anyone on the blueline who is even close to the calibre of blueliner as Chris Pronger. What I expect coach Craig MacTavish will do is task Pronger with neutralizing Joe Thornton, which would go a long, long way to crimping the Sharks goal scoring. At the other end, Sharks coach Ron Wilson will lean heavily on Scott Hannan and Kyle McLaren, as his remaining four defenders are all very inexperienced. What the Oilers need to do is work the forecheck on this team, press hard and generate the kind of shovel-garbage goals they got in the Detroit series. Vesa Toskala has been phenomenal in the Sharks net since February, and Dwayne Roloson needs to match his first-round performance.
Edmonton in 6
(6) Anaheim v. (7) Colorado
Series key: Shutting down Sakic
One of the great secrets of this Ducks team is how strong defensively its forward core is. Sam Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Todd Marchant all played more than 17 minutes a game in their first-round series, and it'll be that trio that tries to key on Joe Sakic, Milan Hejduk and Alex Tanguay. Colorado hardly generated any offence from anyone outside of their top four forwards in the first round, which should make it easy for the Ducks to key on those players. Much like the Calgary series, this will be a low-scoring affair, and Jose Theodore is going to really have to hold the fort and now allow any bad goals.
Anaheim in 6