I'll take a 6-2 record
in Round 1, especially given I gambled big on the underdog Flames to take out the Sharks. And the Ducks have mussed up the bracket
No matter — onward and upward.
(1) Montreal v. (6) PhiladelphiaSeries key: Flyers blueline
The Flyers were shorthanded a total of 36 times in the first round, second to only the hapless Ducks, and are going to have to be a whole lot better in that department against the Habs. I'd bet on Montreal potentially having one flubbed series on the power play (9.4%), but not two. Where Philadelphia impressed me was in their team defence, limiting chances against Martin Biron (always key) and getting a ton out of Braydon Coburn, Kimmo Timonen and Derian Hatcher on the back end. All three played 22-plus minutes and finished as pluses, which counts for something when you're facing Ovechkin in a seven-game series. For the Canadiens, Mike Komisarek's the biggy, but they also need a lot more from Andrei Markov, who is playing hurt. Montreal has a big edge in goal, but this might be a special teams series given the league's two best power plays are squaring off. Cue the riots.
Canadiens in 7
(2) Pittsburgh v. (5) N.Y. RangersSeries key: Marc-Andre FleuryWhile there are an awful lot of offensive weapons in this series, these are two very different teams. The Penguins dominated on the power play this season; New York was 22nd. Pittsburgh struggled to kill penalties all year; the Rangers were sixth best in the league. For a team that boasts a couple billion-dollar free agents, not to mention Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan, New York's a team that didn't score an awful lot of goals this season — just 2.50 per game (25th). It wasn't until late in the year the offence got going, led by Scott Gomez and fellow Anchoragite Brandon Dubinsky, and combined with another brilliant year from Henrik Lundqvist, this team was dynamite down the stretch. New York was essentially a non-playoff team in late January; it then went 19-6-5 into early April, finishing five points back of the Penguins for the division lead. My big worry in picking the Rangers in this one, as I did preplayoffs, is the fact Tom Renney's going to roll out a green defence (Dan Girardi and Marc Staal) against some of the league's true superstars. I think they'll surprise us — and it'll come down to the goalies. King Henrik wins. (Sorry Pensblog Charlie.)
New York in 6
(1) Detroit v. (6) ColoradoSeries key: The Foote-Sauer shutdown
Remember the '90s? Detroit was/is a juggernaut again in 2007-08. Third in goals for, first in goals against — and that was using a strange tandem in goal that saw two guys win 27 games for likely the first time in NHL history. Chris Osgood was light years better than Hasek this season (.914 to .902 in save percentage) and in fact had one of the best years of his career, but Jose Theodore's a real key. He had a great Round 1, but can he do it again? Detroit's a team that's top end consists of five players who play 22 minutes a night, and if Colorado can get to the quintet, hit hard and take a spoke out of the winged wheel, they might have a chance. It's an overstatement to say Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Zetterberg are everything to this team, but that's certainly close to the truth, and Foote/Sauer are going to be tasked with another shutdown. I loved the way Joe Sakic looked in Round 1, but Forsberg's the wild card.Detroit in 6
Both of these teams surprised me in the first round: San Jose, by getting considerable secondary scoring when they lacked it all year, and Dallas, by wiping the floor with the defending Stanley Cup champs. These two finished Round 1 first and second in shots allowed, with only 23 against per game, and that's a trend that'll continue. It won't be so much who makes a great play, but where the mistakes are, who takes penalties and who capitalizes on those missteps. Getting Sergei Zubov back certainly helps Dallas. The Sharks' first-round save percentage was by far the worst of teams that advanced (.895) and Evgeni Nabokov's going to have to be a whole lot better given there's little backup plan. A very difficult series to call, but I liked what I saw from Thornton and Marleau against the Flames. At their best, they bring an element the Stars don't have. (2) San Jose v. (5) DallasSeries key: Patrick Marleau
Sharks in 6.