So much for Round 2
Stars, Flyers emerge as contenders
I managed to get home tonight to catch the end of the Detroit-Colorado game tonight, although it really wasn't much of a game. The Avalanche's season is going down in flames in this one, an ugly 8-2 loss to cap an ugly four-game sweep by the Red Wings.
Yes, Colorado's beat up, but the eighth seeded Predators put up a far more respectable fight than this in Round 1.
All in all, this has been the most anticlimactic playoff round in recent memory, with three series that went 3-0 to start and another at 3-1. The Sharks and Rangers managed to grab back a game and prolong the agony, but I can't see either team pulling off a 4-0 run.
Unless the Habs can beat the odds, get some good goaltending out of Carey Price on Saturday (and beyond), and come back, we're looking at Detroit-Dallas and Pittsburgh-Philadelphia in the conference finals, matchups few predicted going in.
The Wings and Penguins are hardly surprises, but the Stars and Flyers? In a prepostseason poll I ran asking who would win the Cup, out of 422 votes, four went to Dallas and three to Philadelphia. (Perhaps Brett Hull and Paul Holmgren are readers.)
By comparison, Detroit finished third with 65 and Pittsburgh fourth with 62. San Jose and Montreal were the top choices, but both are on the brink, 11 games in.
In my mind, the No. 1 reason for the "surprise" factor with respect to Dallas' and Philadelphia's success is in goal, as few were willing to bank on the Martys, Turco and Biron, going in. One had had mixed playoff success in the past; the other had none to speak of at age 30.
Both are now early Conn Smythe candidates.
The Stars and Flyers are interesting case studies in how quickly things can turn around these days. Dallas, for one, was ranked second in the league, three points back of Detroit as late as the trade deadline, and I recall thinking the acquisition of Brad Richards (and his subsequent five-point debut) bode well for their chances to make a run.
Then they fell apart down the stretch, managing just four wins in 14 games to close the year, and there wasn't hardly an expert out there taking a flyer on them to win three games, much less two rounds, in the playoffs. (All the while without their top two defencemen, no less.)
The Flyers, meanwhile, were hockey's worst team last season by a longshot, 11 points behind 29th-place Phoenix, and added a few big pieces to turn things around. They're well-coached, with great special teams, they play hard and they're built for the playoffs. And adding Vinny Prospal at the deadline looks genius at this point.
Even so, I imagine everyone's envisioning a Detroit-Pittsburgh final, Crosby and the octopus. Or am I getting ahead of myself?