Woo boy that was a wild first round. While I didn’t even imagine the Rangers would possibly sweep the Thrashers all four teams I thought would advance did. In the West Vancouver kept me from calling all four winners out there. I can’t say I’m upset with them though as I really hate Dallas. Seven out of eight isn’t so bad for starters. Let’s see what I can do with Round 2.
Buffalo Sabres (1) vs. New York Rangers (6) – Okay, you know who I’m going to pick in this one. No, in years past I didn’t always pick the Sabres out of loyalty. There were times I just didn’t think they had what it took; I wanted them to win but I wouldn’t have counted on it. This year is different. After a battered and bruised Sabres squad pulled its way to game 7 of the conference finals it makes me believe this healthy squad (the same core group as last season) is the real deal. I don’t want to take anything away from the Rangers. No matter who you play a sweep is one hell of a statement to make, and the Rangers made it loudly. They played physical. Sean Avery single handedly threw Atlanta’s top line off their game. This is where I give the Sabres the edge though – which line do you throw off? It’s going to be hard to target just one line when each night a different group of guys steps up. Still the Rangers are going to put Miller to the test. They are going to pepper him from every angle and with some big bodies sitting in front of them he is going to have to cover every shot – the Rangers will eat you alive if you give them second and third chances on net. The biggest flaw the Rangers have is in net. Lundqvist is not the goalie he has led you to believe. Yes, since 2007 started he has played an amazing game, he’s been a stabilizing force, he’s kept the Rangers in games that a few months ago he would have let slip through the cracks. He had a great first round, but I really feel the dam has to give. If the Sabres can pepper him early it might be enough to crack the shell and knock him down to the subpar performances of the first half of the season. This is going to be a tough series, but I’m calling the Sabres in six.
New Jersey Devils (2) vs. Ottawa Senators (4) – This is going to be the series to watch. Ottawa made short work of team Crosby (not the sweep I had wanted, but hey, can’t have it all). Not only did they shut down a lot of the Penguins young guns, Ottawa’s veteran players flat out skated the youngin’s. The Senators are a gritty team and now that their top line has gotten back on track they are going to be tearing up the ice. This is a team that can score goals. Fortunately for New Jersey they have Brodeur. Once again he proved he is a future hall of famer by taming the explosive Penguins offense, turning away a flurry of shots. His focus, his experience, and his raw talent energizes his team. This is not going to be a wild west shoot out of a game. This is going to be a physical, old school hockey game where every inch of ice is fought for. Both teams have a balance between offense and defense. Both teams have a very similar core. This series is going to come down to who has that one guy who is going to come out of nowhere and surprise everyone. With top line being matched against top line I wouldn’t count on any of them to be the big difference maker in the series. Will Parise continue his amazing playoff run and give the Devils two lines of scoring options, or will some third liner for Ottawa solve the mystery to beating Brodeur? All I know is each and every single game is going to be a big question mark that has no answer until the final whistle blows. Both teams can shrug off loses and stay on its game. In my mind it comes down to playoff experience and that’s where Jersey is a titan. Jersey wins in 7.
Detroit Red Wings (1) vs. San Jose Sharks (5) – At first it looked like the Red Wings were going to sweep through their series with Calgary. Then they let Calgary win back to back games at home. In a tightly contested game six the Wings got back in to proper form and were able to hold back a less than desperate showing by the Flames who looked as if they had given up by the third period. Detroit outshot Calgary by a wide margin. The Kipper is what kept Calgary alive – San Jose, however, doesn’t have him. What the Sharks do have is Nabokov, a solid starting net minder. However his flashes of brilliance are few and far between. Against a high octane team like Detroit he’s going to have to find a level of play he never knew he had. If San Jose’s defense can tie up Detroit and keep the shot count low then they’ll have a chance. They have what it takes to rattle Hasek. I watched him play with the Sabres for years and nothing threw him off his game quicker than wave after wave of players crashing the net. It’s what the Sharks offense is built to do. At times their offensive style may not be pretty, but it got them to round 2 in a hurry. Getting under Hasek’s skin quickly will be a key for San Jose. If they can rattle him night after night they might just have a chance. This is going to be a wild series. Hard hitting, fast transitions, and gritty intensity. Detroit has the players who can match the Sharks physical game – but can an ice time leader, Chelios keep up that intensity at 45 years of age? This won’t be the prettiest of series, but Detroit is a capable team that can match styles of play against just about any team in the NHL. The Red Wings win this one in 6.
Anaheim Ducks (2) vs. Vancouver Canucks (3) – Fool me once Vancouver.. fool me once. While Anaheim was busy playing musical goaltenders, Vancouver was given up a 3 games to 1 lead. Fortunately for them they rallied and gave the fans a show beating Dallas 4-1 in last nights game 7. That makes 14 times Dallas has failed to come back when down 3 games to 1. No one said the playoffs were easy. Vancouver had back to back scoreless games, 8 periods in all without registering a single tally. Quite frankly they got lucky to move on. However that luck will turn in to determination and motivation. They dodged a bullet and now have to use that momentum to come out of the gates full speed against a Ducks team that literally beat the Wild in to submission. The Ducks aren’t subtle. You know what to expect. A physical style of play where they are going to tie it up in the corners, pinch hard against the boards and try to wear your top line down. The Canucks are already worn down from a 7 game series that saw more than its fair share of overtime moments. With only a couple days off before the second round begins its going to be a physically challenged bench. Still, this is the playoffs and you don’t make it to the second round by folding like a house of cards. When their top line is on the Sedin boys make magic happen. Watching them play at the top of their game together makes you willing to believe that twins can read each others thoughts as it seems like they are always aware of the others presence on the ice. They are lethal. They will also be a target of the hard hitting Ducks defense. If they can match the physical intensity of the Ducks the Sedin’s could pull Vancouver in to round three. I disbelieved once, but won’t make that mistake again. Vancouver in 7.