I predicted that goaltending would carry the day, and for the most part, it did.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Islanders: TB in 5.
Check! I even got the number of games right!
Boston Bruins vs. Montreal Canadiens: Habs in 7.
Also a check, even if they made it tough on themselves.
New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers: Devils in 7.
Who knew Martin Brodeur was human? Flyers win in 5, on solid goaltending from Robert Esche (who?).
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Ottawa Senators: Toronto in 6.
It took a little longer, but indeed, Eddie Belfour made Patrick Lalime look like a peewee. Actually, that was Joe Nieuwendyk. No, it was Lalime himself. Who cares? Leafs win! Leafs win!
Goaltending was the story here again, in most cases.
Detroit Red Wings vs. Nashville Predators: Wings in 5.
The Preds made it last a little longer, but the Wings came out on top, and Curtis Joseph even got into the mix.
San Jose Sharks vs. St. Louis Blues: St. Louis in 6.
Well, I was just plain wrong here. San Jose was way too strong for the Blues.
Vancouver Canucks vs. Calgary Flames: Flames in 6.
As predicted, Kiprusoff was the difference, though Jarome Iginla had a bit to say about it as well.
Colorado Avalanche vs. Dallas Stars: Avs in 7.
Iím surprised at how easily the Avs handled the Stars. Oh well. Whatís up with hockey in Texas anyway?
So now... round two:
The Eastern Conference final is going to see a small but quick, skilled team with a hot goalie take on a big, tough and also skilled squad, also with a hot goalie. Both matchups in the East feature teams so similar, I might have trouble telling them apart on my little black and white TV.
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Philadelphia Flyers
This one is going to hurt both teams. Like last yearís first-round series, this will leave both teams in rough shape for the Conference final. I think the Leafsí final game against Ottawa might have shaken them out of their goal-scoring doldrums. The Flyers, meanwhile, having dismantled Martin Brodeur, will not be as mesmerized by Eddie Belfour as were the useless Sens. This may actually be a high-scoring series, and by that I mean an average score of 4-3 instead of 2-0 or 2-1. Still, a hot goalie will have the ability to make the important save no matter what the score, even if he doesnít get a shutout every time. This will be long and painful, but the Leafs will win. Their defence is stronger than last year, and their offence is better. Sundin should return for game 3 in Toronto, and after a split in Philly, the Leafs will go up 3-1. The Flyers beat the Leafs soundly several times this year, but that was before the additions of Ron Francis, Brian Leetch, Calle Johansson and, yes, Chad Kilger (who knew?). The Flyers are also improved, but Leetch and Nieuwendyk will carry the Blue and White to a dream date with Quebecís team--that is, if your Quebec includes Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. Leafs in 6.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Montreal Canadiens
How íbout those Habs? People in Montreal are going nuts, making wild statements like ìHabs in 5!î or ìHabs in 3!î The former is as likely as the latter. The players on Montrealís first line, the Kovalev-Koivu-ZedniK combo (the KKK line--is that nickname allowed? Not really a positive connotation), are using their skill and speed to good effect and there arenít too many bruisers on the Lightning who will slow them down. Ryder-Ribeiro-Dagenais could get going as well; thereíll probably be more open ice to work with and, with no big hitters to worry about, Ribeiro wonít have to waste time practicing his choreography. Nikolai Khabibulin might have something to say about Montrealís all-star ìcast,î however. Martin St. Louis wasnít dominant against the Islanders, but he didnít need to be. Against Les Glorieux, he and Ile Bizard native Vincent Lecavalier will be huge. Will Jose outduel Nikolai? My heart says yes, my bookie says no. The Canadiens have the highest goals-against average of the remaining eight teams. This series will be exciting to watch at least. Tampa Bay in 6. I hope Iím wrong.
Detroit Red Wings vs. Calgary Flames
Oh man oh man oh man. If you thought the Vancouver-Calgary series was exciting, itís going to be made to look like Major League Baseball compared to this. Kiprusoff was shaky too often against Vancouver, but Curtis Joseph doesnít have Nolan Ryan stuff himself. The Wings might even switch back to Legace if Jarome and Co. light up ìCooj.î Having a dog nickname in the playoffs is not a good idea. Luckily for the Red Wings, they have plenty of home run hitters--except in hockey you can only score one point at a time. The Predators managed to extend Detroit to six games, and I feel Jarome is a man of destiny. Flames in 7.
Colorado Avalanche vs. San Jose Sharks
I underestimated the Sharks in round one, and Iím going to do it again here. I just canít see them (or anyone, except maybe the Calgary Flames) beating Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. Itís going to take something special--and that special, the Sharks donít have. I canít think of any one player on the Sharks who can ìelevate,î as Pierre McGuire likes to say. Iím sorry, but I can only picture Vinnie Damphousse playing on a line with Daniel Marois and Tom Fergus. How old was he then, fourteen? For the Avs, on the other hand, ìCousinî Aebischer could be the Ken Dryden/Patrick Roy of the 2004 playoffs. Or he could be David Aebischer, which isnít such a bad deal, especially with the World All-Stars playing in front of him. Avs in 6.
A message to Ottawa Senators fans: If you want to become Leafs fans, thatís okay by me. I understand; your team sucks. Itís just that thereís a waiting period. You have to go through tapes of all the Leafs seasons from the 1980s before youíre allowed to be a real fan. If you make it, congrats, welcome to hockey heaven. Oh, and if you think you have an exemption because you WERE a Leafs fan back in those days, think again. See, when youíre a fan of a team, youíre supposed to stick with them, through adversity and all that stuff. Itís tough to lose, sure, and, yes, we all want our team to win, but hey, get in line. Leafs fans have been waiting too long to let a twelve-year-old franchiseís bandwagon get in the way of their victory party. Go Leafs Go!