April 25th, 2003

Playoff Preview

Rick Charlton

Out with the old and in with the new.

An emerging trend favouring newer faces at the top of the NHL scoring race has continued into the playoffs, with several fresh young teams breaking through into the second round this year, most advancing at the expense of old standby's like Colorado and Detroit which had dominated the post-season picture for years.

Of course, the Oilers might disagree, another first round exit at the hands of the Dallas Stars for the umpteenth time while New Jersey continues to rumble along in methodical, ageless fashion.

Ottawa (1) vs. Philadelphia (4)
Senators (52-21-8-1, 113 pts); Flyers (45-20-13-4; 107 pts)
Season Series: 2-1-1 Ottawa

Probably the most intriguing series of the second round, two heavyweights and both carrying a lot of emotional baggage. Ottawa is at the point in its development where it desperately needs to win a series like this, to advance to the final four for the first time, to show that its tremendous regular season was nothing but a prelude to bigger and better things. The Flyers cured a few of their ills with their game seven trouncing of the Leafs a few days ago but still much more has been expected of a big team which has a lot of talent up front, a so-so defence and the steady but unremarkable goaltending of Roman Cechmanek. So long as Zdeno Chara is standing the Senators should be able to handle the size of the Flyers and pull away to eventually win. Ottawa in six.

New Jersey (2) vs. Tampa Bay (3)
Devils (46-20-10-6; 108 pts); Lightning (36-25-16-5; 93 pts)
Season Series: 1-1-2

Jersey was perhaps the most impressive team in the first round, grinding the high-scoring Bruins into oblivion, the Devils seeming lack of scoring still not a problem if surrendering two goals or less as they do most of the time. While I won't discount Tampa, particularly since these teams are fairly even in goaltending, Tampa is more likely to make the mistakes of inexperience that a Pat Burns team is surely going to exploit. Devils in five.

Dallas (1) vs. Anaheim (7)
Stars (46-17-15-4, 111 pts); Mighty Ducks (40-27-9-6; 95 pts)
Season Series: 3-1-1 Dallas

A long layoff caught the Stars flat out of the gate in game one against Anaheim last night but eight periods of hockey probably brought them up to speed even if they didn't win the game. Missing Bill Guerin early in this series shouldn't be enough to prevent the Stars from eventually taking over and prevailing. The Ducks will need Jean-Sebastien Giguere to outplay Marty Turco by a large degree. Otherwise, the Stars have simply too much depth for the Ducks to handle over a seven game series. Stars in six.

Vancouver (4) vs. Minnesota (6)
Canucks (45-23-13-1; 104 pts); Wild (42-29-10-1; 95 pts)
Season Series: 2-2-1

Brian Burke described the Wild as "a cult" which is presumably a higher level than "a team" and perhaps he's right, Minnesota getting remarkable efforts this year from relative unknown's like Richard Park, Dwayne Roloson and Pascal Dupuis to claim its first playoff spot and then a come from behind triumph over the Avalanche in one of the biggest upsets in Stanley Cup history. They face a fairly young Canucks team that may be equally goggle-eyed at being in the uncharted waters of the second round although Vancouver's regular season credentials the last few years have been more impressive. It would be easy to name the Canucks in this series and call it a day but the orchestrated Wild, the cult, beat a free-flowing Avalanche team in the last round. In order for Vancouver to win they'll have to play a remarkably patient game, something the experienced Avs failed to do when they had the Wild on the mat. I'm the guy who wants to see an Ottawa/Vancouver final so it pains me to say Minnesota in seven.


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