Tampa Bay (1) vs. Montreal (7) Lightning (46-22-8-6, 106 pts); Canadiens (41-30-7-4; 93 pts) Season Series: 2-2-0
The Montreal Canadiens looked all but done in the first round before rallying to defeat the Bruins in seven games. Meanwhile, the Lightning made a statement in disposing of the eighth-seed New York Islanders rather easily. On the line in this one is Tampa's first-ever birth in the Conference Finals, or will Montreal make the final four for the first time in eleven years?
Keys for Tampa Bay: The Lightning need to be better on special teams. Thus far in the playoffs, they have the fourth-worst penalty kill and the sixth-worst power play. They've been dynamite five-on-five, however, and need to keep that up. Khabibulin has been awesome in these playoffs with a 0.79 GAA and .972 save percentage. They will need more stellar play from him.
Keys for Montreal: Momentum for the Canadiens has been building since the start of game two in their series with Boston. The Habs got better as the series wore on; with occasional blips such as the Kovalev blunder in game four. Koivu and Kovalev have been great offensively, with ten and eight points respectively. If they can keep scoring against the stingy Lightning and Theodore also keeps improving, they could pull this one out.
Prediction: The season series split with each team winning a game in the other's building. Montreal won the first two meetings and Tampa won the two most recent. This one is a toss-up with the team getting the momentum early likely running with it. Lightning in 6.
Philadelphia (3) vs. Toronto (4) Flyers (40-21-15-6; 101 pts); Maple Leafs (45-24-10-3; 103 pts) Season Series: 3-1-0 Philadelphia
Make no mistake; there are no favourites in this series. Sure, the Flyers have home ice advantage but Toronto actually finished with more points than their counterparts. This will be a very low scoring series but it will be an entertaining, punishing battle.
Keys for Philadelphia: Robert Esche so far has not only stepped up to the plate in his playoff debut, putting up great numbers (1.81 GAA, .942 save percentage) he also outdueled Martin Brodeur, one of the greatest playoff goaltenders of all time. He needs to continue his strong play while the team gets production from their powerful arsenal up front: Zhamnov, Roenick, LeClair, Gagne, Amonte and Recchi.
Keys for Toronto: Of course, it would be nice for the Leafs if Mats Sundin and Joe Nieuwendyk were 100% but this is Ed Belfour's team and as long as he's on his game, the Leafs have a chance. In low scoring games, Brian Leetch will also be important as he will need to lead the Toronto power play to a few key goals.
Prediction: Every couple of seasons it seems a Maple Leafs team defies all odds and logic to make an impressive run deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It looks like it might happen again. Maple Leafs in 7.
Detroit (1) vs. Calgary (6) Red Wings (48-21-11-2, 109 pts); Flames (42-30-7-3; 94 pts) Season Series: 3-1-0 Detroit
The Calgary Flames in the second round? You'd better believe it. The bad news is that they'll be going up against the best team in the regular season, the Detroit Red Wings. The Flames had some close games with Detroit during the season and regardless of length this will be one entertaining series to watch.
Keys for Detroit: The reality is, the Red Wings had a relatively easy time in the first round with Nashville. They didn't exactly over-exert themselves and they did not play well until near the end of the series but still won out in six games. Last round, only Robert Lang and Mathieu Schneider put together any sort of consistent performance. If their big guns continue to be invisible they're not going to be able to coast this time out.
Keys for Calgary: First there's the obvious. Jarome Iginla last round did exactly what was asked of him strapping the team on his back and carrying them to victory. Miikka Kiprusoff continued to provide the steady netminding that he had all season long. The Flames will need more of the same from both players. As a team, they need to use their speed, forecheck and continue their strong physical play to grind down the Wings.
Prediction: If the Flames were healthy, they'd be a definite threat to Detroit and would actually be very likely to knock off the President's Trophy winners but a thinning blueline and wounded soldiers up front will be too much against the juggernaut Wings. Red Wings in 5.
San Jose (2) vs. Colorado (4) Sharks (43-21-12-6; 104 pts); Avalanche (40-22-13-7; 100 pts) Season Series: 2-1-1 Colorado
Yet another pick 'em series with both teams matching up very well. Colorado is strong offensively but the Sharks are among the stingiest in the league defensively. The Avs had the third-best power play in the league, the Sharks the sixth-best penalty killing.
Keys for San Jose: Defence and more defence. The Sharks are a patient team and are very frustrating to play against. Just ask Chris Pronger and Keith Tkachuk, who continually paraded to the penalty box in the first round. If the Sharks play a good team system and Nabokov stops every shot he's supposed to stop, San Jose will be marching on.
Keys for Colorado: The Avs rolled through the first round with a 28.6 per cent power play rating—second in the league. However, the PP is going to have to be a little bit sharper if it hopes to crack the Sharks (95.5% in round one). Joe Sakic (8 pts) and Peter Forsberg (6 pts) are right where they should be, atop the Avs' scoring list but up there with them is rookie Marek Svatos, with an overtime-winning goal and five assists for six points. As if the Avalanche needed yet another threat up front. Svatos spent most of this season with Hershey of the AHL and was previously with the Kootenay Ice (WHL).
Prediction: In the playoffs, you see more 1-0 games than you do 6-5 games. San Jose likely has a few more 1-0 games up their sleeves and should prevail in a series that will see momentum swing many times. Sharks in 7.