Tampa Bay (1) vs. Philadelphia (3) Lightning (46-22-8-6, 106 pts); Flyers (40-21-15-6; 101 pts) Season Series: 4-0-0 Tampa Bay
Tampa Bay has been, by far, the most dominant team in the playoffs. They've allowed just 10 goals (one into an empty net) in 9 games, while scoring 26 times. As the 1st round seed, they've played the two weakest Eastern Conference playoffs teams so far. The Flyers have faced significantly tougher opponents along the way and have had their depth tested. However, they've proven themselves to be a well-coached, veteran team, and will post the first real challenge to the surprising Lightning.
Keys for Tampa Bay: The Lightning will have to play a more physical game against the bigger Flyers, something that they aren't used to doing. The Flyers were out-muscled in their two losses in Toronto, and Tampa needs to open the series with a similar tone. Nikolai Khabibulin will need to be sharp for 60 minutes, as Philadelphia has four lines that can score at anytime.
Keys for Philadelphia: Listen to Ken Hitchcock. He's been to the Stanley Cup Finals twice before and knows what it will take to get back: Commitment to defense, strong special teams, and dominating physical play. Robert Esche has been solid, but the Lightning are faster and more talented than any team he's faced so far. He'll need to be outstanding.
Prediction: I'm not convinced that the Lightning are Stanley Cup material, but I do think that they're the best team in the East. They're faster, healthier, and more rested than the Flyers, and that will give them the edge they need to beat a more experienced team. Lightning in 7.
San Jose (2) vs. Calgary (6) Sharks (43-21-12-6; 104 pts); Flames (42-30-7-3; 94 pts) Season Series: 2-2-0
Let's face it, the Sharks and the Flames are virtually the same team. They play a very tight system with a couple of offensive stars, and rely on their speed and defense to keep games close. At this point, there's no surprise about what either team brings to the table.
Keys for San Jose: The Sharks aren't likely to beat up on the Flames in even-strength situations, but they have had an advantage on special teams throughout the playoffs. If they can keep it up, it'll likely be the difference in what should be a very tight series.
Keys for Calgary: The Flames will need standout performances from their stars, and contributions from the rest of their line-up. More importantly, they've got to start producing on the power play and must win a game or two in San Jose.
Prediction: As good as the Flames have been, the Sharks are just a little bit better. They have the edge in special teams, roster depth, experience, and to top it off, they have home ice advantage. The Flames won't go down easily, however the Sharks will win in 6.