Ottawa (1) vs. NY Islanders (8)
Senators (52-21-8-1, 113 pts); Islanders (35-34-11-2; 83 pts)
Season Series: 2-1-1 Ottawa
Something has to give when two victims of the Toronto playoff run from 2002 clash in 2003. The Senators were cast aside in the second round last year, a few days after the Islanders went down in a nasty clash with the Toronto chapter. The Islanders had the grit to play with Toronto, but lacked the skill to keep up on the scoreboard. The Senators on the other hand found themselves deep in offensive talent, but were mercifully pushed around.
The difference this year?
The Senators did something about it. The Islanders are essentially the same team while the Ottawa club added grit in Rob Ray and Vaclav Varada, a key element to surround the obvious Senator talent.
I expect to see Ottawa make short order of the Islanders and those nasty orange third jereys … Ottawa in 5.
New Jersey (2) vs. Boston (7)
Devils (46-20-10-6; 108 pts); Bruins (36-31-11-4; 87 pts)
Season Series: 2-1-1 New Jersey
The knock on the playoff proven Devils is their struggle to score goals. The Bruins on the other hand have questionable goaltending and defence making this one a clash of meshing factors. Can Pat Burns lay a licking on his former players?
Count on it. The Bruins, while free of last season's playoff pressure that comes from finishing first in the East, just don't have the roster to compete against the warrior laden Devils. The Bruins collapse from their extremely hot start is more indictive than the month of October … Devils in 6.
Tampa Bay (3) vs. Washington (6)
Lightning (36-25-16-5; 93 pts); Capitals (39-29-8-6; 92 pts)
Season Series: 3-2-0 Washington
This series is just plain strange.
The Tampa Bay Lighting are in the playoffs … and they have home ice advantage? Man in a world this upside down surely the Flames can make the playoffs. Maybe not.
The Lighting came of age this season. They got solid goaltending from former Jet and Coyote Nicolai Khabibulin and equally impressive performance from their young stars including Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and former Flame Martin St. Louis.
The Capitals on the other side of the ledger are also a pleasant surprise. They return to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus under the strength of a somewhat interested Jaromir Jagr and rookie coach Bruce Cassidy.
So who wins?
The winner of this series will likely be quick fodder for their next opponent, but if we must, we'll take the Capitals in 6.
Philadelphia (4) vs. Toronto (5)
Flyers (45-20-13-4; 107 pts); Maple Leafs (44-28-7-3; 98 pts)
Season Series: 2-2-0
For the first time this season, I'm actually glad the Leafs will be on TV every second night. This series shapes up to be a great, great battle. Both teams have grit, both teams have skill, and there is more than enough hostility on both sides of the fence to ensure that hatred is served from the salad bar.
Toronto has ran smack dab into the injury wall coming in with Doug Gilmour, Gary Roberts, Glen Wesley and Mikael Renberg all out with ailments that may see them miss some action.
The Flyers on the other hand will be motivated to make up for last year's abysmal performance against Ottawa that saw the club score only once in a five game loss.
The Leafs will learn the Ranger lesson … you just can't buy hockey teams … Philly in 7 tough games.
Dallas (1) vs. Edmonton (8)
Stars (46-17-15-4, 111 pts); Oilers (36-26-11-9; 92 pts)
Season Series: 3-1-0 Dallas
Do we have to see this again?
Bad enough that Calgary fans have to watch the Oilers in the playoffs for six of the seven years that the Flames have sat out … but do we have to watch re-runs?
I guess so.
Both teams are completely rebuilt since the last time these two teams have met in the playoffs. Ed Belfour is in Toronto. Joe Niewendyk and Jamie Langenbrunner are in New Jersey. Doug Weight is in St. Louis. Anson Carter is in New York a few miles away from Janne Niinimaa. Bill Guerin is suiting up on the wrong side.
Despite all those differences the outcome will remain the same with Dallas making playoff rookie goaltender Marty Turco a winner in 5 games.
Detroit (2) vs. Anaheim (7)
Red Wings (48-20-10-4; 110 pts); Mighty Ducks (40-27-9-6; 95 pts)
Season Series: 3-1-0 Detroit
The Mighty Ducks have made a slough of changes over the past 9 months. They moved their head coach Bryan Murray into the executive suite, hired former junior coach Mike Babcock has actually managed to deliver a system, and Paul Kariya is finally surrounded with some talent to help him do his magic.
Well … they're still the Detroit Red Wings. A who's who in future Hall of Fame members, and reigning Stanley Cup Champions. The big difference for the Wings will come in the form of captain Steve Yzerman. Instead of hitting the ice for the playoffs with a catastrophic knee, the courageous leader is coming off of knee surgery and is fresh for the playoffs, if somewhat rusty.
The Ducks will pitch a battle, and make the odd game interesting, but in the end the battle proven Wings will tar and feather them. Wings in 5.
Colorado (3) vs. Minnesota (6)
Avalanche (42-19-13-8; 105 pts); Wild (42-29-10-1; 95 pts)
Season Series: 2-1-2 Colorado
This one could be interesting.
The Colorado Avalanche are deep in talent and heavily favoured to win the series. They have the advantage in goal, up front, on defence, playoff experience – literally they have all on ice bases covered.
It's off the ice where things get interesting.
The Wild have Jacques Lemaire, the former Devils skipper, that has his game style come into league wide fashion when the puck drops in the playoffs. He'll ensure his team is geared up and ready to handle the Avalanche every head ache they can muster.
The Colorado chapter would be wise to avoid giving the Wild a sense that they can win … but based on skill we'll take the Avs in 6.
Vancouver (4) vs. St. Louis (5)
Canucks (45-23-13-1; 104 pts); Blues (41-24-11-6; 99 pts)
Season Series: 2-1-1 Vancouver
Much like the Toronto – Philadelphia battle in the East, the Vancouver – St. Louis matchup has the makings of a classic.
Both teams have had solid seasons. Both teams have a general dislike for each other based on events in the two last meetings of the season between the two clubs. Both teams have retro-80's goalies that refuse to catch on to this new fancy goalie mask phase that's all the rage in the NHL.
Chances are this one will come down to said goaltenders, with the better of Chris Osgood or Dan Cloutier leading the way to a series victory.
The Canucks are in trouble if the Blues can shut down their top line … Blues in 7.