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
A team with a storied history versus a team making its own history as they go along. The very well rested Tampa Bay Lightning will be hoping to shake off some rust while the beat up Philly Flyers are hoping their momentum from dispatching the Leafs can get them off to a good start in Florida.
Keys for Tampa Bay: No team in hockey has had to deal with less adversity this season than the Tampa Bay Lightning. They had less than 30 man games lost to injury in the regular season and have remained healthy through their relatively easy course through the playoffs thus far. How will they handle a bump in the road? That's the key for the Bolts. That and the play of Nikolai Khabibulin, the team's MVP in the first two rounds.
Keys for Philadelphia: They Flyers have more experience – on the ice and behind the bench, and will hope to use that by forcing this series the distance and taking advantage of their somewhat green opponents. The Sami Kappanen as a defenceman experiment was a true success to this point, but the Flyers can ill afford any more key injuries if they hope to advance past Tampa.
Prediction: The Flyers have had two tough playoff opponents in New Jersey and Toronto, winning both series in fine fashion. Tampa has had their way with two inferior clubs and have played four less playoff games than the Flyers. The joy ride stops for the upstart Tampa crew. Flyers in 6.
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
No one, absolutely no one had the Flames and Sharks meeting in the Conference Final before this season got going - both teams missed the playoffs last year and had their share of upheaval. But that's exactly what we have, and the rabid fans in the Stampede City couldn't be happier. Will the Sharks advance to their first Stanley Cup Final in club history or will the Flames continue on in an improbable post season that has captured the imagination of under dog fans everywhere? Personally, I can't wait to find out.
Keys for San Jose: A greater experience margin. The Sharks may not be the greyest beards in the National Hockey League playoffs, but they do have a leg up in that department against their opponents in this series. Most of San Jose's young core has seen time in the Stanley Cup playoffs and could use that to their advantage. San Jose has to continue to get solid goaltending from Evgeny Nabokov and persist with their penchant for jumping on teams early.
Keys for Calgary: The Flames will of course be relying on their star players, Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff to carry the load, but the team's success to this point has less to do with individual players and more to do with the team itself. The all for one mentality has done the job in getting them by the Canucks and Wings, but they now meet an opponent that plays in a similar fashion. Experience wise the Flames take a back seat to the Sharks, but it should be pointed out that a once green roster has just picked up a combined 260 games of NHL experience over the last two weeks.
Prediction: No point in pretending we don't know the script. The Flames gain a split in San Jose, split games again in Calgary, win game five back in San Jose and then Martin Gelinas will get it done in either game six at home or game seven on the road. In overtime, of course. Flames in 6.