The second round of the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs have been as exciting as they have been unpredictable. After the first round saw all the higher seeds eliminated in the West and all the lower seeds eliminated in the East, I thought we would have four second round series that could all go seven games. Instead, we've seen three of the series go to 3-0 and the other series go to 2-1 only when Edmonton scored early in the 3rd OT of Game 3 to avoid the possibility of a sweep. We still could see a couple of series extended beyond a game 4 or 5, but here are some thoughts....
Carolina vs. New Jersey
The Devils entered this series having won 15 striaght: the last 11 of the regular season followed by a four game sweep of the NY Rangers. The 'Canes lost the first two games of their first round series vs. Montreal and then won the next four after inserting Cam Ward in goal in place of Martin Gerber. Ward is the first NHL goalie since Tiny Thompson of the 1929 Boston Bruins to win his first seven playoff games (did Randy Moller play against Tiny?)!
I really thought that Carolina would miss Eric Cole in this series. While I'm sure they would love to have him in their lineup, the fact that they won game one of this series 6-0 and backed it up with two gritty 1 goal victories tells me that they are legit contenders even without the guy who was their most valuable player for most of the regular season.
Buffalo vs. Ottawa
I haven't seen much of this series, but as I said in an earlier blog, these Sabres were built for the new NHL. However, the top seed Senators certainly looked equipped to make a long playoff run. In fact, most experts had them as the favorites once Detroit was knocked out in the West. Senators' coach Bryan Murray has had some very good regular season teams going back to the 80's (Washington) and 90's (Detroit) that just didn't get the kind of goaltending that you need in the playoffs. That was supposed to change this year with Ottawa's signing of Dominic Hasek. But with Hasek's Olympic injury, the Dominator is yet to play a minute in these playoffs. It looks like Ray Emery has performed well, but you have to wonder how this series would be going with Hasek in goal for Ottawa. Hasek's last NHL game was February 11 vs. Philadelphia. This matchup looks a whole lot different than it did early in the regular season when Ottawa won the first three meetings by a combined score of 21-5 (including a 10-4 rout)!
Anaheim vs. Colorado
After covering 2 games in the Dallas-Colorado series for NBC, I was convinced that Colorado was an underappreciated team that could make it really tough for their second round opponent. Of course, I thought that opponent would be the Detroit Red Wings. Dallas had a terrific regular season and seemed poised to legitimize it with a solid playoff performance. The Avs could have swept the Stars, but settled for a game 5 clincher on the road in overtime.
Well, if I thought Colorado was "under the radar", the Mighty Ducks were "stealth". I covered a late season Anaheim game for NBC in LA, and while the Ducks were impressive, there seemed to be too many unknowns to predict the playoff performance that we've seen so far. Could Giguere match his 2003 magic? If not, was rookie goalie Ilya Bryzgalov capable of handling playoff pressure? How would youngsters like Perry, Getzlaf, Penner, Kunitz and Lupul respond as well?
The Ducks then got the toughest first round draw of all with the hard nosed Calgary Flames. Anaheim answered every question and then some by going into Calgary and winning game 7 by a score of 3-0 (they outshot the Flames 32-22).
This Anaheim team has dominated the Avs and they are good enough to win it all.
San Jose vs. Edmonton
If it wasn't for DVR technology, I would have missed the terrific ending to game 3 of the Oilers-Sharks series. I lasted through the 2nd overtime (about 2:15am) and then recorded the rest to watch in the morning. What a finish. The Sharks scored early in the 3rd OT to avoid all four series going to 3-0.
This game could be the "poster" for the new NHL: the overtime play was up and down the ice...no obstruction...lots of scoring chances...great goaltending...a couple of well deserved power plays...plenty of passion...a few good hits...and a raucous home crowd!
The Oilers had played too well in this series to go down 3-0. Yet, they had to survive a scare in the second period of game 3. Down 2-1, Georges Laraque took a 5 minute boarding major. The Oilers did a great job on the penalty kill to keep it a one goal game heading into the third.
This could be the one series that gives us a 7 game thriller!
That's all for now. If Colorado extends their series tonight, I'm off to Anaheim for game 5 Sunday on NBC. If the Ducks complete the sweep, I may get my first NHL radio game Sunday night in San Jose (game 5 vs. Edmonton).