Ottawa Senators fans know history repeats itself.
After all, they've seen the Toronto Maple Leafs come in and eliminate their precious Sens more times than they want to remember (four times in five years, to be precise).
This season, though, the Senators were supposed to be too dominant to be eliminated by Toronto Â– or anybody else. At least in the first round; that scenario is getting pretty old in Canada's capital city. Ottawa cruised through the early stages of the regular season and appeared almost an unstoppable force before being slowed by a few key injuries.
Martin Havlat and Zdeno Chara are back in action, but the Senators are without their last line of defense, the one-and-only Dominik Hasek. The 41-year-old, all-world stopper sustained a groin injury in his first period of play at the Olympics and hasn't been back since. Well, he's attended a few practices, but the Dominator has been a Distraction-ator more than anything since mid-February. In his place is rookie Ray Emery, a young goalie who's hungry to prove himself in the NHL post-season. Emery is fast, athletic, and likes to come out and challenge shooters. He has great goaltending instincts, but his aggressiveness sometimes can cause him to stray out of position.
But surely, even with the backup in net, the No. 1 seed will easily dispatch of the No. 8, right? You would think so, but this is no ordinary No. 8. Ottawa's opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning, just happens to be the defending Stanley Cup champion, and the Bolts are one of the few teams in the NHL that can match up against Ottawa. Tampa's forwards include 2004 Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards, 2004 World Cup MVP Vincent Lecavalier and 2004 NHL MVP Martin St-Louis. And, they're bolstered by the likes of playmaking Vinny Prospal, relentless Ruslan Fedotenko and two-way dynamo Fredrik Modin. Yes, the Lightning is an experienced, playoff-tested bunch. But perhaps more significantly, Tampa is extremely motivated right now and the players believe they can upset Ottawa. They desperately want to prove all the doubters wrong.
And just ask that little St-Louis fellow about getting the last laugh.
Here's a peek at the early goings-on in the other seven first round series:
No. 2 Carolina vs. No. 7 Montreal
Well, this was easy to predict. Carolina completely dominated Montreal in the regular season, winning all four games and outscoring the Canadiens 25-9 in the process. So what happens? The Habs take the first two games in Raleigh and head home thinking sweep.
No. 3 New Jersey vs. No. 6 N.Y. Rangers
These two teams traded places in the standings on the final night of the regular season, but it doesn't look like home-ice advantage is going to mean too much anyway. The Devils won their last 11 games to take the third seed in the East, making up a 19-point disadvantage over the schedule's final two months. Then, New Jersey promptly Â– and easily Â– won the first two games against the Rangers. For New York, Jaromir Jagr missed Game 2 with a shoulder injury, and rookie netminder Henrik Lundqvist Â– who went from no-name to phenomenon between October and December Â– was also scratched in favor of Kevin Weekes. If they're not back for Games 3 and 4, there won't be a Game 5.
No. 4 Buffalo vs. No. 5 Philadelphia
Team Speed vs. Team Big. And considering that Team Speed won Game 2 by an embarrassing 8-2 margin, the Sabres Â– unlike the Hurricanes Â– appear ready to build on their surprisingly successful regular season.
No. 1 Detroit vs. No. 8 Edmonton
Another interesting matchup, with some similarities to the Ottawa-Tampa series. No, the Oilers haven't won a Cup since 1990, but they do stack up well with the Wings. Goalie Dwayne Roloson faced 92 shots in the first two games Â– in Detroit Â– but was able to lead Edmonton to a 1-1 series split. On defense, the Oilers look to all-star Chris Pronger, and he's supported by a corps that's both mobile (Marc-Andre Bergeron, Jaroslav Spacek, Dick Tarnstrom) and physical (Jason Smith, Steve Staios, Igor Ulanov). Up front, Edmonton, as always, features a high-speed cast of forwards. The Wings, meanwhile, are the Presidents' Trophy winners and want to win one for what is likely Steve Yzerman's last hurrah. Question: Can Wings goalie Manny Legace win his first playoff series?
No. 2 Dallas vs. No. 7 Colorado
The Avs don't have Peter Forsberg anymore. Patrick Roy is long gone. Adam Foote is on a Columbus golf course. Rookie Marek Svatos scored 32 goals in 61 games, then was lost for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. So, what happens when the Avs face the favored Stars? Colorado wins the first two games in Dallas, of course. Don't count out the Stars yet, though.
No. 3 Calgary vs. No. 6 Anaheim
If it's goals you wantÂ…move along please, because there's nothing to see here. Between Calgary's 28th-ranked offense, Anaheim's one-line attack, and the netminding heroics of Miikka Kiprusoff and Jean-Sebastien Giguere (assuming he stays healthy), the most offensive thing in this series might be Darren McCarty's goatee.
No. 4 Nashville vs. No. 5 San Jose
It's never easy in Nashville. The Predators work hard all season for the No. 4 seed and home ice in the first round, only to see No. 1 goalie Tomas Vokoun, a key cog if there ever was one, go down with an injury in the final days of the regular season. In comes unproven Chris Mason, and suddenly the Sharks Â– one of the NHL's hottest teams after the Olympics, anyway Â– get an added boost of confidence.