Although our pick to win the 2005-06 Stanley Cup Â– thanks for nothin', Dallas Â– took a spectacular, memorable dive into the crapper, we were a healthy 6-2 on our opening-round playoff picks. Hell, we even had four first-round winners (Anaheim in seven, Buffalo in six, Ottawa in five, and Carolina in six) in the right amount of games.
Alas, with neither the bankroll nor the stones to put the yen where the yap is, our celebrations remain reserved. Yet we press on, like a relentless exporter of democracy and freedom or a cheap set of instant fingernail extensions. In other words, here's our exercise in guessery for Round 2:
Eastern Conference semifinals
Ottawa (1) Vs. Buffalo (4)
If there was any remaining doubt about this year's Senators being different than the playoff pushover editions of the past, Bryan Murray's men snuffed it out with their first-round romp over the Lightning.
Nobody can deny the Sens are deep, fast, and smothered in skill. The Sabres can match Ottawa's speed, and they've got their share of talent as well, but Buffalo's real advantage lies in its grit. This isn't to say Ottawa hasn't improved in that department, only that coach Lindy Ruff has cultivated more of it from his young team.
You guessed it Â– this series very likely comes down to goaltending. And though Ray Emery has not disappointed after being given Ottawa's No. 1 job, Ryan Miller has shown more potential to steal a game or two on his own. The verdict: Sabres in seven.
Carolina (2) Vs. New Jersey (3)
Lou Lamoriello might not measure up to Jeremy Roenick in the self-promotion department, but man, the guy can certainly build himself a solid hockey team year after year. His Devils took the Rangers and shook them like a dirty rug in the first round, serving notice Â– to those who shrugged at their late regular-season run Â– they would not be taken lightly, nor without a monstrous fight.
The Hurricanes, meanwhile, showed no discernable panic despite losing their first two games (at home, no less) to Montreal. Carolina isn't nearly as inexperienced in the post-season pressure-cooker as some would argue. They are when it comes to goalie Cam Ward, but the rookie has yet to look out of place since he replaced Martin Gerber as starter after Game 2. How he goes, so go the Â‘Canes. And call it a hunch, but we think he's going to go on and shock another team into submission. The verdict: Hurricanes in six.
Western Conference semifinals
San Jose (5) Vs. Edmonton (8)
The Sharks and Oilers both benefited from significant trades this season, and both players (Joe Thornton and Dwayne Roloson) were integral to their teams' first-round series wins.
One of the two is going to continue his success streak, and the other will be going home disappointed.
San Jose desperately needs Thornton and linemate Jonathan Cheechoo to continue their magic act. But they need Vesa Toskala to continue his understated brilliance in net even more. And you can bet the hard-charging Oilers will be pushing their luck with the officials to see how close they can get to Toskala.
The Sharks aren't as talented up front as the Detroit team the Oilers made mincemeat out of, but they're much more committed defensively than the Red Wings were in Round 1. Edmonton certainly has the desire to pull off another upset, but they don't have a great backup solution if the Sharks get in the head Â– and net Â– of Roloson.
The Sharks do, and though that solution is the inconsistent Evgeni Nabokov, that's more than enough to give them the edge in what should be a brutal, close series. The verdict: Sharks in six.
Anaheim (6) Vs. Colorado (7)
The more you watch the Mighty Ducks this season, the more you're convinced this could be their Cinderella year. Plus, they'll be shooting at a goaltender (Jose Theodore) in this series who played but one solid game out of the five Colorado needed to dismiss the Stars.
The Avs capitalized time and again on the well-documented struggles of Dallas goalie Marty Turco in the first round. But Ilya Bryzgalov - Anaheim's up-and-coming goaltender whose play against Calgary relegated former starter J-S Giguere to the bench - has earned the confidence he's currently playing with.
Yes, Joe Sakic has been ridiculously good for Colorado, but you can easily say the same for Ducks leader Teemu Selanne. The veteran Finn has been the league's best comeback story all season, and the way he picked apart flaws in the game of Flames superstar goalie Miikka Kiprusoff during Round 1 was a thing of beauty. Think he's going to have even more fun making Theodore look silly? We do. The verdict: Mighty Ducks in six.
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