With one of the most electrifying first rounds in recent memory complete, there's no time to breathe for the remaining eight survivors. They leave behind an NHL record nine straight days with at least one game needing overtime to decide. In total, 14 went to sudden death. Breathless is one way to describe it. More than ever, home ice means little as does seedings. The parity we've seen since the lockout has taken effect. Anyone can beat anyone. Even if the No.1 overall Canucks escaped their nemesis Chicago thanks to Alex Burrows, the lower seeds proved themselves worthy opponents with the exception of Phoenix-Detroit, which was never close.
Now, onto Round Two. The match ups are a little more enticing with one Conference Semifinal rematch in the works that both the Bruins and Flyers remember well. One a much happier moment while the other bitter, seeking revenge. Let the fun begin!
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIS
(1) Washington Capitals versus (5) Tampa Bay Lightning
Analysis: The Caps are a different team than the one the Bolts saw in the regular season. Bruce Boudreau's decision to alter his club's style to a more playoff oriented defensive oriented posture has made them much tougher to play. Figure Nicklas Backstrom to be better and Mike Green even more dangerous. With John Carlson the shutdown D, it's taken pressure off. Alex Ovechkin is a man on a mission. Alex Semin looks motivated. The Lightning boast the weapons to get to Michal Neuvirth in Hart candidate Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Vinny Lecavalier. Keep an eye on Nate Thompson, Dominic Moore and Sean Bergenheim, who hurt the Pens. Dwayne Roloson has the edge due to experience versus the Czech kid. The Bolts D collapses in front of Rollie. It might not work as well against a more dangerous opponent who activate their D. Roloson vs Neuvirth has to be one of the largest age gaps between netminders. Tampa can win if Ryan Malone and Teddy Purcell have strong series. But Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, Mike Knuble, Jason Arnott and Marcus Johansson should tilt it the Caps' way.
Prediction: CAPS IN 6
(2) Philadelphia Flyers versus (3) Boston Bruins
Analysis: The focus is on Boston, who comes off an emotional win over Montreal thanks to Nathan Horton, who must be glad not to be in Florida. How will the B's handle the anticipated rematch against the team that made HISTORY last year? Vengeance is a strong word. It'll be interesting to see how Claude Julien's club approaches the Flyers, who used another comeback in victimizing Buffalo. The defensive edge belongs to the Bruins led by Norris winner Zdeno Chara, who rebounded from missing Game 2 due to dehydration. He'll be asked to check Claude Giroux or Danny Briere. Pick your poison. That's the dilemma Julien has against Peter Laviolette's deep cast that includes James van Riemsdyk, Ville Leino, Kris Versteeg and hopefully Jeff Carter (knee sprain). Chris Pronger saw power play duty the final two games of Round One. That means plenty of Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszaros and Braydon Coburn against David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Horton, who need better series. The B's got large contributions from Chris Kelly and Rich Pevereley, who along with Patrice Bergeron and rook Brad Marchand led the way before Horton's heroics. Andrew Ference played nasty, getting away with one last night. Johnny Boychuk is solid. Tomas Kaberle a disaster. Keep and eye on Michael Ryder for the Bruins and Scott Hartnell for the Flyers. Tim Thomas was strong, looking the part of another Vezina. Brian Boucher did it in spurts with relief from Michael Leighton after replacing Sergei Bobrovsky. Can this goalie controversy work? Bouch needs to be large. If Carter's back and Pronger sees increased minutes, the Flyers should prevail. The B's may not be able to exploit the Philly weakness enough.
Prediction: FLYERS IN 7
WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIS
(1) Vancouver Canucks vs (5) Nashville Predators
Analysis: The Canucks come off an exhilirating triumph over the Hawks thanks to Burrows and Ryan Kesler, who were tremendous in Game 7. It won't be any easier for The Sedins against Norris challenger Shea Weber and capable partner Ryan Suter. The Preds play a tight checking style that can fluster opponents. We're guessing Mike Fisher will see a lot of Daniel and Henrik. Whoever prevails should determine the winner. Fisher's coming off a big series in finally getting Barry Trotz' club past the first round. His three goals and three assists along with key faceoff wins like the one that set up Weber's equalizer before Jered Smithson's Game 5 heroics, can't be underestimated. The Preds score by committee with Steve Sullivan, Jordin Tootoo, Joel Ward and Weber all involved along with long-time Pred David Legwand, Patric Hornqvist and Martin Erat back for this round. They'll rely heavily on Pekka Rinne, who needs a stronger series versus Vezina foe Roberto Luongo, who still has plenty to answer. He's never been past the second round. So, the pressure's on. Louie should get plenty of help from a tough D led by Christian Ehrhoff that also features rugged Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa, plus Keith Ballard. Alain Vigneault likes to mix up who the Sedins play with. It could be interchangeable Swede Mikael Samuelsson who sees the bulk while Burrows and Kesler run rampant. Mason Raymond is capable and energizers Raffi Torres along with Max Lapierre are a nuisance. Our Chris Higgins wildcard rang true as he again opened the series last night with the only goal in a routine shutout for Luongo. Nashville better pick it up or they could be short work for the 'Nucks.
Prediction: CANUCKS in 6
(2) San Jose Sharks vs (3) Detroit Red Wings
Analysis: Whenever these two powerful teams meet, it's highly entertaining puck at its finest. Usually, the Wings' championship experience shines through against one of the elite franchises still searching for its first Cup appearance. However, last year in the same round, the Sharks prevailed in five, which should give them more confidence. Detroit's more rested this time but will have to contend with Todd McLellan's deeper Sharks who possess the best overall rookie in Logan Couture to go with gritty Ryane Clowe, clutch Joe Pavelski and dynamic '97 Draft 1-2 duo Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Did we mention there was a Dany Heatley sighting with the highly skilled sniper scoring a couple of money goals? You won't find a deeper forward corps than the cool teal who must ditch those ugly black uniforms before we go Sean Avery and call the fashion police. A supporting cast of Devin Setoguchi, Kyle Wellwood and Torrey Mitchell are proof. Perhaps the back end is where they could struggle with Dan Boyle and Jason Demers offensive D who can be victimized in their end as can vet Niclas Wallin. It'll hing on rough customer Doug Murray and their best defensive blueliner Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who makes solid reads defensively. The Red Wings probably boast an edge with Norris legend Nick Lidstrom, great passer Brian Rafalski, violent Nik Kronwall and sturdy ex-Shark Brad Stuart. It's as good a top four as there is. Mike Babcock can also trot out Jonathan Ericsson and reliable vet Ruslan Salei. The key to the series is who dictates. The Wings' superb puck possession is led by wunderkind Pavel Datsyuk, sniper Johan Franzen, crease crasher Tomas Holmstrom, gritty Dan Cleary and hopefully one of the game's premier players Henrik Zetterberg. Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler can't be overlooked and neither can Todd Bertuzzi, who had a good year in Motown. Justin Abdelkader does a lot of the board work and Darren Helm is so underrated. Does Mike Modano pop one in what looks to be it for one of the greatest Americans to ever lace 'em up? What about Patrick Eaves or Drew Miller? You never know where the offense will come from. It could come down to which goalie is better between Cup winner Antti Niemi and sophomore Jimmy Howard. There should be a lot of goals. So, it will be up to each netminder to come up with timely stops. Whoever does will prevail.
Prediction: SHARKS IN 7