Stanley Cup 2006 ( 2nd Round )

What the heck happened in the Western Conference ? The top four seeds all lost in the first round. Detroit, Dallas, Calgary & Nashville, with Calgary being the only team to even force a 7th game….Oh how the mighty have fallen. The Red Wings were victims of questionable goaltending by Manny Legace, as well as being outworked in key moments (there is a very fine line between having a lot of “good solid veteran players on the roster”, and having “a bunch of old guys on the roster”) by a younger, quicker Edmonton Oilers team which at times looked overmatched, but ultimately did prevail, winning the series clinching game six by overcoming a 2 goal deficit and scoring 4 goals in the third period. This was Steve Yzerman’s final season, it will be sad to see him go, but the great memories will live on – Stevie Y was a class act to the end.
The Stars were simply outworked in most of their games ( but then again, goaltender Marty Turco didn’t exactly set the world on fire either). The Colorado Avalanche unceremoniously dumped the Stars in five games.The Nashville Predators also had problems in net, as goaltender Tomas Vokoun who had anchored the team all year, was unavailable due to illness. The San Jose Sharks smelled blood, and down went the Predators in five games – losing four straight after taking game 1. Goaltending was not the only issue.The San Jose Sharks were the better team all around, and I believe, have been the leagues’ best team for the past two months ( the New Jersey Devils’ 15 game win streak not withstanding). San Jose will be hard to stop, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau form the best 1st and 2nd line Center combo in the league, Vesa Toskola has been strong in goal, and the rash of 1st round upsets leave the Sharks as the highest seeded team in the Western Conference, and thus with home Ice advantage for at least the next two rounds .
The Calgary Flames took 2 of the first 3 games in their series against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, only to then lose three of the next four games (and the series) to the fast-maturing Anaheim squad. The defining moment may have come early in Game 6, when Flames’ captain Jarome Iginla decided to drop the gloves with the Ducks’ rookie defensman Francois Beauchemin. Iginla was quickly dropped with a left hook the would have made the late Sugar Ray Robinson proud. Iginla did regain his feet, but the tone was set. Iginla was held to only one shot on goal in game six, and again in game seven. The Ducks put together their most solid performances in games six and seven, outworking the Flames in all three zones (offensive, neutral, and defensive) of the ice. Another key move was Coach Randy Carlyle’s decision to start Ilya Bryzgalov in goal in games 6 and 7 ( Ilya is now riding a string of five straight shutout periods) instead of J.S. Giguere who had been less than spectacular in games 2 – 5, being pulled in game 5 after allowing 3 goals on only eight Calgary shots ( Anaheim lost the game by a score of 3-2). Expect the Ducks to ride Bryzgalov the rest of the way, and for Giguere to quite possibly wind up in Detroit in the off-season, playing for his former coach Mike Babcock (the latter part being pure speculation of course).
I cannot recall the last time that the 5, 6, 7, and 8 seeds in the same conference all prevailed in the first round.
The first round of the Eastern Conference was far less dramatic, The Ottawa Senators, Carolina Hurricanes, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres were seeded numbers 1 thru 4 respectively, and all were winners – ’nuff said.
**** 2nd ROUND BREAKDOWN ****
Western Conference; #5 San Jose Sharks vs. #8 Edmonton Oilers – The Sharks went thruogh the Nashville Predators like a hot knife through butter; likewise the Oilers were surprisingly able to upset the top-seeded Red Wings in the 1st round. The task at hand for the Oilers is to somehow find a way to either stop, or match the offensive output of the San Jose Sharks’ devastating combo of Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo, as well as the surprising 2nd line combo of Captain Patrick Marleau, flanked by surprising rookies Steve Bernier and Milan Michalek. Chris Proger anchors the Oilers’ defense, while up front, they will rely on the veteran leadership of Ryan Smyth and Michael Peca. Goaltender Dwayne Roloson will also have to make some huge saves. The bottom line – The only chance the Oilers have is to play as a complete and disciplined team, they do have youth, and speed. The Sharks will seek to take advantage of sometimes lackluster play of the Oilers, in which case they can score in bunches. This will be a fun series to watch, if you appreciate speed & skill. The Oilers do have a bright future, but the road will end here….Sharks will prevail.
#6 Anaheim Mighty Ducks vs. # 7 Colorado Avalance – The Mighty Ducks played near – perfect hockey in games 6 and 7 to eliminate the favored Calgary Flames in the first round, showing dramatic improvement and maturation in the process. Rookie Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was nothing short of brilliant when needed. The Avs have the edge in experience, with a roster that includes future hall of famer Joe Sakic, and hard hitting defenseman Rob Blake (both wre members of the 2001 Avalance Cup-winning team). The bottom line – The Mighty Ducks while facing elimination in games 6 and 7 in the first round, came up with tremendous efforts in both games. The Mighty Ducks will now play a Colorado team which during the regular season allowed more goal against than any Western Conference playoff team. Jose Theodore has yet to prove himself as a clutch playoff goaltender….The Avalanche will melt; the Mighty Ducks will continue to fly high.
#1 Ottawa Senators vs. #4 Buffalo Sabres – Two teams riding rookie goaltenders; Ray Emery in net for Ottawa, and Ryan Miller in net for Buffalo. Ottawa was an offensive juggernaut in the regular season, leading the league in goals scored with 314, and dismissed the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 1st round with little difficulty. The Buffalo Sabres eliminated Philadelphia in six games, but would have eliminated them in four or five were they more disciplined. Again, two teams which like to skate (new NHL rules having an affect ?). I like the Ottawa Senators to put more pressure on Ryan Miller than did the Flyers. Buffalo is up & coming, but not this year. Ottawa prevails.
#2 Carolina Hurricanes vs. # 3 New Jersey Devils – Yet another rookie goaltender, as Cam Ward is between the pipes for the favored Carolina Hurricanes. The Carolina Hurricanes boast a lineup which includes a couple of hungry veteran Stars who’d love to finally get their names on the Stanley Cup (Rod Brind’Amour, Doug Weight), as well as former Cup Winner Mark Recchi (Pittsburgh 1991). Nothing really needs to be said about the New Jersey Devils a team which returns to the playoffs with a roster deep in seasoned veterans, and the most disciplined team system in hockey, a system which produced Cup winners in 1995, 2000, and 2003, as well as a trip to the Finals in 2001. Seemingly unflappable Goaltender Martin Brodeur ( a future hall of famer ) has been there from the start. Tough series, Devils prevail in seven games. Enjoy. See ya’.

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