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Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoff kicks off tonight and there's a little bit of everything mixed into the matchups. This time of year is usually all about grit and perseverance. Teams in short supply of both usually have difficulty surviving in the playoffs, but this is also the time of year when the best talent can shine on the biggest stage, and unknowns can go from anonymity to playoff stardom.
Let's briefly recap the first round:
* Detroit changed goalies midway through the series and survived against the Nashville Predators in six games.
* San Jose fought off a serious challenge from the Calgary Flames, aided by the Game 7 heroics of ex-Blackhawk star Jeremy Roenick and his 4-point performance.
* Colorado won three games in overtime to advance past Minnesota in a series that went six games.
* Dallas is riding a high after knocking off the defending champion Ducks in six games.
* Montreal sent Boston packing after a 5-0 Game 7 trouncing of the Bruins.
* Pittsburgh made quick work and looked very impressive in a sweep of the Ottawa Senators.
* Philadelphia and Washington played a wonderfully entertaining series that saw Philadelphia win in overtime in Game 7 on the road.
* The New York Rangers defeated the rival New Jersey Devils in five games, including three on the road.
With only 8 teams remaining, each team probably feels it has a good shot at the Cup and the margin for error becomes a little bit narrower this time around. Let's take a look.
(1) Detroit Red Wings
(6) Colorado Avalanche
Detroit dominated Colorado in the regular season, shutting them out in three of four meetings. However, Colorado wasn't playing the cohesive style of hockey they are now, getting timely offense and stellar goaltending. Colorado will look to pepper Red Wings' goaltender Chris Osgood, something Osgood was shielded from for the most part in the opening round when he came on to relieve Dominik Hasek to save the series for Detroit. It'll be interesting to see how much wiggle room Detroit coach Mike Babcock will give Osgood if Colorado strikes early and often. Detroit is 13-17 (2-3 series record) in its playoff history against Colorado, but beat Colorado both times it went on to win the Cup in 1997 and 2002. Both teams have an even shot at winning this series, though Colorado must stay out of the penalty box to have a chance. This is where having home ice advantage can and should make the difference.
Pick: Detroit in 7
(2) San Jose Sharks
(5) Dallas Stars
These teams split the season series 4-4 with both teams winning three games on the road. Dallas has a lot of momentum right now after dethroning the defending champion Ducks, and they are getting contributions from unlikely heroes like ex-Blackhawk Stephane Robidas. The status of Dallas' top blueliner, Sergei Zubov, is still in question. Zubov last stepped on the ice versus San Jose back in January. He's battling a foot injury that required surgery, so even if he is declared well enough to play it'll be interesting to see just how mobile he is. San Jose's Brian Campbell is looking to rebound from a first round that saw his puck turnovers result in opposing goals, and he never seemed to get clicking like he did down the stretch. If the seven-game first round tilt was a wake-up call for the Sharks, look for them to pounce on the Stars. San Jose has all the pieces and just needs go for the kill. Dallas must find a way to frustrate Joe Thornton and stop San Jose's young forwards like Ryan Clowe, Joe Pavelski, and Devin Setoguchi. The goaltending matchup of Evgeni Nabokov (SJ) vs. Marty Turco (Dal) could be a classic, as both goalies have looked solid early on in the playoffs.
Pick: San Jose in 7
(1) Montreal Canadiens
(6) Philadelphia Flyers
Montreal is a talented team that found a way to survive relinquishing third-period leads to Boston in the first round. The emergence of the Kostitsyn brothers - Sergei and Andrei - has given the Canadiens secondary scoring threats to go along with the dynamic Alexei Kovalev. Carey Price had a few shaky third periods in net for Montreal in the first round, but he also had two shutouts. The Habs will go as far as Price can carry them. The Flyers pose an interesting challenge. It might be useful to throw out the regular season series sweep that Montreal had over the Flyers. The Flyers have looked a lot more dangerous in the playoffs and they are playing like a team capable of pulling an upset or two. Martin Biron has been steady in net and the Flyers are getting production from top playoff point producer Daniel Briere, as well as contributions from Vaclav Prospal and Mike Richards. Both teams fought through tough first-round matchups, so it'll be interesting to see which team looks more energetic early. If talent wins, than Montreal should survive, but don't be too surprised if Philly hangs tough.
Pick: Montreal in 6
(2) Pittsburgh Penguins
(5) New York Rangers
This series marks the return of Jaromir Jagr to Pittsburgh, the place where he started his career. Jagr's already provided Pittsburgh's dynamic duo with bulletin board material by saying neither Sidney Crosby nor Evgeni Malkin compare with his former legendary Penguin superstar teammate, Mario Lemieux. There's also a little playoff history at work in that the Penguins have never lost to the New York Rangers in four playoff series meetings. However, the Rangers gave the Penguins a lot of difficulty in the regular season, winning six of eight games, and that has to give New York a lot of confidence heading into this series. In a series where the stars usually get the headlines, it's the grunt workers that might matter most. For the Rangers, they'd love to get contributions from Sean Avery and Ryan Callahan. For Pittsburgh, it might mean timely offense from Jarkko Ruutu or George Laraque. The Penguins are deep offensively, so the Rangers must play well defensively to stymie the Penguin attack. In net, the Rangers boast Henrik Lundqvist, who has the right kind of moxie to shut the door on Crosby and Malkin. Pittsburgh got exceptional play in the first round from Marc Andre Fleury, but he'll face a pressure cooker versus the Rangers when the series moves to Madison Square Garden, where he's yielded six goals in two games this season.
Pick: A New York Rangers upset in 6
1. From Eric Emery: Tell my friend Eric P. that the Penguins will win in 6. Additionally, you will see Hossa score at least 4 goals in the series. I know Hossa has a rep of disappearing in the playoffs, but he did play well vs. the Sens, and was robbed at least 3 times. He is playing well. If the Rangers worry too much about Crosby and Malkin, Gonchar, Hossa, and Malone can score too. Besides, you win series' in the following order: hot goalie, fundamental defense, and balanced scoring. The Pens have been doing all of these in the final 15 games of the season. Pick: Pens in 6.
2. From Eric Emery (May 5): Let's face it, my prediction skills tend to be completely brutal. Let the record show that the Pens won in five, and Hossa scored four in the series, including the series winner yesterday.
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