And then there were eight … part II | VailDaily.com
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And then there were eight … part II

Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff talks with Sabres' Maxim Afinogenov of Russia during NHL hockey practice in Buffalo, N.Y., Wednesday May 3, 2006. The Sabres will play the Ottawa Senators in an NHL second-round playoff series. (AP Photo/David Duprey)
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In case anyone forgot why playoff hockey is one of the most exciting events to watch, this year’s first round was a quick reminder.There were seven overtime games, four double-overtime games and 13 other one-goal games. And because each team is only allotted one timeout, you don’t need to have a frontal lobotomy to enjoy the final 10 minutes (which you need for any NBA playoff game). In fact, the surgeon general suggests you pilfer some of Rush Limbaugh’s stolen medicine cabinet so as not to have a heart attack while watching a playoff hockey game.Chris Freud may want you to believe that the flurry of upsets show the depth of the West. Again, I warn you, don’t be beguiled by his verbal trickery. The East’s top four teams (all of whom are now in the second round) would instill fear into even the Cold War Red Army teams. New Jersey surrendered as many goals in four games as the Sabres scored on the Flyers in one period. Ottawa played OK and dismissed the Lightning in five.I’ll concede the West had some great performances. The Avalanche embarrassed the Stars, which puts them in special place in my heart. And Edmonton took down Detroit in what was the best game thus far in the quest for Lord Stanley’s Cup.And there are still three rounds remaining.

No. 1 Ottawa vs. No. 4 BuffaloThe Sabres come into this series hot off a 7-1 win in over the Flyers. In four of the six games against Philadelphia, Buffalo played a fast-paced, high-skilled brand of hockey that suffocated the Flyers and produced an average of more than five goals in those games.Ottawa handled No. 8 Tampa Bay in five games while scoring 4.6 goals per game. And the Senators now return several injured players (not including Dominik Hasek – more on him later).Expect there to be more one-goal games than both teams had in their previous series, or in their regular season meetings.Ottawa won the season series, 5-3, and destroyed Buffalo 5-0, 10-4 and 6-1 in the first three games.If they Sabres want to win, they must use their speed to forecheck the Sens and dictate the tempo of the game. Both teams are capable of playing solid defense, but the Sabres would be better suited dominating time of possession and not having to worry much about stopping Ottawa’s top scorers (Martin Havlat, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley).The Senators have more skill, but the Sabres have more speed and heart. And Buffalo is more capable of spreading out its scoring. Nine guys had 16 or more goals in the regular season and 11 guys had 40 or more points.

The goalie formerly known as the Dominator (Dominik Hasek) is not ready to go yet. I’d actually rather have him healthy so he can be a weak spot in the Sens’ armor. Ray Emery has been stellar in Hasek’s stead, but Buffalo’s Ryan Miller has been better.Watch the fringes in this series. Fourth line players (who are a lot easier to identify on the Sens because you don’t know them, as opposed to those on the Sabres, because you don’t really know who is who or who is on which line) need to step up and do some of the scoring.Buffalo needs to take one in Ottawa (the games are Friday and then Monday because Dora the Explorer Live will be on the ice Sunday – which is reason enough to give the Sabres home ice) before returning to the confines of HSBC Arena.My heart says go with the Sabres, and so does my head.Sabres in seven.



No. 2 Carolina vs. No. 3 New JerseyNew Jersey is the hottest team in the NHL. The Devils have won 15 games in a row.While I think they can give the Hurricanes trouble, I don’t think they can keep steamrolling.New Jersey is without Scott Stevens, and Marty Brodeur is a few years older than he was when he won previous cups.Yes, the Rangers were an embarrassment to hockey, but the Devils’ defensive prowess should strike fear into Carolina forwards.But Carolina is a tenacious team. I don’t think anyone expected the ‘Canes to rebound after losing two games at home, one a 6-1 shellacking, and the other a 6-5 double-overtime loss.After Martin Gerber did his best impression of a sieve in the first two games against Montreal, Cam Ward stepped in and helped extricate the Canes. Any team that wins all four of its games by one goal is either dangerous or ripe for the taking. But when you consider that three of those games were in Montreal, this dispels any talk of Carolina being a weak team.

Even with the new, wide-open NHL, the Devils know how to stymie any rush before it enters their defensive zone. If Carolina goes down early against New Jersey, it must find a way to spray shots on Brodeur and score on a rebound.Aside from goaltending, the Hurricanes have more veteran experience than the Devils. Rod Brind’Amour (122 career playoff games), Mark Recchi (116), Bret Hedican (89), Doug Weight (75) and Glen Wesley (150) have played their fair share in the posteason, which comes in handy in the latter rounds.Hurricanes in six.Sports Writer Ian Cropp will cry himself to sleep if the Sabres lose, and can be reached at 748-2935, or icropp@vaildaily.com.Vail, Colorado


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