Dave Strader's Playoff Blog for May 4th
Hello Panther fans!
I forgot to mention last time that one of the best surprises of the first round was seeing a healthy Pat Burns outside the St. Pete Times Forum prior to Game 4 in the Ottawa series. Pat has been battling cancer for about two years and he looked to be in good spirits. He told OLN's Christine Simpson that his health was good and he felt great. Best of luck to Pat Burns!
What a first round of playoffs in both conferences this year! In the East, the top four seeds prevailed. Certainly, the argument can be made that the four surviving teams all made better adjustments to the "new NHL". The best example of that is the Buffalo Sabres. Their overall speed and quickness took advantage of the slower Philadelphia defense. The Carolina Hurricanes have been a role model for the new NHL since the start of the season. The top seed Ottawa Senators have been a contender for many years with a combination of speed and skill. This year they added just enough grit and they clearly were the better team against the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning. New Jersey turned things around late in the regular season and rode a 15 game win streak into the 2nd round against Carolina. The Devils' smaller forwards like Gionta, Gomez and Elias were very good players under the old rules, but they have dominated at times in the new NHL.
Having said all that, an age old characteristic of successful playoff teams is common among the surviving teams in the East: better goaltending. Which leads us to the West where the underdog won all four series. That's the first time that's happened in one conference since the NHL went to the current format in 1994. The goaltending numbers tell the story in the West as well. Edmonton's Dwayne Roloson yielded just one less goal than Detroit's Manny Legace, but Roloson faced 83 fewer shots. Anaheim's Ilya Bryzgalov had a "sick" save percentage of .968 which was better than Calgary's Mikka Kiprusoff at .921. Vesa Toskela of San Jose won the save percentage battle vs. Nashville's Chris Mason .927 to .901. Colorado's Jose Theodore got his save percentage to .910 with a stellar performance in the series clinching a Game 5 victory stopping 50 of 52 shots. Marty Turco had a series save percentage of just .868.
It's a wide open race among the 8 remaining teams for the 2006 Stanley Cup, but New Jersey has to be the overall favorite (unless Dominic Hasek returns healthy for the Ottawa Senators). My only 2nd round assignment at this point is Game 5 of the Anaheim-Colorado series for NBC on Mother's Day. So I'll be a fan just like all of you and be watching games as the field gets pared down to 4 teams over the next 2 weeks!