Thanks a lot, first round. The precedent you established tricked us into believing this magical ride would continue all the way until June. And as much as this last set of games didn't totally suck, it could never have lived up to the promise.
One-sided affairs dominated the early part of the second round. A sense of inevitability prevailed, where all four series were assumed to be over. But then, along came the Red Wings. Kudos to Detroit for their tremendous (almost) comeback effort, especially that Pavel Datsyuk fellow. Guess no one really heard of the Russian center before these playoffs, but I think he'll make it one of these days. Heck, he could become the next Pat Falloon if he works on his game.
What's on tap for the penultimate round? Expect closer series, better overall goaltending, and more clichÃ©s than you can shake a hockey stick at. So fire up the stove and get ready for some barnburners. It's going to get bumpy, so buckle up and enjoy the ride. And look out for the following:
Conference Finals Preview
(1) Vancouver vs. (2) San Jose (Season series: Vancouver 2-1-1)
Ryan Kesler (10 points against Nashville, including five goals) showed why his 41-goal regular season and his repeat Selke Trophy nomination were no flukes...The Sedins (up seven to a combined 19) still haven't wowed the opposition with their offense...A lower-body injury to Mikael Samuelsson (struggling with only three) looks to keep him sidelined indefinitely or until he promises to start scoring again, whichever comes first...Guts aside, Patrick Marleau (six, after 73 during the regular season) needs to pick up the point pace...Despite missing Game 6 vs. Detroit and Joe Thornton's MVP-like performance (11 points, great on faceoffs, imposing player), Ryane Clowe (at 13) still leads San Jose in scoring...Incumbent Dan Boyle started slowly (only three vs. LA) but easily pulled away from his blueline teammates (eight more, now four ahead of Ian White).
Prediction: Two sides under immense pressure to advance. Vancouver ended up as the #1 overall seed, while San Jose entered many recent postseasons as top dogs but still have never appeared in the Finals. Despite the lack of a Cup victory or any significant playoff achievement, Roberto Luongo still owns an advantage over Antti Niemi. But like I said before the last round, it would be awfully difficult to bet against the Finnish netminder. The Wings may have pushed them to the limit, but the Sharks possess the physical presence to knock Canada's last hope aside. San Jose in six.
(3) Boston vs. (5) Tampa Bay (Season series: Boston 3-1)
If you remove the first two against Montreal, Tim Thomas has pretty much stood on his head (note the 52 saves â€“ including a few spectacular examples â€“ to beat Philly in Game 2)...David Krejci (nine in the last series) came to life and Nathan Horton (seven) wasn't far behind, but linemate Milan Lucic (three, albeit two goals in the clincher) still hasn't consistently appeared on the scoreboard...Despite this only being the first full year for Brad Marchand (six of his 11 the last four), he doesn't appear to be hitting any roadblocks... 41- year old Dwayne Roloson (leads all regular keepers with 2.01 GAA and .941 SV%) has used his previous playoff experience to stand tall in net...Paging Steven Stamkos (only two on 16 goals in the Washington series). Will the stat sheet please contact the Unionville resident before fans forget about him?...Steve Downie and Teddy Purcell (each with six) continue to carry their own load...The return of Simon Gagne (concussion) will help boost an already potent attack, but the possibility of life without steady defender Pavel Kubina (also concussed) would hurt Tampa in their own end.
Prediction: One wouldn't expect two goalies with a combined age of 78 to dominate a series and steal the headlines, but that could easily happen here. Boston maintains a long-standing tradition and a few legends over the years, but Tampa shouldn't be discounted since they have only participated the last two decades. After all, they took the title in 2004 and the current roster contains a couple members to prove it. The Bolts may have swept the Caps, but the Bruins demolished a far more playoff-ready squad in the Flyers. Boston in seven.
And now we're back to our top-5 Conn Smythe candidates. A lot has changed since the first installment, but the principals remain the same. Some tough decisions, but a determination was made based on their overall worth to their respective clubs â€“ and not only looking at the tangible statistics. Your opinion may vary, but you'll at least have to admit I'm right: 1. Tim Thomas; 2. Martin St. Louis; 3. Joe Thornton; 4. Ryan Kesler; 5. Dwayne Roloson.
Looks like I can stick to my original prediction of a Sharks-Bruins Final. For now. If you've been behaving yourself, then I'll have something special for the last round. Fine, you'll get something regardless. And no guarantees on the quality either.
(Programming note: Even though neither Canada nor the United States will be competing for any shiny awards, try to watch Sunday's gold medal match between Sweden and Finland at the World Hockey Championships (3:30PM EST). If that's not your bag, at least check out the Power Rankings on the IIHF site and its archive, if only for a good chuckle. Think whoever wrote this was alcohol-impaired at the time?)
Evan Berofsky enjoys writing. Seriously. When he's not trying to shove hockey miscellany down your throat, he gets his kicks playing tournament Scrabble. If you have anything to say about Evan's work (or need any hot word tips), feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.