After knocking off the defending champion Anaheim Ducks, the Dallas Stars are now looking like Stanley Cup contenders as they get set to face the deep and talented San Jose Sharks in the second round of NHL playoffs.
In the East, the New York Rangers emerged as a contender with a five-game pasting of the New Jersey Devils in the first round, but must stop Sidney Crosby and the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins.
Here’s a look at the Eastern and Western Conference semifinal matchups:
Montreal (47-25-10, 1st) vs. Philadelphia (42-29-11, 6th)
First round: Montreal beat Boston 4-3; Philadelphia beat Washington 4-3.
Montreal won all four meetings with Philadelphia this season, outscoring them 15-6, but the Canadiens learned in the opening round that numbers mean little. They went in 8-0 with a 39-16 goal advantage against the Bruins during the season only to be taken to seven games. The Canadiens are 3-1 all-time in playoff series against the Flyers, but they last met in 1989, when Montreal won the Conference final 4-2.
This series pits Montreal’s speed and quick transition game against the slower but more physical Flyers. The teams finished 1-2 in power-play efficiency during the regular season, but the Canadiens scored only three times on 33 chances against Boston, while the Flyers were good on 22.2 per cent of their chances against the Caps.
The Flyers’ Daniel Briere leads all playoff scorers with 11 points, and his linemate Vaclav Prospal has nine. Briere was booed every time he touched the puck at the Bell Centre since turning down an offer to sign with the Canadiens last summer. He had only two assists in four games against Montreal. Winger Mike Knuble is out with a hamstring injury.
Canadiens goalie Carey Price was 3-0 with a 1.33 goals-against average against the Flyers and leads all playoff goalies with two shutouts. Another rookie, Sergei Kostitsyn, leads Montreal with three goals and six points, but defenceman Andrei Markov was held to one assist.
Pittsburgh Penguins (47-27-8, 2nd) vs. New York Rangers (42-27-13, 5th)
First round: Pittsburgh beat Ottawa 4-0; Rangers beat New Jersey 4-1.
The Rangers were 5-3-0 against the Penguins this season, but two of the wins were by shootout or overtime. Their last two meetings were close, with Pittsburgh winning 3-1 at home on March 30 and the Rangers winning 2-1 in OT a night later. The Pens are a perfect 3-0 in playoff series (and 12-3 in playoff games) against New York, but their last meeting was in 1996.
This series has the flash and dash of Penguins stars Sidney Crosby, who returned from a high ankle sprain in March and had eight points against Ottawa, and Evgeni Malkin, who had seven points, against a veteran Rangers team led by former Pens’ star Jaromir Jagr, Ex-Red Wing Brendan Shanahan and their excellent goalie Henrik Lundqvist. Malkin led the NHL with 65 points after Jan. 1 this season.
It also pits Pittsburgh Jordan Staal against his brother, Rangers defenceman Marc, and two of the league’s nastiest pests – New York’s Sean Avery and Pittsburgh’s Jarkko Ruutu. Rangers defenceman Michal Rozsival shared the team lead in points against his former team Pittsburgh with three goals and four assists this season.
Detroit (54-21-7, 1st) vs. Colorado (44-31-7, 6th)
First round: Detroit beat Nashville 4-2; Colorado beat Minnesota 4-2.
If the regular season counts for anything, Detroit should walk all over Colorado. The Red Wings were 4-0 with three shutouts (two by Dominik Hasek, one by Chris Osgood) against the Avalanche and outscored them 11-2. The Avs lead the all-time playoff series 3-2, but Detroit won their last meeting in 2002, zapping the Avs 7-0 in Game 7.
The Red Wings have eight players with more than 100 games of playoff experience, while Colorado has four, thanks to the late-season additions of Adam Foote and Peter Forsberg, two figures from their glory years of battling the Red Wings for Western supremacy and Stanley Cups. Detroit brings the league’s stingiest defence along with an explosive attack against an Avs team that was slightly better than average both ways.
Captain Joe Sakic led the Avalanche against the Wild with six points, but of concern was that scoring leader Paul Stastny was held to one assist. For Detroit, Pavel Datsyuk and Jiri Hudler each had five points, although the Wings power play made good on only 11.5 per cent of its chances against Nashville.
San Jose (49-23-10, 2nd) vs. Dallas (45-30-7, 5th)
First round: San Jose beat Calgary 4-3; Dallas beat Anaheim 4-2.
The Sharks went 4-4 against the Stars this season, with two of the wins in overtime or shootouts, but what marked their season series was both clubs’ success on the road. San Jose was 3-1 in Dallas, while the Stars were 3-0-1 at San Jose. The Sharks had the league’s best road record this season at 27-10-4. Dallas has won both previous playoff encounters with the Sharks, the last a 4-1 second-round win in 2000.
Dallas is coming off a huge upset of defending Cup champion Anaheim in which it went 10-for-38 (26.3) on the power play. The Stars were led by centre Mike Ribeiro’s eight points, including six power-play assists, while recently acquired Brad Richards had five points. The surprise scoring star for San Jose was Ryane Clowe with eight points, while the Joes – Thornton and Pavelski – had seven each. Their deadline pickup Brian Campbell was also a boost on defence.
The Sharks were a dismal 72.7 per cent in penalty killing against Calgary, but the Stars were only slightly better against Anaheim at 79.2 per cent. This from the league’s top two penalty killing teams in the regular season. But the big match-up is in goal, where Vezina Trophy candidate Evgeni Nabokov of San Jose faces hot veteran Marty Turco and his 2.01 playoff goals-against average.